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, June 28, 2006

PATIO FURNITURE AND THE GREAT WHITE NORTH: There are no patio furniture retailers in the Yukon Territory. That’s right, not one. Nor are there any patio furniture retailers in the Northwestern Territories, and one of the many things the Inuit aren’t into in Nunavut is patio furniture; even if they wanted some there’s no place to get any. You could argue, I suppose, that the dearth of patio furniture retailers in these areas of Canada simply reflects the architectural and climatological realities of these regions. Patio furniture, as we have known it since Leonardo da Vinci’s invention of the patio as a way of evading his income taxes in 1502, is basically a summer phenomenon, and no sooner has the Inuit wife nagged her husband into getting the patio furniture out of the garage, where the dogs have spent all winter crapping on it, and cleaning the whole set off than it is time to put the furniture back into the garage for the winter. This is enough to put many an Inuit male off the whole concept of patio furniture, as does the general lack of patios in that neck of the tundra. It is difficult at best to put a proper patio on an igloo, since the kids will usually use it as a hockey rink just when you are trying to entertain your guests with that absolutely hilarious story about how your vacation in the warm sunshine of Yellowknife almost turned into a complete disaster when Grandma fell off the sled and wound up in a polar bear.

This odd refusal to tap the market for patio furniture in Canada’s northernmost regions repeats itself in other areas as well. A detailed study of the Canadian Yellow Pages reveals that there are next to no retailers selling patio furniture in the Maritime Provinces or in Saskatchewan, and that Manitoba can barely hold its own; Manitobans who want patio furniture have to buy it online and pay prohibitive sales and VAT taxes for the privilege of sitting out on their patios and watching the sun set in Saskatchewan. Even Quebec and British Columbia, which are no slouches when it comes to the mass use and abuse of innocent patios, find their appetites pale before Ontario’s incessant demand for patio furniture. It was not always thus, of course; once upon a time proud Ontarians would hesitate to bring up the subject of patio furniture in mixed company, lest it shock their guests and lead the uninformed to mistake them for Newfoundlanders, or worse, Americans. This old prejudice has apparently gone the way of all flesh, however, as Ontarians today apparently have no qualms about hogging all the patio furniture for themselves and leaving none for Nunavut.

Defenders of this clearly abhorrent discriminatory practice will, no doubt, bring up such irrelevancies as the population difference between Ontario and Nunavut. Ontario is a fairly large place, as places go, stretching along the border with the United States from New York in the east to Minnesota in the west, and has a population of several millions of people. Nunavut is also a fairly large place, of course, but its population consists largely of caribou, which, despite the best efforts of environmentalists everywhere, have not demonstrated any convincing need for patio furniture at any time during their evolutionary history. However, this simple explanation fails one crucial test; having explained away the lack of patio furniture retailers due to lack of population, with the concomitant lack of demand, the proponent of this theory must then explain why there are no fewer than two patio furniture retailers just across the border in Alaska. There are just as many Inuit in Alaska as there are in Canada, and a wide selection of other aboriginal Americans as well, plus an equally large population of caribou, and yet there are two stores catering to the Native American /First Nation/ Politically Correct Euphemism for Eskimos and American Indians of your choice in Alaska and none in Nunavut, the Yukon, or the Northwestern Territories. Clearly, the population excuse cannot be the truth.

We must assume, I think, that human nature is the same everywhere, despite the many cultural differences that separate us, except for the area around Fenway Park, the inhabitants thereof being a race of mutants, and that if the Inuit of Alaska crave patio furniture enough to support two establishments dedicated to its sale, then the Inuit of the Canadian North share this craving just as much as their fellows across the border, but that the Canadian government is, for reasons of its own, thwarting their desire to buy some. It is difficult at best for any mind not completely taken in by the habitual doubletalk of politicians and bureaucrats in Ottawa to understand why the government loathes either patio furniture or the Inuit so much that they would take active steps to keep the inhabitants of the country’s northern regions from getting a nice set of six chairs and maybe a couple of tables for their patios.

Sociologists who have carefully studied the behavior of bureaucrats in situations where questions of life and death are totally irrelevant to the issue at hand have pointed out in study after study that bureaucrats will do almost anything in their power to adversely effect a nation’s seating habits, often for the sheer pleasure of doing so. In Paraguay, for example, under the long dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, it was illegal for any chair produced in a Paraguayan chair factory not to have a large wooden knob placed squarely in the middle of the seat, the ostensible reason being that the knob would compel people to sit up straight, thereby promoting good posture and therefore good citizenship, and would prevent a nationwide outbreak of hemorrhoids, which Stroessner saw as deeply unpatriotic, if not actually communistic. Stroessner and his secret police did not tolerate communists or piles in Paraguay and so neither officially existed anywhere in the country, although The New York Times did publish a secret Interpol report on the subject in 1981 that pointed out that the traffic in Preparation H and the collected works of Karl Marx in the capital, Asuncion, dwarfed the cocaine trade and the always popular Lufthansa Paraguay uber alles tours by a factor of almost five to one.

