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)

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

YES, IT'S ALL FOR THE BIRDS: We all have our pet peeves, of course; we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have something that annoyed the hell out of us for one reason or another; but one of my pet peeves has never been birds. I don’t dislike birds; I think the bald eagle is a great national symbol and that chicken and turkey taste pretty good on Sunday and on Thanksgiving; but I don’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about birds. I give them some thought in the late summer or the early autumn or whenever it’s time to pick the loganberries; there’s a tree near where I park and every year at berry eating the birds gorge themselves silly and then sit up on the phone lines and crap purple poop all over my car, but that’s just a temporary thing. I usually just wash the crap off and park on the other side of the street for the duration of the season and that usually solves the problem. So I don’t have a problem with birds. I know that some folks do; there’s even a bird phobia, orinthophobia, but there’s a phobia for everything these days. There’s even a fear of bullets, ballistophobia, which seems to me a much more reasonable fear than being afraid of birds, Alfred Hitchcock notwithstanding.

Having established that I have no problem with birds in much the same way that anti-Semites will tell you that they have no problem with individual Jews, just Jews as a whole, I should point out that the egregious mold pit in which I labor for a pittance now has birds living in its façade. Specifically, there are pigeons living in our façade. The constant reader will remember that our happy little burg’s public library once occupied a building that is now on the National Register of Historic Places, as it is part of the early work of a prominent 19th century American architect, who designed the building as a favor for his brother-in-law, who provided the land and the financial wherewithal to build this historic site. If you ever wander through our happy little burg you must remember to go and see the old library. You can’t really miss it, as the architect was very fond of Norwegian chalets and therefore his design for the building was therefore that of a Norwegian chalet, making it the only Norwegian chalet on Main Street. In fact, I think it is fairly safe to say that this Norwegian chalet is definitely the only Norwegian chalet in our happy little burg and probably the only Norwegian chalet in a fifty-mile radius of our fair metropolis. For all I know, it may be the only Norwegian in a fifty-mile radius; we don’t get a lot of Scandinavians around here, as a rule. The building is now a concert hall for those people in our happy little burg who enjoy a rousing Chopin nocturne every now and again. I am not sure how they stay in business with this repertoire; I am pretty sure for a good-sized chunk of the population here classical music is Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5.

The library, having outgrown these architecturally prominent but otherwise almost hellish premises in the mid-1970’s, is now at an old five and ten cent store some three or four blocks up Main Street. The management of this mycological swamp routinely refers to the previous occupant of this site as a department store, but this description comes under what a psychologist might call delusions of grandeur. There was a department store in town and our mildewed abode was not it. The department store was down the street where the Mexican pizzeria with the best slices in town is now. A five and ten cent store, popularly known as a five and dime, for those of you too young to remember such an institution, was the early to mid-20th century’s version of the dollar store. Dollar bills being short supply in those years, what with the Great Depression and the rush on Prozac, and then the war and Senator McCarthy chasing Commies with lead-filled subpoenas every which way after the war, the people of this our Great Republic had to get by on pocket change, an economic fact of life that eventually gave rise to the five and dime. Dollar bills were in such short supply in those years that some people, unused to the very concept of the dollar bill and deeply suspicious of the idea that green paper could actually be money, pawned them for about twenty-five cents on the dollar; life was hard in those days and people wanted money they could put in a sock and save for a rainy day or smash someone’s teeth in with if they got into a fight. Trying defending yourself with a wad of twenties and you’ll see what I mean.

So here we are and, it would seem, here we are going to stay. After moving all of the books up to this place, the board of trustees decided that they should do something about the front of the building, since people were still coming in and wondering what happened to all the stuff they used to buy here. That wasn’t so bad, but when people started stealing the books the same way I used to boost comic books and gum out of the old five and dime, the board said that it was high time that we started to look like an actual library. And so the façade we have now came to be, with our name in very big letters over the front door so people would know that we didn’t have anything for sale anymore and that we were now officially our happy little burg’s temple of knowledge.

