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)

Sunday, December 31, 2006

NEW YEAR'S WISHES: Well, here it is, New Year’s Eve, and I have not looked back on the past year nor have I made any resolutions for the coming year. I am not altogether sure why people insist on celebrating the planet’s passing an arbitrary point in space, but any excuse for a party is a good one, I suppose, even if the event we celebrate simply means that we are all that much closer to death. Once upon a time, of course, New Year’s Day was on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation (add nine months and figure out why for yourself), but one of the many Pope Gregorys, and it does make you wonder why there are so many Pope Gregorys but no Pope Rodneys or Pope Archibalds at all, as far as I can tell, put an end to that. I am not sure why he moved the New Year to January 1st; there isn’t any particular theological significance to the day, other than its being the seventh day of Christmas and therefore qualified buyers can get a two for one deal on the seven swans a-swimming with the trade-in of any 2006 Chrysler car or truck, so this may have been just a clever way for His Holiness to get more time to pay his income taxes.

I do not, as a rule, make New Year’s resolutions, other than to resolve that I will not keep any New Year’s resolution I do make. This simplifies life more than you can imagine, since I know that this is one resolution I can keep. Indeed, it is a resolution that I will be proud to keep. This is a perennial resolution too, so I can keep renewing it every New Year’s Eve and know that when the next new year wanders around I, unlike so many others, will have kept to the letter of the resolution as well as its spirit, unlike so many other people, whose resolve to lose weight or be kinder to the kids or try to get along better with their co-workers fades away in the face of pepperoni and sausage pizza, aggravating kids, and lobotomized co-workers who hang onto their jobs only because no one in their right minds wants to do what these morons are only semi-competent at for the lameass money your employer is shelling out to pay these dolts.

Still, you should, at the end of a year, stop and take a look around and reflect a bit on the past year. This is the year, for example, that The Passing Parade saw its 25,000th visitor, which is a considerable number, even if you disallow all the times I come back to the sight to check for spelling and grammatical mistakes. The great event happened during the Christmas weekend and in the middle of a renewed burst of interest in last year’s piece about the origins of the twelve days of Christmas, and I’d like to thank Kevin at The Smallest Minority, Kim at The Other Side of Kim, whose link last year was the source of this blog’s single best week ever, and Dick at Texasscribbler for the link; linking is always appreciated, as are comments, Tatyana, and I do appreciate yours, both here and at the photoblog. I would also like to thank Snoopy at Simply Jews for keeping the Israeli Air Force from bombing my house into oblivion. I am still a little mystified as to why the IAF would want to bomb my house in the first place, but Snoop is an agent of the Elders of Zion, and therefore is in a position to know this sort of thing, and it never hurts, of course, to get in good with the people who run the world (it was that lousy knish that did me in, wasn’t it? That had to be it. You complain once about an undercooked knish and all of a sudden, you’re a member of Hamas. It ain’t fair, Snoop; that knish was terrible).

I am no closer to posting as prolifically as Fran at Eternity Road would like. Ideally, I could bat these puppies out as fast as Neil at Citizen of the Month can, although I should point out that Neil lives in LA, where, by definition, everything that doesn’t happen in New York happens two years ago, and who can always use his relationship with the always lovely Sophia as grist for the comic mill, while I am stuck here in our happy little burg, working at this egregious mold pit where absolutely nothing ever happens, except for the dead guy in the bathroom, the naked guy on the computer, and the children’s librarian’s new breasts. I am endeavoring, however, to speed up production and I am happy to announce that for the New Year I firmly resolve to post here more often. Until then, Fran and his pet Curmudgeon will have to put up with Munchkin real estate problems and revolting Episcopalians for just a little while longer. In any case, I’d like to thank all of you who came here this past year, if only for a little while, and I hope you left The Passing Parade a little gladder than when you arrived.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

CHRISTMAS BLUES: Everyone bemoans the commercialization of Christmas but no one does anything about it, as Mark Twain famously didn’t say. He was talking about the weather, which is another pet peeve altogether, but one that will have to wait for another day. We’re talking Christmas today. I started asking myself why not just a couple of minutes ago, after checking the balance on my credit cards. Checking the balance on your credit cards during the Christmas shopping season is almost always a bad idea, as it leads to hypertension, chest pain, constipation, and the inexorable conclusion that you can’t afford Christmas anymore.

