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)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

AND NOTHING BUT THE UNTRUTH: A very wise man, who may or may not have been Benjamin Disraeli, depending on which source you want to believe, once said that there were three forms of untruth: lies, damned lies, and statistics. This being a modern age, an age that has seen the advancement of knowledge in every sphere of human activity, modern scientific research now provides a public hungry for inveracity with four basic forms of untruth: lies, damned lies, statistics, and resumes. The search for employment is now the leading cause of what in almost any other set of circumstances would be perjury in the first degree.

Stretching the truth on one’s resume is now as American as your stomach pressing hard against your belt. Most people exercise a little creativity in writing their resumes; they add a little in one place and shave something else off somewhere else. Everyone, it seems, wants to put their best foot forward when applying for a job. It’s just some people’s resumes slip across the fine line between exaggeration and fabrication, and do so at so many different points along that fine line that you have to wonder if some of these people are angling to get the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Not that I mind a little padding here and there. Some people simply do not have the job skills commensurate with the employment they are seeking. Take Vlad Tepes, for example, the Wallachian ruler who served as the basis of Bram Stoker’s classic villain, Dracula. What if he wanted a job on Wall Street? What would he have to put on his resume to make himself look good to the human resources people at the firms he was trying to get into? First off, being undead may be a big turnoff for some of HR professionals, so Vlad might want to leave that off his resume altogether. On the other hand, being the master of the undead has certain advantages. First, the company wouldn’t have to pay Vlad a pension, since he’d never need to retire, being immortal and all, although the HR people might want to tip off the staff in the company lunchroom that as long as Vlad is with the company, the wooden chopsticks and any dish with garlic are definitely off the menu. The company might want to replace these items with plastic forks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before bringing Vlad on board.

Second, Vlad doesn’t need health benefits or company sponsored life insurance, what with him being dead already, in a manner of speaking. This represents a great savings for the company and the management may want to encourage more of its staff to take up undead status. Of course, there is a disadvantage here: Vlad couldn’t work days, but even that is not really that much of a problem in our 24/7 global workday; he could work the overnight hours, checking out how the Asian markets are doing while the other staff go home to the suburbs for some dinner and a good night’s sleep. Vlad’s somewhat unusual diet may not be a plus, but a diet of fresh blood is no more inherently difficult for a company to provide than halal meals for Muslims, vegetarian meals for Hindus, or kosher meals for the Jewish employees, and if all else fails, the meatpacking district is only a few miles away as the bat flies.

Even if some of these problems are simply the products of Stoker’s fevered imagination, there are still a number of problems in providing a working resume for Vlad. He doesn’t want to come out and lie, but let’s face it, even if you dismiss the whole undead thing as arrant nonsense, the real Vlad has significant problems, and the elimination of Stoker from the equation does little to solve them or help Vlad’s chances of getting a job in management on Wall Street. To begin with, the people of Wallachia had a name for Vlad: the Impaler. Now there are all sorts of colorful royal nicknames: there’s William the Silent and Louis the Fat and Philip the Fair and Richard the Lionhearted. Russia had an Ivan the Terrible and an Ivan the Moneybags as well, and Poland even had a Boleslaw the Bashful, but when his own people call him the Impaler it’s clear to any future employer that Vlad has some serious anger management issues to deal with. In addition to this, there simply isn’t the demand for impalers that there once was, now that Uday Hussein is dead, so a propensity for skewering people is not going to work in Vlad’s favor; the smart resume writer might want to leave this particular job skill off of the resume entirely, unless there is an opening for this sort of thing in the central highlands of New Guinea, but nowadays most cannibals prefer their missionaries slow broiled in a pit with a nice salad on the side; this leaves the essential nutrients in, unlike the shish kebab method these tribes traditionally favored.

Then there is the incident of Vlad nailing the Turkish ambassador’s turban to his head in a fit of pique. Clearly, this is not something anyone would want to put on a resume, displaying, as it does, a certain level of religious intolerance on the one hand and a neurotic need to establish one’s own space no matter what the cost in time and money to others, both of these being things that most companies can do without in today’s modern workplace, especially with Turkey angling to get into the E.U.; the cost in lost business opportunities could be prodigious. And no one will believe that Vlad was only employing a traditional Wallachian folk remedy for a headache, since aspirin is readily available and can help prevent heart attacks as well, which a big nail in one’s skull obviously can't do.

So, by eliminating any mention of vampirism and a paranoid mania for skewering the populations of small cities for fun and profit, the creative resume writer can make Vlad Tepes the perfect candidate for a job in the financial markets, and after that, who knows? Like several other men who’ve made their fortunes, perhaps Vlad will contemplate a return to the public sector where he first made his reputation. He couldn’t try for the presidency, of course; no foreigner can, but he could run for governor in any state he wanted to, climbing to the top of the greasy pole, as Disraeli definitely did call achieving executive authority in a democracy, although Vlad would not be able to use the greasy pole for his favorite diversion. This may keep him from public life; if you can’t impale your enemies on greasy poles whenever you take a notion to then what’s the point of being at the top at all?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

MISCELLANEOUS STUFF: I trust that someone, anyone, will finally convince the always lovely Sophia that this separation is driving Neil over the deep end and something must be done about it before he winds up hurting himself badly. There are health risks associated with Krispy Kremes, as well as dangerous side effects from the sugar frosting. The Librarian Extraordinaire has no use for staff meetings, a theme one will find throughout library land, especially if the danish is not up to par, and in our modern use it and throw it away society who takes the trouble to make good danish anymore? Anti-death penalty advocates are now lining up on whether Beaujolais is sufficiently French to merit death by electrocution, and Snoopy wonders if what the rhubarb about Hamas winning the Palestinian elections is all about, a post that includes a pithy comment on the situation from that well known Middle East expert, me. I have never actually been to the Middle East myself; the closest I've ever gotten was Danbury, Connecticut, but ignorance of the situation has never stopped anyone in my family from having an opinion and I don't see why I should be the first one in the history of the clan to have my opinions dictated by the facts of the matter. And finally, Linda has an opinion on what the new Chinese Google logo should look like. Okay, folks, have a good one.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