Canada is a parliamentary democracy, of course, a proud bearer of the British tradition of the rule of law, and not some tin horn—pot—other metallic implement South American dictatorship, and so cannot arbitrarily order Canadian merchants not to sell patio furniture to the Inuit citizens of the country, and yet that appears to be exactly what’s happened here. There does not seem to be any rationale for this ban, no thirty year study by leading Canadian medical authorities that suggests that rattan, wicker, or, in a pinch, molded fiberglass, furniture causes appendectomal cancer in laboratory rats and related indigenous populations and as a consequence the government ought to keep the stuff off the Northern markets. What there does seem to be is a surfeit of Canadian bureaucrats who think watching Inuit sitting on blocks of ice is more than a little funny, especially when they jump up and start whacking themselves on the backside after they’ve been sitting on the ice for too long. I’m sure this sort of thing is very funny, in its own sad sick way, particularly if you don’t get cable and the satellite dish never seems to work the way the salesman said it would, and it seems to me that Canadian bureaucrats must not have much to do, if thinking of new ways for Inuit to look silly is all they have to do with their time.

Friday, June 23, 2006

DISCULPAME, DAMAS Y CABALLEROS, AND NO, I DON'T KNOW WHY I AM SAYING THAT IN SPANISH: My apologies for the light posting this week, if you can call a total lack of any sort of posting light and not a complete dereliction of duty. I have finally followed the advice of friends and family and bought a home computer to complement my always-trusty electric pencil sharpener, and I now have something of a problem. Unlike the many developer-built McMansions springing up all over America these days, with their standardized this and their standardized that and their standardized the other thing, my father built the house I live in with his own two hands. As a consequence of this, I have great plumbing in my house; my father worked on construction crews for years putting in the plumbing in buildings all over the great metropolis to the south and so whenever he did a private plumbing job he simply did what he did on the job in the metropolis; he put in small mountains of copper piping. Today, there are homes from one end of our happy little burg to the other that have enough pipe in their walls and cellars to keep a small skyscraper supplied with water for a year. When it comes to plumbing, therefore, I have no complaints whatsoever.

On the other hand, my father’s grasp of the electrician’s trade was, to be charitable, somewhat more tenuous. The wiring in my house tends towards what might best be described as the fairly whimsical, so much so that when we added the front porch a few years ago, something that entailed punching a hole in the front of the house, one of my brothers couldn’t figure out which wires were live and which ones weren’t, and solved the dilemma by drinking more than his weight in Budweiser and then touching each suspect wire he found with his fingers (I should point out here that I didn’t actually do any of the front porch remodeling or help in any way requiring some knowledge of tools and construction; my reputation for total mechanical incompetence was well known to all involved in the project and in the interests of getting the work done in a timely manner the brothers and the several friends actually doing the work decided that I should limit my contributions to the war effort to buying pizza and beer everyday for everyone involved).

Because of this, and purely in an effort to keep the house from burning down around me, a fate one always hopes to avoid unless you have enough insurance to make a little friendly arson worth your while, I have foresworn writing anything on the brand new computer until I have bought surge protectors to protect me from the electrical surges that will, no doubt, go racing through my home like hormones through a teenager’s body once I turn this thing on. In the meantime, I still have my pencils and legal paper, but I find that I have no time to transcribe these musings onto the computers at work, which remain my only connection to the Internet. Given this, my posting rate in the immediate future will be even slower than it is now, if such a thing is possible. When I have worked out my wiring issues, however, I expect that the rate will quickly climb from the positively glacial to the merely testudine in a matter of days, so I guess I have something to look forward to. In any case, and apropos nothing at all, this week marks the return of our old nemesis, the Elusive Beast, to the mother’s garden. We are contemplating what measures we will take to remove this problem once and for all.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