Once upon a time Christmas was commercial but affordable, but those days are one with Nineveh and Tyre these days. Every year the holiday gets more and more commercial, a little more crass, a little more tense, until the whole point of the day is lost amid the saccharine kitsch of Santa, snowmen, and reindeer. Few people pay any real attention to the real point of the day, and those few religious references that make it through seem less a celebration of the Incarnation than another excuse to raid the collective wallet yet again. The political and social Right in this country spends a lot of time and energy denouncing the Left’s ongoing war on Christmas, and does so without apparently noticing that the never-ending commercialization has caused the day to lose much of the very theological significance the Left so strenuously objects to. That, of course, does not prevent both sides of the question from debating the matter endlessly, so in the interests of preserving everyone’s sanity and my financial health, let me make a suggestion: what this country really needs is a moratorium on Christmas.

I know that a good many of you Scrooges out there just want to ban the day outright, but I think that’s going a little too far. When I say a moratorium, I mean just that: a break in the holiday hoopla. Instead of having Christmas every year, let’s have a full-blown commercial Christmas every five years or so. This will us all a psychic break and a chance to restore our finances before the next big holiday season rolls around. And it will be great for the kids as well. Imagine the pent-up excitement you see every year at this time magnified five times; the kids’ excitement will be close to unbearable and the release on Christmas morning will be orgasmic in its intensity.

With five years between orgies of consumer spending, the toy companies can invest a truly obscene amount of money on testing and retesting their products so that they will be nothing less than perfect on the great day (batteries are included and no assembly required ever), and, naturally enough, with five years to save the necessary funds parents can buy more toys for their 2.7 kids, who will only require this massive infusion of disposable income twice instead of every year; when the kids hit fifteen you can buy them clothes. They won’t wear the clothes, of course; because no matter what you buy them the kids won’t wear the clothes to school to save their lives—Mom, those clothes are so yesterday, they’ll whine, but it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

I expect that there will no little resistance to this idea, if only because of the power of inertia; at this juncture, people are used to the idea of Christmas coming every year. The retailers, of course, will object vigorously to any attempt to wean them away from their annual revenue fix, but, to paraphrase the great Dr. Johnson, we should not entrust great public enterprises to men whose primary motive is private profit. America needs a moratorium from Yuletide commercialization; permitting those who profit the most from that commercialization to stand in the way of this project is foolishness of a very high order. The moral and spiritual needs of the many outweigh the petty grubbing for pelf these hucksters would convince us is the true meaning of the day.

And then there are those parents too weak to withstand the incessant and inevitable whining of their progeny at the outset of the moratorium and who will try to obtain toys under a number of different ruses, such as birthday or Hanukah gifts. Clearly, the law will have to deal with these miscreants severely, lest disrespect for the law become rampant, and social and moral chaos ensue. For the first offense, the parents shall have to pay a fine equal to the monetary value of the toys, plus punitive damages. For the second offense, armed guards shall remove the whining child from the parents’ household, smear the bellowing little brat with fish offal, and feed the greedy little whelp to the sharks. When harsh measures are called for, society should not shrink from its duty, and in these cases the harsher the measure the better off we will all be in the long run.

For the vast majority of Americans who will obey the law because they are law-abiding citizens who know what’s good for them, the five years without the commercial horror we now call Christmas will be a time of peace and goodwill towards men, wherein they can join together with family and friends, go to church, and honor the true meaning of Christmas without having that meaning drowned out by the constant December screeching to buy, buy, buy.