This is all very well and good, of course, but this all happened thirty or so years ago. I didn’t work here then, which seems to shock some people in this neck of the woods no end. Contrary to what they may believe or what you may have heard, I am not part of this place’s original equipment. The façade, however, is not holding up as well as I am. It has rotted away in some places, leaving a space between it and the building itself, where the local pigeon population has taken up residence. It was only a matter of time, you know; rents here have gone through the roof these past few years; and now the only place the pigeons can afford is the library façade. What makes the arrangement particularly good for the pigeons is that there are some three levels of woodwork on the inside of the façade, all of which are now open to the elements, and so the casual visitor walking past the library can see a three story avian tenement above their heads, complete with the nosy neighbor looking out at the passing scene and the young mother watching the kids play near the fire hydrants and yelling at them to be careful, there’s a car coming. Worse yet, they pay no rent and if the board of trustees tried to collect from them, the pigeons would have Geraldo Rivera up to take a look at the way they live in this crappy little façade and accuse us of being the worst sort of slumlord.

On the whole, the pigeons try to be good neighbors, although I would just as soon not have to listen to them squabble about money all the time, and when the father blows his paycheck on Irish whiskey and beer down at O’Reilly’s Bar & Grill the fights get good and mean; I’ve had to call the cops in a couple of times because it sounded like they were killing each other up there. It’s just the principle of the thing that annoys me, I guess. This is supposed to be a public library, not a slum for the avian disadvantaged; they shouldn’t be here at all, but it would appear that there’s nothing we can do about them in the short run as our budget did not pass this year, just as it did not pass last year.

So we are stuck, unless we can think of a way of getting funding that does not involve allowing people to download pornography on our computers or taking a cut of the online betting action; the local senior citizenry is devoted to blowing their Social Security checks here but they don’t want to actually fund the place and if they thought for a minute that we were getting some of their money they’d have a screaming fit that would last from opening time to whenever it’s time for their first meds of the day. There’s a way around this conundrum, there has to be; I just haven’t thought of it yet.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

HENRY FORD REDUX: History is dull. History is stupid. History is boring. I became aware of these great truths just the other day, when a twelve year old with lousy grades and a possible learning disability told me so, and is there anyone whose pedagogical judgment we can count on more in this our Great Republic than a twelve year old with lousy grades and a possible learning disability? I think not. When queried as to why this loathing of matters historical, our young scholar opined that he didn’t care what those old time people did and that social studies, the tepid educational gumbo of history, economics, civics, sociology, and political correctness that the state education department requires schools to poison the minds of students with, was just totally bogus.

This semi-adolescent philippic took me aback, I must admit; history was always my favorite subject in school and I have a bachelor’s degree in the subject. I was even going to teach the subject to such uncomprehending Ritalin-dulled minds such as this young debunker's before the chance to make a full time salary now as opposed to sometime in the always retreating future led me into the library field, making me one of the very few people who entered the field strictly for the money. I countered this ignorant snotty’s arguments, telling him that history and its study was a supremely useful field of endeavor, full of amusing anecdotes you can amuse and entertain your friends with. This is because history is about people, and the prolonged study of history leads one inexorably to the conclusion that at no point in humanity’s sojourn on this planet have people ever gotten past the need to make complete asses of themselves.

To start with, a knowledge of history allows the otherwise ill-informed moviegoer to know which side to root for and to save themselves no end of embarrassment. For example, the fashion crazed teenager might well assume, simply on the basis of the uniforms alone, that the Germans must be the good guys in any movie about World War II simply because they wear the really cool uniforms. This is not the case, and neither were the Germans on our side during that war. No, indeed, they were not on our side at all; they were the enemy—I’m not kidding; you can look it up. We were trying to kill them in large numbers, and the Germans, being an eminently sensible people, were trying to do the same thing to us and to large numbers of other people as well, for reasons that remain a mystery to the vast majority of people even unto this day. How cool their uniforms were doesn’t really enter into the equation. Now I know that you can make the argument that the Marines had cooler uniforms than the Germans, and so did the British, but let’s face facts: the Marines didn’t fight in their dress blues and the British didn’t fight in red coats; Sicily and Saratoga are entirely different places, although most kids school today couldn’t find either place on a map if you put big red X’s on it. The Germans, on the other hand, really did fight in their dressy uniforms, and they fought wearing all of their decorations, which makes them look really cool onscreen. Having a top of the line designer like Hugo Boss do your army’s uniforms will always make a soldier look good onscreen and off.