EDITORIAL CHANGE OF POLICY: The constant reader may remember that last year the hardworking staff of The Passing Parade decided, by unanimous voice vote, to scrap the previous philosophy animating this platform in favor of one of high moral dudgeon and intense seriousness towards the issues of the day. It became very clear very quickly that our habit of poking fun at the goings on in our happy little burg was doing absolutely nothing to increase the readership of this probably misbegotten adventure in electronic vanity publishing and that therefore we should move on to examine the present state of this our Great Republic from the point of view of conservatives living and working in an overly liberal state and in an overly liberal profession. In the months since we instituted the change in editorial policy, The Passing Parade has done stories on a wide variety of subjects, many of which had never been examined before in such a public manner, because we believe here, with Justice Brandeis, that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that many of these stories needed the light of truth shone on them. I am proud of the work we have done here to bring these stories to your attention. I couldn’t be prouder of my staff if they were my own children; they are the greatest bunch of journalistic youngsters this old blogger has seen in many a long year on the word slinging trail. They have worked their guts out 24/7 in a month of Texas Tuesdays to bring you the facts and nothing but the facts, and I think their courage and commitment has shown itself clearly in their work.

It is therefore with a heavy heart that I must announce that being right is no longer enough. The falling readership of The Passing Parade means that we must take drastic steps to keep ourselves afloat. Whether we old newshounds care to admit it or not, the public does not want solid journalism anymore; they want shock, sensation, celebrity; what the public wants are not hard-hitting reportage of malfeasance in the halls of power or an understanding of the great issues of the day, but the low down on Britney’s next baby. In a news environment such as this, the public can only hear the most strident voices of both the Left and the Right over the general din, and we propose to lead this blog forward into the furor. If Ann Coulter can do it then so can we; in short, The Passing Parade will hereafter embrace…CONTROVERSY!

Yes, controversy; from here on in The Passing Parade will pander to the basest instincts of its readership; if you want celebrity fluff and the dirt on who in Hollywood is sleeping with who, then we are your source for that sort of hardhitting journalistic slop. We begin our career as mongers of controversies both real and imagined by announcing that this blog stands foursquare behind the proposal that the government ought to confiscate, by brute force, if need be, every television remote control device in the country. Today, a plague of obesity threatens the very social fabric of America’s couches. From one end of this our Great Republic to the other people are finding getting off of chairs, sofas, and toilets simply too difficult for mere words to describe, especially when some five hundred pound fat ass cops a squat in the men’s room in this egregious mold pit and backs up the toilet with enough ordure to fertilize the fields of a family of four in most Third World countries for a year and a half. I know my old man, may he rest in piece, a nearly lifelong member of the plumbers union local #2, used to say that manure is our bread and butter, but I am not in the union nor am I mechanically inclined—I have trouble telling the difference between a crescent wrench and a Phillips head screwdriver—but I do know when some people are just taking advantage of my good nature. The janitor had left for the day only an hour before, and so by virtue of my father’s occupation and being male I got to unclog the toilet. So off I went with plunger and plumber's snake in hand, back into the nether regions of this fungal hellhole where wise men and foolish iguanas never go, back into the darkest wilds of the men’s room, where the feculent miasma was so foul it could knock a buzzard out of a tree at a hundred yards. The less said about the whole sad affair the better, I think, although I will say that if my johnson were as long as that turd I would be a much happier man.

But this is merely noisome, not controversial, so let me return to the point of this screed. If this dolt had to get up to change the stations then maybe he wouldn’t be putting such a massive strain on the library’s porcelain. Once upon a time in America, people actually had to get up, go over to the television, and physically twist a dial in order to change the channel. There were only three networks then and sometimes PBS, and if you were lucky there would be one or two independent local stations where you could watch reruns of Hogan’s Heroes and Gilligan’s Island until you were blue in the face. Changing the channels was how America stayed in shape during the dark ages before the coming of cable. Today there are a plethora of channels and no need to get up to change them; the remote does it all for you, and you can sit there ramming potato chips and orange soda into your pie hole until the cows come home. Imagine how much healthier we would all be if we had to return to the halcyon days of changing the channels, how much exercise we could get if only we had to get up and turn the knob for each one of those six hundred channels we now get via cable or satellite. America would lose ten inches off its collective waist inside of six months, and rug and carpet manufacturers would experience a boom such as they have never seen before as sales skyrocket because of all the carpeting being worn out by viewers going between the couch and the television to change the channel.

But an America that will not surrender its guns will not easily surrender its remotes; no indeed, we do not try to kid ourselves here. The going will be tough and it may be necessary to call out the National Guard in certain areas, such as our local firehouse during football season, in order to get a hold of all of those pernicious devices, and we are also certain the underworld will do its best to profit from the new dispensation. Customs agents will have to know in advance that desperate characters will try to flood the country with illicit remote controls. But we cannot look at difficulties alone. The public needs protection from the growing menace of remote controls, and we here at The Passing Parade support any measure that will finally bring an end to the use of this device here in our great country.