UPDATE: Your objections keep rolling in, just as I knew they would. A few of my fellow red staters want to know what kind of liberal pinko commie bastard I am, trying to ban Christmas. Well, I am not a liberal pinko commie bastard; I am a Republican who voted for Bush twice, supports the war in Iraq, and thinks that Bush has not cut taxes enough. So I am not trying to ban Christmas or interfere with anyone’ religious observance of the day; I do not nor would I ever support something that would limit anyone’s religious freedom, unless, of course, someone was advocating human sacrifice, and then it would depend on who was being sacrificed. If it’s almost any of my relatives or the guy who lives across the street with the two very large and very belligerent German shepherds, then I am all for having someone sacrifice them to the god or goddess of their choosing, the more painfully the better. It’s just that I don’t think that the annual Christmas sales at Wal-mart qualify as a religious observance, although I know for some people it might.

But just for the sake of argument, you understand, let’s say that the Christmas moratorium doesn’t make through the new Congress. What then, you ask? How then to deal with the commercialization of Christmas? Look, it is clear to anyone with half a brain and most Democrats that the true meaning of Christmas gets lost in the sustained barrage of commercials because the retailers can count on Christmas always occurring on December 25th. Making Christmas a moveable feast, as Easter is, might help, but like Easter, the days that Christmas would fall on would be predictable from one year to the next. To prevent this from happening, the Congress and the President should appoint a bipartisan commission whose sole task would be to determine what day Christmas would fall on in any given year, and then, just to maintain the element of surprise, the commission should not release the date until a week before Christmas actually happens. In this way the big retailers wouldn’t know when to start their marketing blitzes until the very last minute and the rest of us wouldn’t have to listen to Christmas related ads from Labor Day to Christmas Eve. Bookies could make a fortune taking bets on when Christmas would occur from year to year, and on occasion we’d all get a special treat, like Christmas and the Fourth of July happening on the same day. We could have Santa Claus, fireworks, and nice weather all at the same time. I see no logical reason why Australians should enjoy Christmas at the beach while Americans freeze their backsides off lying about how much we love a white Christmas. Enough of this nonsense, I say, and let’s take Christmas away from the crass and the greedy and give it back to the people! Free Christmas! Viva la feliz navidad libre!
KARMA CHAMELEONS: I can’t prove this with facts and figures, unfortunately, but just from my own experience, I’d say that there is few groups more heartily despised here in this our Great Republic than AM radio disk jockeys. Now, I know that some of you are wondering about that; disk jockeys are, on the whole, a fairly innocuous group when compared to such bottom feeders as lawyers, pimps, life insurance salesmen, and politicians, all of whom would seem to have a better claim to the public’s loathing than disk jockeys. You would be right, of course, all of these groups have a more deleterious effect on society than disk jockeys do, and yet I think that the disk jockeys are simply more annoying than any of these other groups. I’m not sure why that is; it may have something to do with their perpetually upbeat personalities or the constant lighthearted on air banter with their co-hosts and guests or maybe it’s just the time of day. I am not really a morning person, all in all, and I am just not ready to deal with that much cheerfulness at such an early hour. It makes me want to hurt something.

So to avoid the perkiness infesting the airwaves at that time of the morning, I generally listen to the classical music radio station on my way into work. I prefer the music of the Baroque; I like the greatest hits of 1717 (hey, after this word from our sponsor, check out Vivaldi’s latest monster hit, The Four Seasons, all you with it guys and gals, it’s #1 on the Billboard charts with a musket ball!), but I’ll listen to almost anything written before Puccini died in 1924. Almost everything written after that is crap, so when the 20th century comes on I generally turn the radio off and imagine the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah played on chainsaws, kazoos, and empty Coke bottles, with a chorus of drowning cats and flatulent clams providing the vocals all the way into work. It’s very soothing, for reasons I’m not sure I fathom; as a rule, I dislike seafood.