What really annoys me, however, is that this kid had no concept of the nation’s past, he was totally clueless about the history of his own community. Once upon a time here in the Vampire State, teachers force fed students the history of our state, and how lucky we were to live in such a great state when an accident of navigation could have landed us in New Jersey or North Dakota or, in a fate worse that death itself, Boston, Massachusetts, where we would have become Red Sox fans and lost whatever self-respect we brought with us from the Old Country. When I went to parochial school the nuns were very strict about this sort of thing, you know, and a good many of them thought that supporting the Red Sox was a mortal sin, something akin to eating meat on Fridays or walking in the halls with hands in your pockets. I remember how one kid, who actually came from Boston, got beaten senseless on a fairly regular basis by one particularly rabid nun who held that Mickey Mantle was proof positive of the existence of God and that Ted Williams was the instrument of the devil. I always thought she had a point there.

And here’s another example: only a few days ago, on May 24th, in fact, our state marked, or didn’t mark in this case, the 380th anniversary of Donald Trump buying Manhattan Island from the Indians. The Donald thought he was getting a break, shelling out twenty four dollars for the entire island, but it turned out that the Indians who sold the island were Canarsies, and if you watch old World War II movies on a regular basis, you will know that all the guys from Brooklyn come from either Flatbush or Canarsie. They didn’t own Manhattan, the Manhattan Indians did, and Donald’s attempts to do a deal with them floundered because they wouldn’t sell him the air rights over the island before they moved to Cleveland. He did eventually get some prize chunks of the island, but not before the market for Manhattan real estate got crowded with people who drove the price per square foot of land up through the metaphorical roof. The Manhattans’ refusal to do a deal up front is one of the reasons the name of the state is New York and not the Trump World Multi-Tower Hotel and Casino.

As if this were not enough in itself, this ignorant lad knew nothing of the history of our very own happy little burg. He did not know that his school bore the name of the man who bought this entire area from the Indians (I should mention here that the story that the Indians offered to sell him all the land the man could see in a single glance is purely apocryphal; I somehow doubt that the Indians, having made such an offer, would allow our happy little burg’s founding father to hike up to the top of the local mountain and say, I’ll take it, not when a conveniently placed tomahawk could void the entire deal and leave the Indians open to a better offer; in fact, the Indians drove a hard bargain—they spread blankets on the ground and told the founding father to pile stuff on those blankets until they told him to stop, which they did when he’d piled on everything from the local Wal-Mart, as well as half the stuff from the hardware department of the Sears store up in the county seat) or that this historical worthy had a daughter, whose home still stands only some three blocks from where I now sit, making it the oldest structure in the county.

The daughter came here in 1707 with her husband, a naval lieutenant, who, after a long and arduous career at sea, fell into the river on a calm night and drowned, a fate that I’ve always thought a bit on the ironic side. In any case, her home is not a very big place, and there’s a plastic fence around it as well, which tends to cut down on the realism, if you ask me. But I guess that’s just the way things are nowadays. If the people in charge of preserving our heritage don’t seem to care too much about it, then why should twelve-year dolts with lousy grades, a possible learning disability, and a snotty attitude to boot care about it, especially when there are TV shows to watch, computer games to play, and refrigerators to raid?

Postscript: No, I do not know what manner of learning disability this kid has, so don’t bother to ask, but if I am any judge of character I would venture to say I could solve a good many of this kid’s pedagogical problems with a good swift kick in his oversized ass. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, but I know it would make me feel a lot better.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

MADONNA, AT IT AGAIN: I see in the paper that Madonna now has a mock crucifixion in her act, which I don't really understand, since I thought she was semi-Jewish now. Once upon a time, people spent a lot of time worrying about she made fun of Christian symbols for shock and profit, but the thing of it is, when you’ve done it fifty or sixty times before, the shock value sort of wears off. If she really wanted to stir up the hornets, she should come out singing "Like the 72nd virgin, touched for the very first time." Madonna still keeps at it, God love her; she's a trouper, you’ve got to give her credit for that, even if the old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