VARIOUS AND SUNDRY: I don’t have all that much to say at the moment, so let me point out our friendly neighborhood Curmudgeon’s take on Glasgow Catholic school (go there and scroll down; I can't get Fran's trackbacks to work correctly,dammit all!) and its demographic inundation by Muslim students. I fear I must disagree with his main point about who let these infidels into the school in the first place; in the immortal words of the not at all late and usually punctual Mel Brooks, you don’t go to a brothel and then complain to the management that the place is not a Howard Johnson’s. If you are not Catholic and you send your children to a Catholic school, one of the things your children will have to learn something about is Catholicism; sorry, that's just the way life is; if you don't want them to learn about purgatory and the importance of the Blessed Virgin in the life of the church and the apostolic succession and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, then send your kids to some other school. There was no theological bait and switch involved here; the gentleman complaining about the temerity of a Catholic school teaching Catholicism in Glasgow is simply exercising the ummah’s longstanding belief that what’s ours is ours and what’s yours is ours, too, and the sooner you submit to the religion of peace the better off you’ll be in the long run. That’s so much easier than doing what the Catholics did: build their own schools when they didn’t like the message their kids were getting in the state schools.

In other parts of the world, Neil’s chatty friend runs off at the mouth about cell phones, reality show dance contests, and the always lovely Sophia's ability to speak Russian and Hebrew in the dark, and then the crack young staff of The Hatemonger’s Quarterly (sorry, but the link is broken here) offers the usual politically correct examination of the legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. that one usually sees about this time of year. And Fake, of Fake but Accurate, offers some words of wisdom from Mr. Rumsfeld about known unknowns in the media and its coverage of defense and foreign affairs.

In a purely unrelated train of thought, and when doing this sort of thing one's transitions ought to be as jarring as possible, so you can stun the reader into insensibility and then make off with their wallet while they are still lying on the floor suffering from psychic whiplash, brand name loyalty must be a wonderful thing, especially when you consider how much money is spent on advertising every year trying to cultivate this quality in the American consumer, but as in all things some people will raise brand name loyalty to an unhealthy extreme. I must admit here that I am a neutral in the nation’s longest running civil war, the conflict between the partisans of Coca-Cola and Pepsi; I drink both on a regular basis, primarily because I like my daily caffeine to have bubbles in it, and I am not particularly choosy about the taste differences between these two, or even between these two and Dr. Pepper.

We used to get RC Cola and Jolt Cola here in our happy little burg, but I must admit that’s it’s been a few years since I’ve seen either product here in our little corner of the turnip patch. Someone probably sells Jolt up in the county seat; there's a couple of colleges up there and with five times the sugar and ten times the caffeine (or was it the other way around?) Jolt was ideal for getting me through the crash cramming required to pass my midterms and finals, and it did wonders for getting me through those long weekends before I had to turn in a paper on Monday morning. There’s nothing as good as Jolt—nothing legal, anyway—for keeping you up into the wee hours as you try to discuss the ramifications of Alexander the Great’s political and military strategy for the conquest of Bactria in twenty-five pages complete with footnotes and bibliography after not having slept for the past thirty-six hours, and you’ve still got another thirty page paper due on the political and social history of early nineteenth left-handed lesbian shipping magnates and their effect on Andrew Jackson’s handling of the South Carolina nullification crisis of 1833.

So, I am more or less agnostic when it comes to the cola wars; they are brown, they are sweet, they have carbonation and caffeine, and I ask very little of a cola than that they meet these criteria, which is why I don’t understand why my cousin K.—a man you should not in any way confuse with my other cousin K., who came to my father’s funeral in Bermuda shorts and combat boots, or with K., the protagonist of Kafka’s Das Schloss, a very silly man who tried to see the floor supervisor of his local Department of Motor Vehicles without an appointment; I mean, come on, did we really need to read the whole book to know where that was going, or not going, as the case may be—feels the occasional need to blast holes in Pepsi machines with a .12 gauge shotgun. The police have not caught him indulging his prejudices yet, but it’s only a matter of time before they do; some Pepsi partisan is sure to turn him in sooner or later. The Pepsi people are certainly not happy about the adverse publicity, in addition to all the money they’ve had to spend fixing the machines. In one case they had to junk the machine entirely; some of the buckshot blew open a can of Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry Cola and shorted out the machine, causing a fire that destroyed a strip mall delicatessen and half of a local insurance office, and don't think for a second I didn't enjoy the irony of that. I don’t why K. dislikes Pepsi so much; sugar water is sugar water, after all; I just know that he does hate the stuff with a passion, and this is the kind of customer every company wants. You can’t buy loyalty like this anymore, you know, and they just don’t make customers like K. today in our postmodern, postindustrial information society, unless you’re a crack addict, and therefore know from personal experience of whereof I speak.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A short note here: the attached is a picture of the relatives of Nixzmary Brown. They are prostrate with grief over the death of the little girl, whose stepfather beat her to death last week and whose mother lied to the police about how the seven year old, who weighed just 36 pounds at the time of her death, came by the massive bruises all over her body. The mother and stepfather are now under arrest for murder in the second degree.

What I don’t understand is this: not one of the people you see grieving here noticed that this little girl was being beaten black and blue on a regular basis, not one of them noticed that she was going to school at best twice in any given month, not one of them noticed that this little girl was starving. For all this tide of public grief at the death of this little girl, not one of these people did anything that I am aware of to save Nixzmary from her allegedly simpleminded mother and her not so allegedly sadistic brute of a husband.