I also dislike the semiannual pledge drive. The pledge drive, for those of you unaware of such a thing, is that time of year wherein the management of your local public broadcasting station breaks into your favorite programs on a more or less constant basis and asks you for money. They do this, the management says, in order to keep providing you, the American television viewer, with an advertisement free alternative to the commercial broadcast and cable networks, which is something I’d be more inclined to believe if the opening and closing moments of nearly every program on this advertisement free network wasn’t packed to the gunwales with advertisements. Of course, the management of these stations do not choose to call these fifteen to thirty second spots advertisements. No indeed, these are messages from our corporate sponsors, along with some charitable foundations, and the contributions of viewers like you. Thank you, viewers.

At which point, it being clear that I am going to have to listen to the spiel all the way into work, I decide to turn off the radio, at which point some dummy in a greater rush than I am comes barreling around the bend, most of his car being on my side of the road. This is one of those situations guaranteed to raise anyone’s blood pressure, even mine, and as I simultaneously tried to turn the radio off, swing out of this moron’s way, and question both his sanity and his parentage (if you are this numbnut’s mother, I apologize for what I said about you. The fact that your son is a jackass is not your fault and I do not believe that you are now or ever were the sort of woman who would do such a thing with a mentally deficient baboon) I managed only to two of these tasks successfully; I did not turn the radio off. I just changed the radio from FM to AM.

But all was not lost here. I do listen to AM radio from time to time, and I always have the station set to the local oldies channel, largely because l like that old time rock and roll. This time, however, the music was not Chuck Berry or Little Richard or even the Platters, although the Platters were more of a standards group than a rock and roll band. No, the band was Culture Club, and Boy George was singing Karma Chameleon. At first, I thought I’d managed to change the channel somehow, but I hadn’t; the dashboard display showed my usual oldies station. At that point, I experienced a wave of horror hitherto unknown in my neck of our happy little burg; how, I asked myself, could anyone regard Karma Chameleon an oldie? I mean, weren’t the kids watching this thing on MTV not that long ago? The wave of horror became a tsunami as the day wore on, as I realized that this insidious ditty had now taken up residence in my mind and was now busily looping away at a furious pace and that I had no way of turning Boy George off short of shooting myself in the head, an idea that did not appeal to me at first, but whose merits became more attractive the more I had to listen to the song. Even if you like the song, you must admit that listening to it fifty times in five minutes is apt to get more than a little annoying.

At length, Karma Chameleon faded away, Culture Club losing it psychic space in my skull to Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra playing Aquarela do Brasil. I like this old Ary Barroso tune, and as it started to loop through my mind, I started to think about how much better all of our lives would be if we all had a karma chameleon in our homes. I know that many of you are skeptical about this idea; what, after all, can a karma chameleon provide that a mood ring can’t, and remember, you don’t have to clean up after a mood ring. This comparison makes some superficial sense, but falls apart when you give it some thought.

A mood is a transitory flicker in a person’s emotional state; karma, on the other hand, is different, very different indeed. Karma is the residue of your soul’s actions in a past life; the karma of an evil man causes the soul’s rebirth in a lower caste, or if you are a Buddhist, condemns you to ever more rebirths before you finally reach Nirvana, where Kurt Cobain will make every gig and the weed is truly righteous, dude. Karma, therefore, is something altogether more important than a mood and is something that any sane person should worry about, lest you find yourself trapped in endless reincarnations as a Red Sox fan.

But how to know if you are acquiring good karma? There’s no way to know for sure, unless, of course, you have a karma chameleon. The karma chameleon knows the answers. When you think of cheating on your wife or on your income taxes, the chameleon will change color, the better to match the décor just in case a lightning bolt from on high comes bursting through your roof and kills you for even thinking of such a thing. With a karma chameleon in the house you’d always know how your karma was doing, and best of all, karma chameleons are easy to housetrain and you don’t have to spend a lot of money feeding them. They’ll eat flies, spiders, ants, just about any creepy crawly slimy thing that finds its way into your home during the summer months, with the exception of your brother in law; during the winter months a nice tuna casserole will keep it happy for months at a time.