THE CODE, YOU'VE GOT TO PROTECT THE CODE: A specter is haunting Christianity, a specter promising to undermine the very foundations of the Church and permanently damaging the deeply held faith of over a billion Christian believers. For millennia, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has kept this secret, using every method foul or fair to prevent the faithful from learning the truth. Even with this murderous diligence, however, some of the most brilliant minds in human history, and one or two of the not quite so brilliant minds in human history and some of their friends, and at least three dogs that I know of, have deduced the truth, and one of them, Jackson Pollock, and by Jackson Pollock I mean the artist Jackson Pollock and not a dog named Jackson Pollock—it seems to me that you could a little confused there about whether or not I am talking about artists or dogs—surreptitiously encoded the secret in his painting, Lavender Mist. Yes, the revelation of the secret is at hand, and it will rock Christianity to its very core and might even cause the collapse of the Roman Catholic Church. The lights have been on at the Vatican well into the wee hours of the morning all week long, if for no other reason than it is hard to see in the dark, as worried church leaders try to develop a strategy for dealing with the upcoming disaster. But truth is always better than deception, and the time has come to reveal…

Before we do any revealing here, let me just say that this revelation is not the one that is getting all of the publicity these days. That whole Knights Templar, Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene as the wife of Christ sort of thing is all pretty dull stuff, on the whole. I mean, who cares, really? In fact, the notion is kind of silly once you give it any real thought, and the notion that Christ married into the French royal family is just too ridiculous for words, a feeble attempt to explain away why French waiters treat the tourists like crap. And when you think about it, why on earth would Christ want to be a Frenchman in the first place, and if he were, would Bill O’Reilly call for a boycott of Catholic churches throughout the world as part of his boycott of France? The world can only wonder.

But enough of this; let us turn to the great secret encrypted in Pollock’s great masterpiece, which strikes me as being more than a little redundant, since by definition all masterpieces are great, greatness being the salient quality of most masterpieces, the masterpieces of modern dance being an exception to the rule, as well as any recipe that calls for the use of liver, asparagus, or eggs, either scrambled or fried. Sorry, but modern dance goes right by me, as does ballet. I know I should like things like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker; they’re crowd-pleasers and The Nutcracker is practically synonymous with Christmas anymore, but the fact of the matter is that ballet looks pretty silly to me. For me, there’s nothing especially artistic about watching Russians, anorexics, and gays, or some combination of the three categories, jumping around a stage in their underwear. The music is nice, though. Now if someone could get the Lollipop Guild munchkins from The Wizard of Oz to sing opera they’d be on to something. I’d pay good money to hear dwarves sing the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il trovatore, but that’s just me, I guess.

…THE POLLOCK CODE!!! My apologies for this somewhat abrupt return to the end of the first paragraph, but if I didn’t forcibly shove this thing back to the subject at hand then I’d waste all my time in digressions having nothing to do with what I am allegedly discussing here. Digressions are always dangerous in a piece like this, but I suppose we will all have to get used to the concept as hyperlinks make digression the norm and not the sort of Shandyesque exception to the literary rule…okay, well, let’s try this again.

Yes, the Pollock Code, the secret key to a key, in a sense, although I don’t think that metaphor really makes a hell of a lot of sense, now that I think about it, since you don’t unlock keys with keys—you don’t unlock keys at all—so let me explain just what it is I am trying to say here. If you look closely at Pollock’s Lavender Mist, and you can do this without straining your eyes, but not without thinking that someone is trying to pull your leg here, you will notice down in the lower left hand corner near the brown the brown splotch that symbolizes man’s inhumanity to man, the pink dot that symbolizes the plight of poor industrial workers crushed to pieces in the insatiable maw of modern capitalism, and the lavender spot, which is an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes. Beneath these three splotches there are two other squiggles, one of which represents Pollock sneezing—he had a cold that day—and the other squiggle, which is the same color as the robes St. James the Lesser and St. Thomas the Doubter wear in Leonardo da Vinci’s great painting, The Last Supper.

Why is this significant? Because, as I’ve mentioned previously, the two men are looking in horror at a plate of brownies in which you can clearly see the faces of the ill-fated Sbaglio brothers, who were put to death in 1478 for their part in the Pazzi conspiracy against Lorenzo (il magnifico)de Medici, the ruler of Florence and her sister, Sally, a conspiracy that left Lorenzo’s brother dead and Lorenzo himself seriously wounded, and it is at this exact moment in the painting that Jesus has revealed the darkest secret in the entire history of Christianity: that the faithful should cook their brownies with cashews instead of walnuts. The horror on the faces of the Apostles is self-evident, with one apostle clearly pointing out that there is only one type of nut on a kosher brownie and that walnuts are that nut and cashews aren’t.