Friday, June 16, 2006

REJOYCE!!!: It is Bloomsday, just in case you hadn’t realized it already—it is easy to get lost in the profusion of various special days and anniversaries these days, isn’t it—a day whereon thousands upon thousands of people take part in ceremonies and celebrations honoring the somewhat quotidian adventures of an advertising man who never existed as recounted in a book most people, including many of those celebrating the day, have never read. The celebration in Dublin, the fount of all things having to do with Bloom and his day, is now officially off, however, due to the funeral of the former prime minister of Ireland, Charles Haughey, who died just the other day. Haughey would have appreciated his funeral’s being a hundred and two years to the day after that of Paddy Dignam, I think.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

MATCHMAKER, MATCHMAKER: In case you don’t keep up with this sort of thing, and I know for years I didn’t bother to keep up with this sort of thing either, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t, there are, throughout the length and breadth of this our Great Republic, scores upon scores, if not actual myriads, of Christian bodybuilders willing to come to your church for the express purpose of breaking baseball bats in half with their bare hands and blowing into hot water bottles until the bodybuilder turns a somewhat unattractive shade of purple or the hot water bottle explodes, whichever comes first. These bodybuilders for Christ, most of whom are Pentecostals, as I understand it, perform these prodigies of physical strength for the purpose of spreading the Gospel to young people who previously may have associated Christianity with a certain milquetoast attitude towards life that is not in keeping with the reality of the True Faith. One can hardly blame these young people for having acquired such an incorrect idea, what with the whole “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” syndrome one sees extant in so many churches these days. Frankly, I blame the churches for this subtle denigration of their founder. The fact that over the millennia various and sundry Christian denominations have turned a first century Jewish rabbi given to whacking currency arbitrageurs over the collective noggin with a knotted rope into a somewhat Aryanish, granola eating, blue-eyed pseudo-gay wimp spouting the sort of Chinese fortune cookie wisdom that would embarrass the most completely stoned spectator you could find wandering around the parking lot after a Grateful Dead concert, has, I think, gone a long way to reinforcing this obviously mistaken belief that Jesus of Nazareth was some sort of theological Liberace, minus, of course, the excessively campy wardrobe.

So the bodybuilders are out to change the paradigm, as it were, by putting the muscle back into muscular Christianity. I’m pretty sure this must be the reason for what they are doing, as there seems to be little textual basis in the Christian Bible or in the writings of the Church Fathers for the spiritual efficacy of smashing cinderblocks to pieces with your skull or breaking baseball bats in half with your teeth. Actually, I’m pretty sure that if Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball in Cooperstown, New York in 1849 then the chances of him inventing the game and the bats to play the game with in first century Judea are minimal to the point of nonexistence, and therefore baseball cannot claim to be a product of divine revelation or an integral part of Christian theological exegesis and experience, which means that there will be no religious tax exemption for the owners and players. There is an upside to this, as there is to almost everything, when you think about it; with baseball theologically profane, the fans at the ballpark are free to partake of the not terribly holy communion of seven-dollar hot dogs and beer whilst in a state of mortal sin, and the owners can get away with charging seven dollars for a eighty-five cent hot dog without worrying too much about passing catchers or packs of camels through the eye of a needle. You charge what the market will bear; someone has to pay A-Rod’s salary, after all.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as you may have heard, and with the extraordinary success of the Christian bodybuilders other denominations have gotten into the act, in a manner of speaking. The Old Order Amish, for example, are now getting the word out about the joys of God, family, and the simple life by sponsoring a horse and buggy on the NASCAR circuit, the Southern Baptist Convention and Arthur Murray are in negotiations to start a string of born-again combination megachurch and dance studios, which is not the same thing as bodybuilding, I know, but it’s close enough for government work, and the Mormons have gotten corporate sponsorship from Morton’s and Red Cross for the first annual Lot’s Wife marathon swimming competition, wherein the greatest swimmers in the world today will try to swim from one side of the Great Salt Lake to the other and back again before dissolving in the brine. This phenomenon, however, reached its apogee this past week with the announcement from the Nagoyaishe Rebbe of the first Hasidic sumo wrestling team anywhere in the world.

I must admit that this news came as a complete surprise to me, as I didn’t know there were any Japanese Jews to begin with, much less there being enough Hasidim in the city of Nagoya to rate a rebbe of their very own. But there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, as the man says, and one of these things is Hasidic sumo wrestling. A spokesman for the team that the wrestlers’ mothers are now bringing their boys up to fighting weight in time for next year’s wrestling season by nagging them into eating several courses of matzoh ball dumplings, kreplach, and kugel at each meal; I’ve even heard rumors that Neil’s mother is sending some kugel as well, but the team denies this emphatically, since the World Sumo Federation bars all of its wrestlers from consuming non-Japanese kugel, as well as Pop-Tarts, corned beef and cabbage, those red strings of licorice you get at the movies that I hate, and almost anything with liver, especially almost anything with liver, which I hate even more than I hate those long red strings of licorice you get at the movies. There’s been no word yet from Neil or his mother on the veracity of this rumor, however; if I find out anything I will let you know.