Frankly, the benefits of owning such a useful pet far outweigh the occasional disadvantages, such as confusion and incontinence in certain situations, like Christmas parties, for example, where the good karma of the Christmas spirit and the bad karma of your plans for that nice blonde from the accounting department causes the chameleon no end of karmic deadlock and can cause the creature to turn a bright green and black plaid. But all in all, karma chameleons make excellent pets; they get on well with children, are not at all territorial, and are very clean animals overall. Karma chameleons, however, do object to you flushing them down the toilet after they die, so you might want to bury the deceased chameleon out in the back yard next to your first dog instead. Remember, in your next life, that chameleon could be your employer, and may well object to your treating him like crap now. It’s something to think about.

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JUST ANOTHER OPINION: I see in the New York Times (and if we read something in the New York Times then it must be so, right?) that the Episcopalians are revolting. Not in any physical sense, of course; I am sure that the vast majority of Episcopalians in this country have more than adequate access to soap and hot running water, with a generous supply of deodorant on the side to tide them over until their next trip to Wal—Mart; but in the sense that a good many church members are rebelling against the very liberal turn the church has taken in recent years.

I was stunned at this news; as a general rule, revolt and Episcopalians are not words you generally find in the same sentence. There’s an almost oxymoronic ring to the phrase. It’s true that the Episcopal Church was a product of that most revolutionary of movements, the Protestant Reformation, but it was always a sort of half-hearted revolutionary. Henry VIII didn’t really want to do away with Catholicism in England; he just wanted to dump his wife and didn’t want to get the Pope’s approval to do it. What could be simpler, then, than to simply declare himself the head of the Church in England and then declare his marriage to his Catherine of Aragon null and void? No muss, no fuss, and he saved a ton of money on lawyers. Many American revolutionaries were Episcopalians as well, but when you think about it, most of them weren’t trying to be revolutionary in the sense we mean it; they were just trying to change who they paid their taxes to.

A good many Confederates were Episcopalians, when they weren’t busy trying to be something else. There’s a lot of people who’ll say that the Confederacy was a revolutionary enterprise, but frankly, I don’t think so; the problem the Confederates had was that they wanted the world to stay the way it was in 1799, when nobody questioned the need for the peculiar institution that kept money in their pockets. Reactionaries can be revolutionary, as the world saw in 1979, but what the people of the antebellum South wanted, more than anything else, was for their world to be left alone, and that wasn’t going to happen. There was no room for moonlight and magnolias in the industrializing America of the mid-nineteenth century. But I digress, as usual.

So given that Episcopalians do not appear, at first glance, to be natural revolutionaries, why then this revolt against the Church? I think it has a lot to do with the nature of religion. Religion is about ultimate things: God, life, death, truth, the meaning of existence, good and evil, and how do I, as an individual human being, lead a moral life? It is definitely not about chasing after every theological fashion that comes down the pike, nor is it about doing as one pleases as long as everyone else approves. A Christian church should try, on occasion, to put the teachings of the religion’s founder into practice. When the mob confronted the rabbi from Nazareth with a woman caught in the act of adultery and demanded to know if the rabbi thought they should stone her to death, as required in the Torah, the rabbi said that if there were any sinless men in the crowd, they should toss the first rock at her. No one did anything—no doubt there was more than one sinner in the crowd that day—and after a bit the mob just sort of drifted away, no doubt to look for a stray Red Sox fan they could pummel into the dust with a clear conscience, and more power to them, I say. That left the rabbi and the woman alone together, and the rabbi asked her if anyone had condemned her. The woman said that no, no one had, and then the rabbi told her that he wouldn’t, either, Go and sin no more.