Perhaps I am being too hard on these people; it is, after all, not their responsibility to monitor what happens to other people’s children, but it is difficult to figure out why the New York City Administration for Children’s Services didn’t catch what was going on here. In the newspapers the agency’s spokespeople look sad and weary and speak of this little girl falling through the cracks in the system, but if you look back over the history of this agency what you will see is a long line of kids who fall through the cracks, like Lisa Steinberg, Elisa Izquierdo, and Nadine Lockwood. At what point does the public decide that the cracks are this agency’s usual operating mode and finally demand action, real action that saves lives and not the cosmetic fiddling with this thing or that thing that keeps the problems and the bureaucrats’ paychecks intact and the press off the agency’s back, action that prevents the needless death of the next in this line of tormented children left in the hands of sadistic beasts.

The ACS knew about this family; they’d had reports of this little girl and her abuse, but they did next to nothing to stop it. The schools reported that the girl was not in class when she was supposed to be and that she was covered with black and blue bruises when she did attend, and yet the ACS sat and twiddled its thumbs and did nothing. The man in charge of the Brown case resigned the day before the girl’s death; apparently Nixzmary Brown’s death came at a bad time for him, as he’d ignored the warning signs in her case in order to falsify the record of another of his cases, that of a sixteen month old boy who drowned in a bathtub while his mother was in the next room.

I am no fan of state action in most cases; the state is an inefficient and usually wrongheaded provider of most things, but the primary duty of the state, the reason why a free people put up with the state at all, is that the state, through the military, through intelligence services, through police and fire and emergency medical services, tries to protect the citizenry from those who would actively harm them. This is why the state exists in the first place. The ACS exists to protect children from abusive adults. If this agency is not fulfilling its primary mission, then why does it exist at all?
THE LDS VERSUS THE CLAN BASHMACHKIN: Before I start, a full disclosure, as they say: this screed began life as a comment I made over at Solarvoid, a fine blog and one I commend to your attention. Rusticus, the owner and sole proprietor, does not allow pinging, so instead of doing a trackback and saving myself the time and energy of explaining my self there, I am wasting your time by explicating on the subject here, which is all for the best, I guess, since I wasn’t doing anything today anyway, except maybe trying to get this damn pine tar off of my hands. In the high winds of a few days ago, an old pine fell across my mother’s back yard and now she wanted the tree gone. So, my brothers and me, we spent the morning cutting the thing up and hauling it away, and consequently we all smell like advertisements for Lysol now. My fingers are sticking to the keyboard, too.

In any case, the first thing I should say here is that I have nothing against Mormons as people, even though I could never be a Mormon myself; that, I fear, is simply impossible, for reasons I will get to in just a minute. Mormons are some of the nicest people in this mycological breeding ground; they come in with their nice suits and their short haircuts, looking all the world like a convention of Young Republicans out to convince the world of the gospel of Adam Smith, Ronald Reagan, and Arthur Laffer, and sit down at our computers and email the folks back in Utah that all is going well for them here in the heathen confines of our happy little burg and that they expect a great harvest of souls here such as the world has never seen before, all of which will happen just as soon as they manage to wean most of the population away from their crack pipes. They are a nice bunch of kids, all in all, what with their white shirts and ties and their name tags announcing to the world that this is Sister June or Elder John of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, although if I were in charge of Mormon missionary activities in this neck of the woods I’d tell Elder John to cover the word elder with a piece of tape or a post—it note or maybe some black magic marker; Elder John doesn’t look old enough to buy a decaf Pepsi, much less a beer. I’ve got socks without holes in them that are older than this kid is, so that whole elder thing causes no end of cognitive dissonance here amongst the Gentiles.

No, my trouble with the Mormons is purely theological, especially in their theology of the family. Mormon theology in this area is a truly wondrous thing, a system of belief as detailed and refined as the Marian doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church (more full disclosure: this is the church to which I very nominally belong), a theology that contributes greatly to the moral development of the fine young men and women who come in here every day. Contrary to the hedonistic Zeitgeist of our age, these young men and women expect to marry, expect to raise children and set those children on the straight and narrow path that leads to heaven, and in the fullness of their age, pass away with their families about them, content in the knowledge that a Mormon family never really dies, that a man and a woman can seal their marriage in eternity, that a righteous life means that one may return to the bosom of one’s family forever. What in heaven and earth, you might ask, could be better than that?

Nothing at all, of course, although I suppose I am like many Americans in that I want to go to heaven, I just don’t want to die to get there, and if I do have to die to get there I would just as soon not have to see any of my relatives once I arrive, assuming, of course, I arrive at all. Even assuming that a good-sized chunk of my relatives don’t make the cut, an assumption that eliminates about 85% of the more annoying ones right off the bat, I am still left with having to spend eternity with some 15% of my nearest and dearest family members, which is, to put the matter frankly, 15% too many. Given that I already regard having to spend an afternoon with these people as the nearest thing to eternity available on our temporal plane, how much more painful will that sinking feeling in my stomach be when the eternity I have to spend with these people really is an eternity?

“There are many mansions in my Father’s house,” Jesus tells Thomas in the Gospel according to John, and I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that all of my relatives will come over to my mansion to use the rec room. This is an excuse, as you might well imagine, and before long they will be asking me for my lawn mower/snowblower/power saw/ golf clubs/laundry baskets, etc. that they’re sure the Almighty has blessed them with, but cannot find at the moment, so can they borrow mine and they’ll bring it back tomorrow, tomorrow being a relative term in a place of perfect timelessness. Assuming I die in the 2030’s or 2040’s, they will be asking me for this stuff around May of 2753, and I will get it back, assuming I get them back at all, at about the time the Sun turns into a white dwarf some ten billion years from now. I am also assuming that the Mormon paradise I will have to share with these dolts will be one in which I have to make embarrassed excuses to St. Michael and his host of heavenly repo men at the front door of my mansion while the cousins sneak out the back door with that new plasma TV they haven’t started making payments on yet. Frankly, I am not looking forward to this at all.