That the Roman Catholic Church would go to any lengths to prevent this fact from becoming general knowledge is easy to understand once you know that the Vatican, through the Jesuits and their stooges, the Freemasons, the Jews, the Illuminati, and the Boston Red Sox, control four fifths of the world’s supply of walnuts. No single event since Lorenzo Valla proved that the Donation of Constantine was a load of toads’ gonads in the fifteenth century has anything threatened the Vatican’s hold on temporal power so completely. In terms of the Church’s spiritual credibility, this revelation proves finally that the Church deliberately suppressed those parts of the Gospel that threatened its control over the believers’ brownies. There is little or no doubt left among Italian historians today that the Church lured the Sbaglio brothers into the Pazzi conspiracy for the express purpose of eliminating them. The brothers learned the secret from a Senegalese peddler selling fake Rolexes and maps to the movie stars’ homes outside the Duomo in Florence (the Duomo in that so? You know, that’s a lot like saying the Empire State Building in New York City; where else is the damn thing going to be?), and they paid for their new knowledge with their lives, unless it was a different secret; the Sbaglios had a recipe for bundt cake that a lot of people were willing to kill for, so that might have been the cause of their unfortunate demise.

That’s always a possibility, you know; Renaissance Italy was chock full of secrets no one gives a rat’s backside about nowadays, and it may well be that the majority of Christians will not abandon their faith just because they’ve been using the theologically incorrect nut for all these millennia, although my guess is that this might cause some splits in the more fundamentalist churches; we won’t get to the end of the decade without their being Baptists, Southern Baptists, and Walnut and Cashew Baptists. I also suspect that the Catholics might get out of this whole thing unscathed. Nothing much seems to faze them these days, now that the Inquisition can’t burn people at the stake anymore. I guess when you hit the two millennia mark you start to mellow a bit.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

NEWS FROM TEHRAN: I haven't really been following the news these past few weeks; it is baseball season and the Yankees are only a game back in the American League East and so there are more important things to do than watch politicians blathering on and on about what a great job they are doing or would be doing or could be doing if only champagne flowed from the washroom taps. So I was a bit surprised to hear that the President of Iran had written a letter to President Bush; I was under the impression that the Islamic Republic of Iran had no earthly use for the United States of America, that we were, in that now quaint and homey phrase, the Great Satan, and I was equally surprised to learn that the president of Iran could read and write and maybe even do long division as well. I know the nuns couldn't beat the proper way to divide a fraction into me and the good Lord knows how hard they tried to do just that from the second grade onwards. I suppose we here living in the House of War should be happy that the leader of a great Islamic nation has deigned to notice our miserable infidel existence and wishes to lift us out of our lives of benighted pagan savagery, but I learn from Wikipedia that the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran is a position that gives the holder no real power to do anything except parrot the views of the Supreme Leader, a gentleman named the Grand Ayatollah Khameini. As it seems His Reverence has not been sending us any love notes lately, the best course of action that President Bush could take here is to simply ignore this missive, in my humble opinion. It just seems to me that from no matter what angle you choose to look at this development, the President of the United States does not conduct serious bilateral negotiations on an issue as serious as nuclear proliferation with Mortimer Snerd.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

YOUR SUPPORT: I’d like to thank everyone for their support of TPP. I know that I shouldn’t let the TTLB numbers get me down, but I’ve been in the blogosphere for a while now and those numbers never seem to improve, and when they do seem to be getting better, TTLB does one of their periodic makeovers and I lose whatever ground I appear to have gained. This is a depressing experience, as I’m sure all of the bloggers here realize, and after a while, I start asking myself why I am bothering to do this at all. So thank you all again; I really appreciate the kind words and as soon as I dig myself out of the cesspit of statistical depression I seem to be mired in at the moment, I will stop feeling sorry for myself and think of something new. I will, however, have to clean the statistical mire off my already filthy sneakers first.