The rabbi didn’t tell this woman that she was not a sinner, only a victim of poor self-esteem, or suffered from an addiction, or that she was leading an alternative life style, or anyone of a hundred different excuses for doing things we know we shouldn’t do but want to do anyway. The rabbi didn’t tell the woman that he didn’t condemn her so she should go hop back into the sack with the guy she got caught with; he told her to stop committing adultery.

The problem the Episcopal Church has these days is that in its desire to stay relevant to society, it has forgotten that not everything is negotiable. When a Christian church openly flouts thousands of years of Christian moral teaching because it wants to be inclusive, when it allows a man openly living in a state of sin with another man to hold a high position in its hierarchy, when it excuses and makes excuses for sinners to continue in their sin, then this church ceases to be a Christian church in any meaningful sense of the term; it is merely a place where people congregate on Sunday morning in order to avoid having to watch Tim Russert.
JUST MY OPINION: Chuck Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier, and he broke the barrier with a couple of broken ribs. He didn’t mean to break those ribs, of course; who actually tries to break ribs except loansharks and defensive linemen? The ribs breaking, well, it just sort of happened, just one of those things, you know. Yeager was out horseback riding the previous evening with his wife and he rode straight into the branches of a Joshua tree, which knocked him from his horse and broke the ribs, breaking them badly enough so that he had to use a sawed-off broom handle to close the canopy of his Bell X-1 airplane the next day; he couldn’t reach over and close the canopy himself because his ribs hurt so much.

There was a lot of that sort of thing in those days. Young test pilots bought horses, muscle cars, dune buggies, motorcycles, and anything else that would gratify their need for speed, convinced, as Tom Wolfe put it in The Right Stuff, that since they were the acknowledged masters of one particular form of mode of transportation, then it must needs be that they were therefore the masters of all modes of transportation. Most people with less ego than your average test pilot will recognize that this particular bit of wisdom is more than a little flawed, as the horse proved the night before Yeager broke the sound barrier. The horse was going nowhere near the sound barrier and Yeager still wound up on his backside.

But, however, Chuck Yeager actually knew how to fly an airplane. This past week Sean Penn, who pays his rent by pretending to be other people, and Joy Behar, who earns her keep chatting with four other women on television, had something to say about the current state of American politics. Mr. Penn opined that the incoming Congress should impeach the President and Vice-President and Ms. Behar compared former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to Adolf Hitler. Now, Mr. Penn and Ms. Behar are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else, but the only reason I know about these opinions is that their celebrity, which they achieved outside the realm of politics, gives them extraordinary access to the media, something most other Americans do not have. This access gives Ms. Behar’s and Mr. Penn’s voices an attention that they would not have otherwise. Since I learned a long time ago that volume and content are not necessarily the same thing, despite the best efforts of my father to unify the two concepts with a single leather belt across my derriere, it seems to me that the wise thing to do here is to view celebrity pronouncements on matters outside the realm of show business with the same skeptical eye you would use when your cardiologist, who may know everything there is to know about cleaning out your arteries, tells you how to fix a clogged kitchen sink. Expertise in one field of endeavor does not necessarily translate into expertise in another, just as playing a doctor on television, however expert you may be at it, is not the same as actually being one.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

BACK BY POPULAR REQUEST: The following is, by a vast margin, the most widely read post I've ever put up on this blog, the reason being that Kim du Toit read it, liked it, and then linked to it (thanks again, Kim). I usually get, on a good day, twenty hits here, most of whom seem to be people looking for pictures of Roberta Vasquez, and then there are those of you who come here fairly often, for reasons I don't really understand, and on a very good day I will crack maybe thirty or forty, although that latter number is exceptional. This post hit 1,040 in just one day and maybe 1,500 or so if you added up the figures for the whole week. So, here we are, a year later, and I am no richer, but we do not think of material things in this most spiritual time of the year; there are plenty of people who will be crass for us, as the following will demonstrate. Enjoy!