To make matters worse, the Mormon theology of the family includes what librarians call retrospective conversion. For librarians, even Mormon librarians, retrospective conversion is the first step in going digital; it means entering your library’s holdings into the computer, a process that took us about a year and a half here. A theological version of this is now available to every Mormon or potential convert; not only can everyone in your family convert to the Latter Day Saints, so can all of your ancestors as well. The church maintains the largest genealogical library in the world in Utah to help people conduct their research and locate their ancestors so that they too can enter Paradise as Mormons. This, as you might imagine, raises possibilities I would just as soon not think about. If the current crop of relatives is barely tolerable, what must the earlier versions be like? I fully expect to have generation after generation of Irish peasants and Liverpool dock rats to show up at my doorstep expecting a cup of tea and a buttered scone, at the very least, and maybe a quid or two to tide them over until they sell the crop, or until payday, as the case may be; at the very least, I expect that they will drink everything alcoholic in the house, including my aftershave.

And once they are all done eating me out of house and home, we can all get down to the deep theological question of whether taking the soup after we’re dead is as bad as doing it while we are still living. They will have strong opinions on the subject; the relatives have strong opinions about everything, whether they know what the hell they are talking about or not. Preferably they would know very little about the subject of the argument; as that grand Irishman, Richard Brinsley Sheridan once famously put it, the quarrel is a very pretty quarrel as it stands; we should only spoil it by trying to explain it. And then my brother would start fighting with his wife, and then another brother would get a call from his ex-wife, and the argument we were having up to this point disappears for the time being while we all rehash the arguments, for the umpteenth time, we made against his marrying that neurotic ditz in the first place, and Grandma pours salt all over her food and nods to everyone, smiling and happy as a clam because she’s as deaf as a post even with her hearing aids in place and she doesn’t have to hear any of this any more.

This is heaven, or so I am told, if you are a Latter Day Saint, and people wonder why Islam gains converts by leaps and bounds. In the Islamic paradise, not only don’t I have to put up with my relatives and their collection of tics, quirks, and eccentricities, I’d get to be Hugh Hefner forever and ever, and without the 55 gallon drums of Viagra brought in to my bedroom everyday. Unless, that is, the theory that the 72 virgins is a mistranslation and what the ummah actually get are 72 white raisins, which brings up the question, does the Almighty provide the milk and bran flakes, or should we bring them with us?

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

BIRDS: You may not spend a lot of time worrying about things like this, since you are clearly a superior sort of person with better things to do with your time than to worry about things like this, but it is increasingly clear to a great many people here in our happy little burg that the younger generation of migratory birds has absolutely no clue where in the hell they are going. Many people here in the northeastern United States, especially those of us over the age of thirty-five, remember well the great V-shaped squadrons of migratory birds passing overhead in the late autumn, filling the skies with avian arrows streaking southwards away from the oncoming winter. Those of us left behind could only curse those birds and their damnable good luck in spending the winter months on some Caribbean island drinking mojitos and dancing the rumba all night long with some hot young Latin mamacita or a newly divorced not so young high school English teacher from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, out to prove that whatever was wrong with her marriage, it was all her ex-husband’s fault; she's still got it going on, thank you very much. Those of us who had to stay here with the crows and the seagulls just had to accept our fates and dig ourselves out of the snow whenever we had to.

This has all changed, and not for the better, I fear. Scarcely a week goes by nowadays without news of some fresh catastrophe befalling a flock of migratory birds. On Christmas Eve, for example, a flock of Canadian geese, who really ought to know better than to do something like this, flew north into a blizzard and froze to death in the updrafts, the frozen geese plummeting down from the sky and smashing through the roofs of a residential subdivision outside Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, as if Santa Claus had decided to carpet bomb everyone on his naughty list there with frozen poultry because he couldn’t lay his hands on some cluster bombs. In big cities throughout this our Great Republic sanitation department spokesmen note with ever increasing alarm the large numbers of migratory birds found dead on the sidewalks in front of skyscrapers in the morning, these poor birds never having learned that flying into a tall building in a single bound at full speed is not an act conducive to enhancing their long term quality of life.

There is, of course, no great mystery as to why migratory birds can no longer find their own backsides with both wings, assuming such an act is physiologically possible for any bird not already on its way into an oven. Once upon a time, a migratory bird had to know its business before they went anywhere. Without the Global Positioning System or digital mapping systems to assist them, an earlier generation of birds had to learn the various aspects of celestial navigation, how to take longitude and latitude while on the wing, and how to get from Point A to Point B by dead reckoning if all else failed. Above all, it took time and a dedication to the migratory way of life that is increasingly lacking in today’s younger generation of birds.

I suppose we can trot out all the usual suspects here for why younger birds fail to meet the expectations of their elders: the movies, the culture, the Internet, the failures of public schools that exist today to provide ever more remunerative jobs for teachers and not to educate the young, the constant denigration of the traditional migratory lifestyle by the political and cultural elites, but in a larger sense these are just symptoms of a larger, and less politically correct truth: birds, as a biological class, tend towards the egregiously stupid by any standard measure of intelligence, with your more intelligent birds like crows and parrots dazzling us all by being just a smidgen brighter than your average neighborhood tree stump in those neighborhoods that still have tree stumps, and just a smidgen dumber than your average Red Sox fan, although the IQ’s of the latter fall precipitously with every beer they publicly imbibe at Fenway Park; groundskeepers on forklifts haul the passed out fans outside and pile them in heaps near the entrances in order to provide some protection from terrorist bombs or equally crocked Yankee fans. After the game, the city of Boston carts those fans that have not returned to consciousness off to the harbor and throw them in as landfill. Red Sox fans are just as dumb in the off-season, of course, but in the off-season no one notices them. I know I don’t, and I suspect that neither do you. The birds, being teetotalers, do not have to worry about such things, and so their intelligence remains on a very low and even keel throughout the year. This is normal for birds and is one of the reasons why birds usually do not suffer from hypertension, diabetes, severe stress, or any of the other ills that afflict modern American society.