P.S. Thank you for the email, Jazzki. I am not sure what exactly Oriental obeisance is; Don German of German’s Happy Hair Cut & Hand Gun Emporium, the barbershop / gun store where I get my hair cut, is of the opinion that Oriental obeisance is something on the menu at the China Buffett two doors down from his establishment, but that hardly seems to work in the context you are using the phrase in. Webster’s Dictionary is my next stop. Also, just as a matter of curiosity, did you book that guilt trip online or did you use a travel agent? ;--)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

AN UPDATE: The Truth Laid Bear now has me at # 7887 on their ecosystem hit parade. That's right, # 7887. That loud hissing sound you hear in the background is the hydrogen leaking slowly out of my cyberego.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

ON NOT AGING WELL: It is, of course, impossible for creatures as limited in their knowledge and perception as we are to truly divine the works of the Almighty, but I think I stand on fairly safe theological grounds when I say that subdural hematoma is the Lord’s none too subtle way of telling you that you should avoid white water kayaking as a recreational activity and take up something else a tad less stressful, like jai alai or collecting poisonous South American toads for fun and profit. I bring this up because the children’s librarian here at the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for a pittance recently spent a weekend trying to acquire this particular skill. I do not believe that she ever had much enthusiasm for the project, but her newly acquired boy friend was all gung ho for the idea and so she went along for the ride. Going along for the ride when the ride involves traveling at high speed down a boulder strewn river in a conveyance that does not come equipped with brakes as standard equipment is almost always a bad idea for everyone involved.

I must admit that I felt sorry for her as she told the rest of us about her weekend, but frankly, I knew this was going to happen. While there are inevitably exceptions to any rule, on the whole women would be wise to avoid having a relationship with men having a mid-life crisis, as this sort of thing tends to get very messy, especially when you smash into a large rock or get eaten by a polar bear. Women must endure a mid-life crisis as well, but the beauty of menopause, if you want to call it a beauty, is that menopause is a biological reality that women cannot deny for long and so they adapt. Women know that when one part of their lives are over, it’s over; whether most men choose to admit this or not, the vast majority of women are brutally realistic in a way most men can never hope to be.

The male mid-life crisis, by contrast, is more psychological than biological, and there produces no undeniable physical manifestation that makes perfectly clear to the male that he ain’t as young as he used to be, unless he counts the fact that he can no longer see his feet without leaning forward a bit, and five will get you ten that he doesn’t give his now invisible feet any credence whatsoever. Given that most men stop aging mentally somewhere about the middle of their senior year in high school, the idea that they can’t do everything they did at eighteen without the serious risk of coronary infarction is utterly abhorrent. A man faced with the horrid reality will usually deny it with every amount of psychic energy and every dollar he can scrape together. Men having a mid-life crisis will mortgage the family home several times over, if he can get away with it, in order to buy an Italian sports car, get a new wardrobe, and start dating an eighteen year waitress named Tiffany, who works down at the local diner and whose main ambitions in life are to be a movie star, work for world peace, and become Playboy magazine’s Playmate of the Year, although not necessarily in that order.

None of this lasts for very long, of course; the insurance premiums on the Italian sports car are beyond the merely prohibitive and border on the completely extortionate, the car itself is as temperamental as an ex-wife who hasn’t gotten her alimony check in three months, you’ve noticed that the new clothes are a more than a little snug around the middle, and you’ve also noticed, once you’ve stopped popping Viagra tablets like jellybeans just to keep up with her, that Tiffany, as lovely as she is, has no idea what the hell you’re talking about half the time. There’s something very dispiriting about that blank and almost clueless look that appears any time you make a reference to something that happened before she was born, primarily because deep down she doesn’t really believe that anything happened before she was born. If it did, she’d remember it, wouldn’t she?

Some guys will close their minds to all this evidence and will not simply admit that they can’t do everything now that they did in high school, which appears to be the category our children’s librarian’s newly acquired boyfriend fall into. To his credit, he seems like a nice guy and he’s managed to skip the whole Tiffany phase; our children’s librarian is a very attractive femme d’un certain age, as the French say, and so he can make cultural references till the cows come home without worrying about Tiffany’s bovine blankness making coming home something of a psychic chore. But instead of lying on a beach in the Caribbean, soaking up the sunshine and drinking tropical rum concoctions filled with fruit and topped off by that silly paper umbrella, as I am sure she would prefer, our children’s librarian is off to the white water, there to learn how to navigate a kayak down a fast-moving river full of rocks. Oh joy!