Having established that Hasidic sumo is alive and well in Japan, the true believer in multiculturalism will celebrate this paragon of cross-cultural pollination, which will finally combine Talmudic scholarship and intellectual depth with the need some people have to watch fat guys in diapers knock each other on their asses with their guts; there’s a man’s life for you and don’t you ever forget it. This team is probably the sharpest group of Talmudic minds ever to step into a sumo ring. One of these guys, I hear, can drive his head through a stacked pile of the collected volumes of the Talmud and then deliver a learned disputation on the subject of whatever page his head stops at. You can contrast this ability with someone like me, for example; the depth of my Talmudic knowledge is such that I can take a pin and stick it into any page of the Talmud you can pick at random and I can safely tell you that every letter that pin passes through will have a hole in it. I suspect my being a Roman Catholic has something to do with this inability to pass the finals on the rules for divorce—I don’t think writing “get a good lawyer” counts. I am also not sure I can go along with the concept of a man giving a woman a get; doesn’t the wife usually tell the husband to get in these situations or do I have this backwards?

And thanks to Snoopy at Simply Jews for the concept.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

MISCELLANEOUS: On a minor note, I see that TTLB now ranks me as a flippery fish. It is always difficult to see yourself as living proof that Darwin and the theory of evolution can’t possibly be right. I was sort of hoping to be the missing link, at the very least, but it seems that I am not a missing anything, and if the slide doesn’t stop very soon then I will be zooming down the evolutionary slalom faster than any ten Austrian skiers you care to mention. This is disappointing, to say the least, and I thank you for sitting there politely and waiting while I wallow here in a disgusting and thoroughly noisome trough of self-pity like the town drunk after a long night of cheap whining. It’s not a pretty sight, I know. Maybe I should post porn shots; it couldn’t hurt.

And if you go over to Infinitives Unsplit, the Pedant-General will, in his inimitable way, explain the intricacies of Aristotelian logic for you, especially as how this esoteric subject applies to the equally esoteric subject of modern British politics. I am sure that this is a very important lesson: I wouldn’t know because I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about. I think he’s talking about mudslinging, but parts of it are in Latin and us Papists don’t do the Latin thing very much anymore. He could be calling my mother names for all I know. In the same vein, The Devil’s Kitchen adds up the number of taxes that have gone up in the United Kingdom since the Labor Party arrived at 10 Downing Street almost ten years ago. It must be difficult living in a place where the government thinks it is doing you a favor by letting you keep some of what you earn for a living. You know, I think it takes cojones of granite for a New Yorker to say that with a straight face, it really does.

Apropos absolutely nothing at all, I came to toil here at the egregious mold pit nineteen years ago yesterday. I would like to think that my continued presence here is do to my outstanding skills as a reference librarian and a deep devotion to serving the information needs of the citizens of our happy little burg, but I strongly suspect that it has more to do with a tremendous lack of imagination on my part. Why else would I stay in this dump? Why else would anyone stay here?

The occasional reader (it seems presumptuous now to say the constant reader, given my recent demotion to ichthyologic status) of this blog will have, no doubt, noticed that over on the blogroll, along with the cole slaw, there is a blog called Akaky’s Amateur Photo Hour. One of my hobbies, along with writing stuff almost no one reads, is to take pictures almost no one sees. I like photography; I would like it more, I think, if I could develop my own pictures and spare myself the expense of sending the film (yes, I still use film) to the camera shop for development. At the moment I have about a hundred exposed rolls in a drawer in my file cabinet and I’m going to have to do something about them pretty soon; some of them have been in there since last year. Yes, indeed, I will have to do something about them, but that’s not the point of this paragraph so let’s move on to the point of this paragraph by going to the next paragraph.

Now, I am as patriotic as the next guy, which these days depends a lot on just where you live, so let me rephrase that and say that I am as mindlessly patriotic as any resident of the reddest red state out there, even if you can’t get much more blue on the blue scale than this my native state…well, maybe California and Massachusetts has us beaten blue and bluer, if not black and blue, but not by a whole hell of a lot. I love my country’s flag and everything it stands for, but every since we became the last superpower standing I am getting tired of the snotty attitude of the flag down in front of City Hall. When I want to take a photograph of Old Glory flapping and furling in the breeze, then I want the flag to flap and furl in the breeze.