Monday, January 16, 2006

THE FOLLOWING is a comment I tried to make over at Eternity Road, but Fran's software is keeping me from posting it there, for some reason, so I am going to post the thing here, since having spent an hour writing it and I'm not leaving without seeing the damn thing in electronic print somewhere. It's not very funny and if you want to skip it that's fine with me; I'm thinking about doing something about the free gifts we're getting here with our office supply orders, something that points out the oxymoronic nature of a lot of things these days. In the case of our office supplies, it's the whole concept of free gifts, which seems strange to me since, almost by definition, all gifts are free: if they cost something they wouldn't be gifts, would they? At least it seems that way to me, or I could do something about how much I hate bagels and lox...well, maybe not bagels so much, but lox is noxious in the extreme, as is liver, eggs, and cauliflower. But I don't have anything definite about this yet; I'm just letting the subject matter brew for a bit.

As for the rights of cads, I thought everyone knew that the major unintended consequence of women’s liberation was the liberation of the caddish impulse in most men. Once upon a time, if a young man wanted to sow a few wild oats or a older man wanted to pretend he wasn’t getting old, they would both hie themselves hence to the nearest house of assignation, there to indulge the reproductive urge without having to deal with any of its consequences. Everyone involved knew the rules: the man wanted sex, the girl wanted money, and afterwards the man would go home and pretend to be a moral pillar of his community. You would certainly not marry a denizen of the demimonde nor would you encourage a decent girl to become a demimonde herself, and if you should impregnate a “nice” girl, the rules were clear: you had to marry her, whether you wanted to or not, if only to avoid being blown apart by her menfolk’s shotguns.

Our modern era does not prize the concept of the nice girl anymore, since there is no real need for any girl to be nice in the sense that the term usually meant, which is to say, sexually chaste before marriage and monogamous afterwards. The invention of the birth control pill, the advent of readily available abortion, and the relative ease of modern divorce have changed the traditional equation. I am sure that many women would say, hallelujah, to the old order’s passing, and they may well be right about the overwhelming hypocrisy of that order, but it seems to me that Oscar Wilde was right when he said that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. The old order served a purpose by channeling humanity’s greatest creative and destructive drive onto a constructive path that served, in the broad number of cases, the best interests of everyone involved. The old dispensation did not serve all equally well, though; it stigmatized gay men and lesbians viciously, and often victimized women, especially lower class women, by limiting their educational and economic opportunities, thereby trapping them in marriages where they were utterly dependent on the goodwill of their husbands.

It was largely to stop the abuses of the old order that activists created the gay rights and the women’s liberation movements, and both movements have done a tremendous amount of good for their specific constituencies and for the nation as a whole through their efforts to eliminate the mental exception. The mental exception is what comes at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance, when the person pledging allegiance to the flag says, “…with liberty and justice for all…” and then mentally makes the exception for blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Catholics, women, gays, or life insurance salesmen, whom they can treat in as abusive manner as they want without worrying too much about their rights.

In freeing women from the old order, however, the women’s liberation movement tossed a good many babies out with the bathwater. The women’s movement’s systematic demonization of men has led to a situation in which men bear almost no responsibility for the children they sire. We now live in an age where a woman can choose to become mothers, but men cannot choose whether or not they become fathers. Men do not have a say in whether or not their sexual partners have an abortion or not, which is to say, they have no choice in whether or not they become fathers, and yet the law, and the women’s movement as well, insist on their paying for children they do not want.

It seems to me that this last vestige of the old dispensation must soon disappear as well. After all, we now live in a world of rights, and if a woman has a right to choose then so does the man, and compelling him to pay for a child he does not want seems grossly unfair and is probably a violation of his constitutional rights. The women’s movement will fight such an interpretation of the law; their ideal world is one in which men play the role of sperm donor and sugar daddy, paying all the bills and seeing the children every other Tuesday in July, but the more I think about it, the more likely this scenario becomes. You can only undermine institutions for so long before they come down, bringing down everything else with it. You cannot, I think, choose to live in a termite-ridden house and then complain to all and sundry when the roof comes crashing down on your head.

Friday, January 13, 2006

TOILETS, AGAIN: All good things must come to end, of course; that is simply in the nature of our temporal universe. “No man at all can be living forever,” says one of the characters in Synge’s Riders to the Sea, “and we must be satisfied.” Thus the unscheduled vacation has come to end—the electricians have restored the power, the furnaces are once again furnishing heat from one end of this egregious pit of mold and mildew to the other, and the pumps have reduced the vast ocean in the basement to a string of small ponds not worth of serious oceanographic study. The arachnid Noah and his family stand now at the top of their Coke can Ararat, praising whatever deity spiders pay homage to for their deliverance from the great flood, and, no doubt, casting vile aspersions on the corrupt morals of the ants and cockroaches that perished in the catastrophe, who clearly got what was coming to them.