First, and I do not for a moment hesitate to point this out to him, her, or to anyone else who might think of taking up whitewater kayaking as a hobby: this is not a good idea. In fact, it’s a dumb idea, one of the dumber ideas to come scurrying down the well-worn track of dumb ideas in our time. White water in the middle of a creek or river is an indication that there are large rocks on the bottom that impede the smooth and even flow of water. White water is, in short, a danger sign, an indication that floating down this particular stretch of waterway might not be conducive to your long-term survival, so DON’T DO IT, DAMMIT!

Some people, however, have to be hit over the head several times before they get the point, and yes, it is truly amazing how many times you can hit your head in the course of just one trip down your local raging torrent and just how unpleasant that sensation can be, even if you are wearing a helmet. And if having Mother Nature bludgeon you black and blue just for the hell of it were not enough, there’s always the rapturous joy you can derive from drowning, or coming very close to it. Severe oxygen deprivation is always fun, as anyone who has had the experience can tell you as they drool baby food and vile smelling spittle all over your freshly shined shoes.

As for our two adventurers, I’m pretty sure that our children’s librarian wants no further part of running rapids, but I am not sure that the newly acquired boy friend shares the sentiment. A fifty year old man who wants to prove that he can do everything he did at eighteen is a man looking for trouble, if you ask me, and very likely to find it, and at the worst possible moment, too. You can’t tell some guys that, though; they have to learn it for themselves. On average, the revelation that time has finally caught up with them usually hits some time during their third week in the hospital. Facing reality can be a horrifying thing, particularly when you want your pelvis to mend quickly.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

KOSHER MOSHE BUFFALO, HIM HEAP BIG INJUN BRAVE: Yes, the American bison is now kosher, just in time for wandering tribes of Israelites on their way to the Promised Land of Miami Beach in recreational vehicles to hunt and eat along with their biblically approved manna and quail. Who brings the red wine, I wonder, and does red wine go with buffalo? In a totally unrelated vein, I have something to post, but at the moment I am too lazy to actually type the damn thing up and put it on the blog. Sloth has gotten the better of me today, I fear.

Monday, May 08, 2006

THE INFLUENCE OF STUPIDITY UPON HISTORY: A RUMINATION NOT BY ALFRED THAYER MAHAN: The philosopher George Santayana warned that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. This is an admirable sentiment, I think, and it must have simultaneously amused and annoyed Santayana that after all his hard intellectual work in a variety of fields—the Library of Congress has some 113 books by him on their shelves even as we speak—he was best known to the American reading public as the author of an adage. Other authors have to write whole books in order to become famous; Santayana did it in a single sentence, which brings up the inevitable question of just how do you go about collecting royalties when you are the author of a cliché?

Now I know that I should know better than to argue with a cliché; clichés, adages, old saws, and Oprah Winfrey being what passes for folk wisdom in this our Great Republic these days, but it has always seemed to me that old George was full of toad gonads. I mean, think about it for a minute: if those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, then how would the people repeating history know that they are repeating it, since they’ve forgotten what happened the last time they tried to pull off this silly stunt. And that, of course, doesn’t factor in willful stupidity.

And what, you ask, is willful stupidity? Well, maybe you’re not asking, maybe you don’t even care, and if you don’t, why should I? Answer me that, if you’re so smart. Having cleared that up, what is willful stupidity? Willful stupidity occurs when you do something you know is bone-jarringly dumb but you choose to do it anyway, for reasons best known to yourself and the Almighty, who will no doubt look at your reasoning and wonder if there’s anyway He can get out of that promise He made Noah about not wiping out humanity with another great flood because anyone as dumb as you are ought to be drowned and the sooner the better. The best illustrations of willful stupidity these days usually come from professional sports, where the combination of ego, money, fame, and testosterone can lead some players to think that they can slug a player from another team right in front of a referee during a very close game and not care about the consequences. When you think about willful stupidity in these terms, you can clearly see that willful stupidity is not merely an aberration, something that humanity has had to put up with ever since the first caveman set fire to his wife while they tried to cook a cave bear steak on a hibachi, but is, rather, the driving force behind the whole of human history.