What I don’t want is for the flag to hang there on the pole as limp as an old man’s willie. I want to take pictures of the Stars and Stripes that will inspire feelings of pride and patriotism in even the most hardened of un-American hearts—I don’t want to take some dull shot of the flag just hanging there as if just getting up the pole in the morning was good enough for government work. And what I really want to know is why this flag won’t cooperate with me when I take its picture. Now when the Soviets were up and swanning about the countryside, you couldn’t stop the flag from flapping and furling. Old Glory flapped and furled like its life depended on the quality of its furl and the loudness of its flap—it flapped and furled morning, noon, and night without fail; the flag even flapped in dead calms, biker rallies, Red Sox games, and on the moon as well, no mean trick since there’s no atmosphere on the moon and no oxygen at Fenway Park; prolonged anoxia goes a long way towards explaining some of the more peculiar aspects of the Red Sox nation, I think. But since the end of the Cold War Old Glory has been acting like a movie star with a severe case of paparazzi loathing. It has to be on the flagpole, there’s no getting around that—flagpole sitting is in the contract—but the flag’s just going to sit there and not do anything until I go away and take my cameras with me. Or if the flag does decide to do something, it will go out of its way to make sure I can’t take a good picture of it. All of the flapping and furling will be at an angle I can’t use or in harsh sunlight or in some other circumstance that makes it impossible for me to get a good picture of the flag. This is deeply annoying and I wish it would stop; I don’t think Old Glory wants to give its loyal public the idea that somehow or other it can live without us. Frankly, there are other flags that are just as nice and stand for things just as desirable, you know. Just take a look at the flag of Antigua. You see that flag and you know beyond doubt that somewhere in that country there is a place where you can get a really good rum drink with a piece of pineapple and a silly paper umbrella, and sit out on a really nice beach and get a really nice tan while drinking it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Let me just say at the outset here that I am not one of your typical Vampire State Upper West Side snooty elitists who thinks that they are better than everyone else and doesn’t mind who knows it. No, indeed, I stand foursquare and fourscore behind the premise that all men are created equal and that our Creator has endowed us all with inalienable rights, which has nothing to do with extraterrestrials or their rights or so people tell me, so I guess that we can treat them like crap if we feel like it, provided we would do something like that to an extraterrestrial before he/she/it/they blew us to hell in a hand basket with their trusty Acme patented disintegration ray gun. This always makes me wonder why Marvin the Martian’s stuff from Acme always seemed to work just fine, while Wile E. Coyote always wound up with the company’s defective equipment and not a customer service department 800 number anywhere in sight; did Acme just not like Wile E. Coyote or maybe they had no use for coyotes in general, in which case Wile E.’s can hit those guys with a first rate civil rights case on top of any product liability thing he might have going on now.

But whether the government has a constitutional obligation to protect the rights of extraterrestrials is neither here nor there; all that matters here is that I support our system of government and I believe, in the words of Winston Churchill, that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others, and that you can solve all the problems of democracy with more democracy, to paraphrase Al Smith. And what is democracy? It is government of the people, for the people, and by the people, as Lincoln so eloquently put it. Our Constitution begins by announcing the sole legitimate source of all political power in this country: We the People of the United States. Yes, in this country the people are sovereign, the people and only the people. This is the beauty and greatness of democracy, this is why men fought and endured the hardships of the Revolution, why they froze at Valley Forge during that horrible winter, why they risked their lives and their sacred honor to found this our Great Republic.

Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and it is almost always better not to look at some things too closely; a great many things, whether we would like to admit this or not, are better off in the abstract, and the people are one of these things. Even here in our happy little burg, where the smallest and grimiest ragamuffin in the streets can deliver a ten minute oral report on his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights worthy of publication in the Harvard Law Review at the drop of a policeman’s hat, once an editor removes the obscenities about the policeman’s mother, one sees any number of people whose very existence makes the impartial observer think that if these are the people whose liberty the soldiers of the Continental Army suffered through Valley Forge to secure then those guys froze their asses off for nothing. There is nothing like seeing some of the people up close and personal to make you wonder if universal suffrage is such a good idea. The people, after all, elected Jerry Springer mayor of Cincinnati, and I don’t know about you, but I find the very concept of Jerry Springer holding elective office anywhere in the United States to be utterly frightening, and all the more so since Cincinnati is in Ohio, which has always struck me as a fairly mature and sensible state, unlike Massachusetts, say, which freely allows known Red Sox fans to wander the streets of Boston engaging in their loathsome rituals before the stunned eyes of decent men, women, and children. That the Commonwealth of Massachusetts permits such public grotesqueries to go unpunished is a stain on that state’s otherwise pristine reputation for public probity.