So all is as it was, although I do notice that Rachel has once more fired a major broadside in the toilet wars. I do not understand the brouhaha over this subject myself; if I want to lower the toilet seat in order to use the facilities then I lower the toilet seat to use the facilities. I do not know why this makes me a typically insensitive male lout, but given Rachel and Tatiana’s previous screeds on the subject it seems I must be. You would think that women would appreciate the fact that men no longer lower the toilet seat for them, that this practice was the last symbol of a traditional male chivalry that helped maintain a oppressive patriarchal domination that women struggled for centuries to be free of, and now the practice is gone, one with tipping one’s cap or opening a door for a lady in the catalogue of fiendish oppression put aside for the new modern woman. What then is a little cold porcelain in the morning compared to the end of oppressive patriarchal domination and the right to choose the course of one’s own life?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

OF HAMSTERS AND VACATIONS, SORT OF: My apologies for the lengthy and totally unplanned absence, but when all’s said and done it’s hard for anyone to find a suitably energetic hamster anymore. Once upon a time, of course, hamsters took pride in being who and what they were, but nowadays more and more hamsters forego their traditional pursuits and going into less strenuous lines of work like advertising or selling life insurance. I bring this up now because for most of the past week the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for a pittance has been without electricity. I don’t know when the electricians will fix the problem, but they claim they will, and soon. If you are reading this, and I assume you are, it’s because I’ve gone to another library and am now using their computers to write this screed. It’s a very nice library, as libraries go, but I’ve seen on the official statistics that they claim to have as many books as we do and they may well be true, since the staff here has every available nook and cranny packed solid with books, videos, and other materials, and there is no room for the patrons to sit anywhere. It’s a nice place if you like standing all day.

The problem with our electricity is easy to describe: the dynamo stopped because the hamster died. Our hamster was a pugnacious little brute, as hamsters go, always willing to run that extra mile or twelve to keep the library’s generator going. He began life as a cost cutting measure; clearly having our own source of power would eliminate a costly item from the annual budget, and we could keep him going with sunflower seeds and water, which cost much less than oil and we could sell his emissions as fertilizer at the local Home Depot. From almost any way you choose to look at the matter, investing in the dynamo and a biological power source was probably the best move the mold pit ever made.

And now the hamster is dead, poor soul, and replacing him, assuming that the late hamster was, in fact, a him, and not a her or some other category exclusive to small rodents, will not be easy, not by a long shot. Part of the problem is that most of these jobs are no longer part time temporary work where the director could hire and fire as the budget dictated; these jobs are civil service positions these days, and at the lowest rung of the civil service at that, along with the guys who mow the lawn around City Hall and pick up cigarette butts in the parks. Jobs on the exercise wheel once had distinction; a hamster was proud to have such a steady and, for the time, well-paying job; those days, unfortunately, are gone for good. The qualifications remain pretty much the same as they always were: (1), be a hamster, and (2), be willing to run on the wheel from nine in the morning to eight at night without a break for peanuts and maybe some sunflower seeds, if your employer was feeling generous that week. This is obviously not enough to raise a family on these days, and frankly, the pension is not what it ought to be, considering the amount of work the hamsters have to do in order to get it, and the health and other benefits are not all that great, either. So it shouldn’t really come as a great surprise that no young hamster looks at a life spent in power generation these days as little more than a dead end job for losers.

We’ve begun interviewing for the position, but in the week or so since the ads appeared in the local papers the candidates we’ve seen so far have been somewhat less than promising, to put it mildly. One applicant wanted a lunch hour that actually lasted an hour, which is something I don’t get and I’ve been here for almost nineteen years now. Another was a Seventh Day Adventist and wouldn’t work on Saturday, which is one of our busiest days, and another was only interested in a part time position so they could have enough time to run for the City Council. We couldn’t use any of these applicants, except for the incipient politician, who was sufficiently odd enough to qualify as a cataloger and now he/she/it/whatever now has a job and a desk in my office, which I’ve already got to share with someone else. I’ve already made it clear to the powers that be around here, or rather, there, since this here is not the here where I usually do this sort of thing, this sort of thing being writing this sort of thing and not cleaning up after hamsters, which is absolutely not going to happen; my days on library poop patrol are over.

So we still have the problem with the electricity. We are seriously considering getting electricity from the local utility, a cheerful organization much given to public service when they are not cutting off electricity to poor people in the middle of winter for not paying their electric bills. We were sort of hoping that it wouldn’t come to that, but without a hamster on the wheel we may have to go that route. At one point the board of trustees thought of hiring gerbils instead of hamsters, but that came to nothing; apparently there is a civil rights issue involved here. I can’t think of what the issue might be, but someone at the county’s department of personnel is up to speed on the issue, because not long after we interviewed a couple of likely looking gerbils the director got an official letter from them telling us; not in so many words, of course—remember we’re talking about the civil service here, where no one uses one word when twenty will do just as well; that under no circumstances could we hire a gerbil to do a hamster’s work, no matter how good the gerbil’s qualifications might be. Frankly, I hope this whole thing resolves itself quickly; I don’t like unexpected vacations and I am not used to not working in the middle of the week. It’s making me antsy. Enjoy the rest of your week.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

SUNDAY REFLECTION: Just a passing thought here. We hear a lot these days about Islam being a religion of peace, and I am sure for the vast majority of Muslims it is just that; most people, regardless of their faiths, just want to get on with their lives with the least amount of grief and trouble. Then we are told that Islam is a religion of tolerance, unlike the vicious exclusiveness of Christianity, with its history of persecutions and Inquisitions and Crusades, and with all due respect to the people saying such things, I must say that I am not willing to suspend disbelief that much.