Historians tend to underestimate stupidity as one of the great movers of historical destiny. After all, most historical figures were reasonably intelligent men (historically important women are, as a rule, exceptionally intelligent, since only by being twice as smart could they be just as dumb), with the exceptions of Peter III of Russia, Charles II of Spain, and Mayor ‘Wild Bill’ Thompson of Chicago, who really were as stupid as they looked; Mayor Thompson once threatened to punch the King of England in the nose if His Majesty ever dared show his face in the Windy City; and it is easy for historians to fall into the trap of thinking that there must have been a logical reason for some of the really stupid things these people did. So it is only natural for historians, being fairly intelligent people themselves, should discount the overwhelming influence of stupidity upon history. This, however, is a mistake.

For example, can anyone today deny that Japan’s attack on the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 was a pretty dumb thing to do, and that Germany's declaration of war on the United States three days later is proof positive that Adolf Hitler made some decisions with his head firmly wedged up his own backside? Or, just to indulge in some domestic dumbness for a moment, can anyone truly explain the origins of the designated hitter rule or why anyone goes to see a Pauly Shore movie? There are things in life you cannot explain in any other way except by invoking willful stupidity.

That this is the case should not surprise anyone, really. History is simply humanity’s daily story writ large and with a better soundtrack, so the wise historian should accept the stupidity for what it is. There are some five thousand years of recorded human experience, give or take the occasional cuneiform telegram or two, and in looking over that record it is difficult to say whether if it counts as five thousand years of experience or one year’s worth of experience repeated five thousand times, albeit with cooler toys as the millennia pass. Today a woman can find out instantly via email that the boyfriend is not going to divorce his wife for her, no matter how many times he says his wife doesn’t understand him; the spurned Sumerian girl friend had to find out via clay tablet and it took the post office weeks to deliver the bad news. To add insult to injury, the post office didn’t make the senders pay for the mail until after Zachary Taylor refused to pay for the official letter notifying him that he was now the President of the United States in 1848; Taylor, a sensible military man, saw no point in paying the post office to get news he already knew and so declined to pick up his mail. The post office, fearful that this action might start a precedent, decided to get their money up front and charge the senders instead of the recipients, a reform that came much too late for the dumped Sumerian girl friend.

Stupidity is not always a bad thing, of course, even if it does tend to get large numbers of people killed. Obviously, you want to avoid moronic generals, as they have the unfortunate tendency of adversely affecting one’s expected life span, but sometimes the occasional descent into dolthood is a good thing. If Alexander Graham Bell hadn’t poured acid all over himself like a complete dumbass, for instance, we wouldn’t have the telephone now, although with the arrival of the cellphone you have to wonder why Alex couldn’t have gone in for something less annoying like hydroponic gardening or making movie star mosaics from bottle tops, thereby protecting an easily shocked American public from the details of what you did with your significant other last Saturday night. It’s nice to know that being a complete schlemiel can work out for some people some times, even if you have to put up with all the adverse consequences.

Friday, May 05, 2006

APROPOS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL: This may or may not come under the heading of breaking news; I know I hadn't heard it before, but that doesn't really mean anything really since no one tells me anything of any importance. That being said, has anyone heard anything about a newly discovered Gospel according to Saint Timothy's brother George of Tyre, a man loathed and despised in the ancient world as an especially crooked used chariot dealer, no mean accomplishment given the competition, that says that Ronald McDonald is the harbinger of the Anti-Christ? And why is the Roman Catholic Church, in collusion with the fast food industry and the Boston Red Sox, covering up this terrifying fact?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

JUST WONDERING: I know I shouldn’t complain; lots of people have things a lot worse than I do; but I am starting to wonder whether or not I should continue with this whole blogging venture. The Truth Laid Bear, before whose omniscient wisdom all the blogosphere trembles in holy awe, has my rankings plummeting downwards faster than George W. Bush’s approval ratings at an anti-war rally—I am now down into the 7,000 range after I don’t know how long in the 6,000’s, and the worm of doubt has finally turned and caused me to ask myself, do I want to keep doing this? The worm of doubt also wants me to buy a new car, but gas being the price it is these days the worm will have to get along in my six year old Ford just like the rest of me. It’s just that I can’t write anything these days without it sounding like something I’ve already written and I don’t want to bore myself or the readers, either. So I will give this some more thought and let you know one way or the other.