An outraged populace is a terrible thing to behold, a political fact that I became aware of only the other day, when a woman came into our egregious mold pit looking for a voter registration form. She was not happy and she let us know it in no uncertain terms. She was sick of seeing people on television whose gender she could not identify. She always wrote “biologically female” in the gender box, as if merely marking off female were not enough in and of itself. She railed against people with plastic breasts and other such deceptive practices; she was sick of it, she said, and she intended to vote for anyone who would put a stop to it. She left the building then, clutching her voter registration form in one hand, happy to be taking the first step in liberating this our Great Republic from the stultifying hands of the plastic surgeons.

I may be wrong about this; I make no claims of omniscience and I am as clairvoyant as the next guy, assuming the next guy isn’t Nostradamus, and frankly I think old Nosty was full of toads’ gonads; but I do not believe that ending breast augmentation in this country has the necessary mass appeal an issue needs to make inroads into the American political consciousness. Certainly this decidedly different agenda will go nowhere in California, where the state’s famed beaches and those lying upon them are monuments to silica in all of its physical manifestations. But what of the deeper ramifications of this program on the American body politic, which, and this just my opinion, you understand, could use a little liposuction along the sides.

It seems to me that our patron’s task is quixotic at best and potentially dangerous at worst. If we start eliminating such practices, where do we stop? If today we can stop breast augmentation, then tomorrow do we end root canals? Do we deprive citizens of their franchise simply because they’ve had a couple of cavities filled? Forbid it, Almighty God, I know not what course others may take, so long as it isn’t the special of the day because that always costs more and I am not paying for a glutton fest here, but as for me, give me rhinoplasty or give me death!!!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

THE PUBLIC GOOD: Public libraries are a public good, or so people keep telling me; I must admit I am not altogether convinced of the overall veracity of this statement. After close to nineteen years experience working in the public library business, I think it is fairly safe to say that we could get a lot more work done than we get done now if we could only figure out some way of keeping the public out of the building altogether. There’s nothing like the public to really screw up the workings of a really good public library. In any case, the constant reader of The Passing Parade will know by now that while the inhabitants of our happy little burg enjoy the services we provide them here at the egregious mold pit—why rent a DVD from a video rental place, after all, when you can get it from us for nothing—they would just as soon not increase the budget that makes it possible for us to offer them this service in the first place.

I think we suffer from a bad case of guilt by association; as the taxpayers assume that we serve the school district then we must somehow or other be involved with that much loathed institution, the school board, and large numbers of the citizenry here regard the school board as the one institution in our civic affairs that prevents life in our happy little burg from being the closest thing to celestial bliss possible on this our temporal plane. To tell the truth, just about everyone within the city limits thinks they’re a bunch of idiots, and those who don’t think the school board are a collection of slavering idiots unable to tell the difference between their asses and their elbows don’t think so because they think the board are a mob of dolts, jackasses, and poltroons, with most of this group opting for the jackass designation, since as a rule the local dolts and poltroons wind up on the City Council or working for the department of motor vehicles. However, since they collect our taxes for us, we are stuck with this fairly scurvy crew of knaves and varlets unless and until we can think of a way of getting some money into this place that doesn’t have to go through their sticky little fingers first.

There are any number of options available to us and a good many that aren’t; no one went for my suggestion that we start selling drugs to the patrons, for example, even though an addicted patron is one we can count on to keep paying our salaries. The library board of trustees, as wise a group of solons as ever banged a gavel, and yes, you’d better believe I am sucking up big time there, thanked me for the suggestion and told me they would consider the financial feasibility, but I have not heard from them about it yet and I strongly suspect on the basis of the wiretaps on my phone that the trustees think that this might not be the brightest idea I’ve had in a month of Sundays.

So we need something less likely to involve gunfire from either the local dealers or the local constabulary than the narcotics traffic. I must admit that I was flummoxed in no small degree at first; narcotics seemed the perfect solution to our problem, but the truly creative mind can find its way around any obstacle; all that is necessary is a willingness to think big. So I thought long and hard about our problem and the more I thought about it the more the clearly the answer seemed to be. I wrote the proposal out and submitted it for the board’s scrutiny.
Basically, it comes down to this: we must find a way to get someone other than the taxpayers here to pay for the public library. I mean, let’s face facts, if we wait for the denizens of our happy little burg to pull their collective heads out of their collective backsides and vote us some spare change then this mycological sinkhole will be one with Ozymandias and his works before we get a nickel (No, I am not going to explain the reference; for chrissakes, didn’t you go to high school? Didn’t you pay attention in English class?) This is, after all, a citizenry that turned down a 0% increase in the budget last year; even if you give these people what they want they won’t vote for it. So we’re going to have to soak someone else. But who could this be?