History clearly shows that Islam is tolerant of other faiths in the same way that moviegoers tolerate a screaming baby: with scarcely concealed hostility. Muslims barely tolerate Jews and Christians, the Peoples of the Book, placing legal and societal barriers in front of them to the point where the only way to survive is to convert to Islam, a conversion that once made cannot be undone, since Islam holds that apostasy is a capital crime, even if one’s conversion was purely cosmetic in the first place. For non-monotheists the choice is simple: convert or else. The Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas in Afghanistan was not an accident or a fluke of some kind; it was simply the expression of a pre-existing religious loathing. I also wonder if those people in this country who proclaim Islam’s tolerance of other faiths realize how badly this statement makes Islam look. In the United States, Islam is not tolerated; the practice of any religious faith, short of those requiring the ritual sacrifice of buxom blond virgins, assuming such a rara avis still exists, is an inalienable human right, given to us by our Creator, and the government can no more tolerate the existence of Islam than it can tolerate the fact that the sky is blue.

The same is not true in Muslim countries. Religious toleration in an Islamic society is simply a convenient steppingstone to the inevitable conversion of the unbeliever, whose current faith is of no consequence and therefore merits no respect. Islam does not mean peace; it means submission to the will of God, as that will is made plain in the Qu’ran and in the Hadith of the Prophet, and those who will not submit must pay the price in second class status and special taxes until they see the light, and part of the proper role of Islamic government is to facilitate the inevitable conversion of the unbeliever by all possible means. George Washington’s dictum of to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, would be meaningless in an Islamic society, where conversion to Islam, no matter how it is achieved, is a moral good in and of itself. Much is made of the Golden Age of Spain under the Moors, where Muslims and Jews lived together in peace and harmony before the arrival of those nasty Christians, but that Golden Age was a thousand years ago, and I have to wonder how come the same people who point to that society as a model of toleration and peaceful religious harmony have no end of trouble finding a Muslim society that lives up to that ideal nowadays. The fact that they can’t is because there is no such society anywhere in the Muslim world today, largely because no Muslim society tolerates such an ideal now. If you think this untrue, then let me ask you to do something: count the number of Christian churches in Saudi Arabia. There's your answer.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

SWINE ALERT!: This may surprise you; I know it certainly surprised me, but that’s not too hard to do anymore, what with age creeping up on me; but here in our happy little burg there are ordinances forbidding the citizenry from keeping pigs in their homes for either personal or commercial reasons. The municipal solons also forbid the keeping of cattle, sheep, goats, or emus within the city limits. Somehow or other rabbits, and chickens managed to escape the mass proscription, as did dogs, cats, freshwater aquarium fish, and paranoid schizophrenics. The ban on pigs, however is almost Levitical in its intensity, coming to almost three and a half pages in the city code, those three and a half pages banning almost every possible situation that one might actually have a need for a pig from occurring within the city limits. The only time a pig may show its face here in our happy little burg is if it is on its way to the meat display case at the local supermarket; all other pigs are officially unwelcome here.

Why the local lawmakers despise pigs to this fanatical degree is something of a mystery here; there are no Muslims or Seventh Day Adventists on the city council that I am aware of, and the one Jewish member of the council is an affable sort who does not keep kosher and violates the Sabbath on a fairly regular basis. So, religion does not explain the animus and neither, I fear, does history. After detailed historical research into the subject, I can safely say that pig husbandry was never a significant part of the local economy. Unlike such places as Cincinnati, Ohio, and Secaucus, New Jersey, no stoic pigboys armed with Colt .45 six-shooters and Winchester repeating rifles ever drove a recalcitrant herd of swine through fire and flood, blizzards and Indian attacks to bring the herd into the local train station and send them on to the Chicago slaughterhouses.

The effects of the law, however, are apparent to everyone who visits our happy little burg. There is not a single living pig anywhere within the city limits. On occasion, of course, one finds the dunderheaded miscreant who does not care about the ban, who snaps his pathetic fingers at such plebian concepts as the rule of law, and tries to use the more remote parts of our town as a base for illegal swine herding. The ingenuity of these criminals knows no bounds; in life, avarice, like necessity, is all too often the mother of invention, but one criminal’s attempt to pass off a Vietnamese potbellied pig at a police DWI checkpoint as the mayor of the slough of urban despond directly across the river from us stretched the bounds of even a civil servant’s credulity.

The scoundrel did not succeed, of course, which goes almost without saying, I think. Our local constabulary has an unbroken record of success in enforcing the pig proscription, and pork pushers and dealers in illegal sausages know better than to try to establish their nefarious businesses here; if so much as one squeal, grunt, or oink is heard anywhere within the city limits, the crack detectives of the Pig Crimes Squad are on the case, leaving no truffle unexamined in their hunt for the illegal swine and then put the swineherds out of business for good. With such an enviable record against the dastardly forces of the underworld, the local constabulary could sit back and enjoy the plaudits of those they protect and serve, to slack off and take it easy, and who would blame them? But they do not, knowing that even a moment’s inattention to their duty, any lessening of their vigilance, and the pigs would be crowding honest citizens off the sidewalks into the streets.

It is because eternal vigilance is the price we as citizens must pay if we are to remain free of the porcine menace that certain other ordinances must receive short shrift, like the one that requires motorists to stop when there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk. This law is not so much disobeyed in our happy little burg as it is largely unheard of, even with the signs that clearly state that motorists must stop, a phenomenon I noticed only a few days ago when a gentleman tried to run me down in the crosswalk while I was returning from the deli with my ham sandwich, pretzels, and Diet Coke. I was already in the crosswalk when this gentleman zoomed through a four way stop sign a block away from the traffic light and bore down swiftly upon me. Convinced that he obviously was either dyslexic or color-blind, I immediately scurried out of his way, and at my age, scurrying is a lot harder to do then it used to be. As he passed, the gentleman shouted something about my ancestry. I immediately pointed to the sign telling motorists to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk and countered his gratuitous point about my ancestry by pointing out that I could identify my father and could do so without requiring all the men in my neighborhood to submit to DNA testing.

This situation could have gone from bad to worse; these situations almost always go from bad to worse—it is the rare occasion where things go from bad to better, but this was the case here, what with the fortuitous arrival of one of our local constables, who immediately separated us and spent an hour and a half questioning me about the provenance of the ham in my sandwich. After reassuring him that the ham was not the vile product of some local den of illicit piggery, the constable told me to be more careful as I crossed the street and told the gentleman who tried to run me down to take note of the traffic signs; the city put them up for his protection as well as that of the foot-borne traffic. Properly contrite, the gentleman promised to obey the traffic ordinances and the signs that informed the public of these ordinances, and the officer released us both with a warning and an admonition to say no to illegal pigs.

I saw this self-same gentleman the next day, when he came perilously close to running down some senior citizens in the exact same crosswalk. This time, however, there were no gendarmes nearby. On a tip from a confidential informant, and on the basis of a two months investigation, most of the on-duty members of the police department were off raiding the home of a local high school music teacher, coming away from the raid with two porkers the teacher kept as pets. The police led the teacher away in handcuffs and let the poor man pull his jacket up over his head in order to hide his shame. I saw this disgusting perp walk on the local cable news, and then a short interview with the chief of police, sounding appropriately grave, who informed a relieved public that vigorous enforcement of the ban on pigs was one of the hallmarks of his administration of the police department and that as long as he headed the department the ban would enforced to the absolute letter of the law, unlike, of course, the law against nepotism in the ranks of the police department, which his otherwise unemployable niece is challenging in court even as we speak.

In any case, this leads one to suspect that the only way the pedestrians of our happy little burg will get any attention from the local gendarmerie is to disguise themselves as some breed of swine, preferably domestic swine, a Chester White or American Hereford, for example, before crossing the city streets. This stratagem may not work for everyone, given the paucity of pig costumes hereabouts, but wherever there is a demand for a product or a service, the free market will draw suppliers to that demand like straight guys to a hot blonde. This, I think, but I will admit to a certain bias here, is one of the many wonderful things about the American way of life.

Monday, January 02, 2006

HAPPY NEW YEAR: No, I didn’t do anything for New Year’s Eve except stay at home and watch the ball fall on Times Square and nurse a sinus headache back to full health. New Year’s has always struck me a particularly phony holiday, since you can pick any day of the year to serve as your calendrical starting point; there’s nothing special about January 1st. For a very long time March 25th was New Year’s Day, that day being the feast of the Annunciation, or Lady Day, as the people of the Middle Ages called it. For the non-Christians hereabouts, merely add nine months to the date in order to discover the date’s significance in Christian theology. Then there’s the other new year’s days celebrated hereabouts; Chinese New Year’s is in February, Rosh ha-Shonah is in September, the Celtic New Year is on November 1st, and this egregious mold pit’s new fiscal year starts on July 1st. Clearly there is nothing sacrosanct about January 1st; it simply an arbitrary date set arbitrarily by Pope Gregory the whatever his Roman numeral was in 15something or other to denote that the Earth had passed an arbitrary point in space and that we were now all one year closer to death.

Why January 1st? Pope Gregory the choose the Roman numeral of your choice picked the date because the day was the start of the old Roman new year, the feast day of the god of beginnings, Janus, whom the ancients usually represent as having two faces, one facing forward towards the future and the other backwards towards the police, and what Renaissance man could pass up the chance of rescuing the old Roman new year from the mythological dustbin and giving the date a fresh new coat of paint and the chance for a comeback? Of course, the bit about Janus’s two faces is a bit of mythological poetic license at best; Janus was the used chariot dealer to the gods, having snapped up the used chariot concession for a song when every banker in Greece said that investing in Olympian business opportunities was flushing money down a rat hole. Janus got the concession from Jupiter, the king of the gods, in a moment of Jovian weakness; Janus had a private eye and a team of paparazzi to trail Jupiter as he went about his divine duties and, lo and behold, they got some good photos of the king of the gods cavorting and canoodling with some hot Greek babes on the French Riviera. In exchange for the photos and a free hand in the used chariot business, Janus promised not to tell Jupiter’s wife, Hera, about his extramarital and something less than divine activities.

The used chariot business has gone about as well as you might expect. Janus did get himself in some small degree of trouble when he sold a slightly used Mercedes Benz to Apollo and the thing turned out to be a repainted Buick Skylark with 300,000 miles on the odometer and a faulty transmission, or would have had 300,000 miles on the odometer if Janus hadn’t turned the mileage back. This led to some major problems when Apollo tried to drive his new chariot of the sun across the sky; the engine kept overheating, appropriately enough, and then Apollo lost control of the chariot for a couple of seconds, thereby scorching all of North Africa pretty thoroughly and creating what is now the Sahara Desert. Worse yet, Apollo couldn’t get his money back; all sales with Janus are final, something that led to the first lemon law in the history of Mount Olympus, an event made possible by Hera’s reading about Jupiter’s escapades on the Riviera in a cover story in The National Enquirer, a story that came complete with explicit photos of the aforementioned cavorting and canoodling, all suitably airbrushed for publication in a family newspaper. Jupiter promptly hit the untrustworthy paparazzi with thunderbolts for their effrontery and Janus had to end some of his more egregious sales practices, which he didn't like but could do nothing about; you really can't blackmail someone if their wife already knows about about the other woman, after all.

Personally, I am all for moving New Year’s Day back to March 25th. That way anyone who feels they didn’t get sufficiently crocked on St. Patrick’s Day can have another go at it before the week is out. The weather is usually, although not always, better at the end of March. There is no guarantee, of course; warm St. Patrick’s Days are a hit and miss affair at best, but even this is an improvement over having the New Year fall in the dead of winter. Maybe if we could move the day to April 1st that might solve our problem with the day; we could all play tricks on one another for April Fools Day while we get drunk celebrating the New Year. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though; too many people have a vested interest in January 1st nowadays for anyone to move the New Year to some other date. That’s a shame, really.