In short, we need tourists, lots of them. If you go to Saratoga Springs or to Gettysburg you will see what a good thing tourism can be for public libraries. The libraries in those towns are spectacular: the one in Saratoga Springs looks like a Barnes & Noble superstore on steroids and the one in Gettysburg is a three story Greek temple of knowledge. I don’t know for certain how many people live in Saratoga Springs, but I know for a fact that the population of Gettysburg is about half that of our happy little burg, and their public library people don’t work out of an old five and dime. Why the difference? Tourists. Tourists flock to these places. People love betting on the horses and seeing Civil War battlefields. That’s the difference.

Now, the trouble here is that we don’t have a racetrack and the Civil War didn’t reach our neck of the woods. There is a monument to the county’s Civil War regiment, of course, but you have to go to Gettysburg to see it, which doesn’t do us any good here. For an area so steeped in our country’s Colonial and Revolutionary past, not a whole hell of a lot ever happened here. The British did break through the boom down at West Point once and sailed up the river to burn Kingston during the Saratoga campaign in 1777, but they didn’t do anything except lob a shell or two here, and no one is going to pay good money to see shrapnel. Washington also kept his gunpowder in a church about five miles from here, but no one wants to see an old church, and he had a headquarters across the river in the slough of urban despond, but no one wants to go there if they can help it except illegal aliens and Nigerian scam artists.

To sum up, no major Revolutionary War battles happened here, no Civil War battles happened here, not much of anything ever happened here. We can’t even work up a decent sized skirmish from the French and Indian War for tourists to look at. I do know that in 18something or other a train jumped the tracks about five miles from the center of town and burned down an entire village, but that didn’t happen to us and not too many people died in the fire and urban renewal, even accidental urban renewal, is not something people will go out of their way to see, which puts the kibosh on this idea. So unless we can get South Carolina to secede from the Union again and start the hostilities all over again this is not going to work, or better yet, we could secede ourselves, but I don’t think there’s enough firepower in the city to hold off a determined attack from the sheriff’s department, not unless we ask the dope dealers for the loan of their guns, and I don’t think they’d be willing to give them up. They’re all funny that way.

Horseracing is a good thing, too; Saratoga Springs has done well with its annual racing season and soaking the suckers for every dime they can get (I mean, really, five dollars for a sausage and pepper hero? Give me a break). But we have a problem in implementing this solution here—there’s no room for a racetrack. I suppose we could tear down most of the south end of town and put the track there, but my guess is most of the people living there would object vociferously to the idea. People are always objecting to one thing or another; I suppose it gives them something to do and keeps them off the street, but it does nothing for getting me out of this place. Racing other animals doesn’t seem to work much better; dog tracks need almost as much room as horse tracks, and there’s not all that much demand for pig racing. That’s a shame, too; we could make big money in pig racing and we could auction off the pigs that don’t win, place, or show. This would add a lot of excitement to the races, I think; be a winner or be a dinner is a motto guaranteed to concentrate the mind and athletic abilities of even the slowest and most recalcitrant swine in the land.

We do have an art museum, but it is one of these modern art museums without a decent picture of Jesus in orange paint on black velvet, and who really wants to go look at art if you can’t see at least one good picture of Jesus in orange paint on black velvet? I don’t think we can count on too many people going to see the kind of thing they actually have down there, which I hear is mostly stuff from the Conceptualist and the Minimalist schools of art. What is conceptualism and minimalism? I am not exactly sure, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that the concept of paying ten bucks to look at art you don’t understand grates on many of the spectators’ nerves no end, and I suspect that most of these people’s concept of minimalism consists solely of the thought of how do I spend the minimal amount of time and money in this place before I can get on the train and head back home?

If you ask me, we are not going to get a lot of bang for the tourist dollar with these people, not unless we find some way of keeping them in town to spend their money. However, my idea of charging people to watch porno on our computers doesn’t have any real chance of passing the board of trustees’ review, or so some of the administrators have told me. It was just an off the cuff idea, but there doesn’t seem to be anyway of putting a coin slot on any of our computers, but they thanked me for the excellent idea and wondered if I ought not go home for a couple of days and rest; I look tired. I hadn’t given the idea much thought recently, but I am a little tired these days—maybe I ought to take a few days off and rest up.