[The following was first posted in December of 2005]

ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS MY TRUE LOVE SAID TO ME, GET OUT NOW: There are twelve days of Christmas, and I’m sure if you’ve somehow managed to forget that fact over the course of the year retailers from one end of this our Great Republic to the other will forcibly refresh your memory for the next few weeks. Whether you want to or no, you will hear in great detail about lords leaping and laying ladies while pipers pipe and voyeuristic geese pay five gold rings just to watch. I’ve always wondered why just about every picture of Times Square before its current incarnation as Disney World North had a goose or two in the background. There were just too many of them for this to be some sort of odd ornithological coincidence.

But avian porn is not the subject of this screed, so let us move on before the police arrive. The subject of today’s lecture is the twelve days of Christmas and what they mean to me in five easy lessons. For the better part of the late and deeply unlamented twentieth century it was the fashion among a certain set of people to bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, that the demands of Mammon were stifling the essentially religious nature of the holiday, even to the point where that great philosopher and theologian Linus Van Pelt had to explain to Charlie Brown what Christmas was all about by quoting the Gospel according to Luke. Charlie Brown did not seem impressed by this argument, falling, as it did, between commercials for Benson & Hedges cigarettes and the new 1967 Ford Mustangs. The fact of the matter is that Christmas has always been a commercial bonanza, a state of affairs that began when the Roman Emperor Constantine decided that maybe Christianity wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Constantine came to this conclusion after he’d had a dream the night before the battle of the Milvian Bridge in which he saw a shield emblazoned with a Christian cross bearing the words IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (in this sign you shall conquer).

After the alarm slave went off the next morning, clocks being fairly scarce in those days, Constantine put Christian crosses on his soldiers’ shields; as the enemy army outnumbered his by about four to one, Constantine figured any edge he could get was a good one; and then proceeded to march out and stomp on the competition big time. Having won the crown in a pretty convincing fashion—Constantine didn’t have to dangle Chad over a cliff or anything—the new emperor decided to return the favor God did him and make Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. Once a faith exclusively practiced by the most rejected and despised elements of Roman society, the Christian faith became the most inclusive faith in the Mediterranean world since now everyone and their Uncle Bob had to join, everyone, that is, except Constantine himself. Unlike Marshal Feng, the twentieth century Chinese warlord American missionaries converted to Methodism and who then decided that his troops needed Jesus as well, and sped the process up by baptizing the assembled soldiery with water sprayed from a fire hose, Constantine chose to exempt himself from the revival, correctly figuring that if he stayed a pagan he could go on doing all the fun stuff that pagans got to do like murdering his political opponents, seizing their property, and selling their families into slavery without this sort of thing bothering his conscience all that much. If he was still a pagan, after all, who could blame him for acting like one?

Our current holiday problem started when Constantine decided that a holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus would be just the thing to make himself look good on The O’Reilly Factor. There was, however, one small problem: no one knew when Jesus was born. The Gospels simply say that the birth occurred when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. This might have been enough information in the hands of a competent archivist to pinpoint a likely date, but competent archivists were hard to find in ancient Rome due to the Roman mob’s insatiable appetite for watching overweight, middle-aged clerical types with the wife, the 2.7 kids, the dog, and a thirty year mortgage on a house in the suburbs try to stab each other to death with quill pens in the Coliseum. Constantine, having no solid information to work with, asked the Senate and the people of Rome what they thought of July 15th as the date for Christmas. The Senate and the people of Rome, mindful of the fact that Constantine had the bad habit of feeding people who disagreed with him to lions and tigers and bears, oh my, for the edification of the people in the cheap seats, told Constantine that July 15th was a wonderful idea. Roman retailers, on the other hand, mindful of losing the 4th of July and Bastille Day sales, told him that while his idea was wonderful, it would be even more wonderful at some other time of the year. One clever gent who owned a shoe store on the Appian Way suggested, after giving the matter some thought, that the Emperor make December 25th the date for his new holiday.

Now it was Constantine’s turn to object. At a meeting of the Imperial Chamber of Commerce, he quite rightly pointed out that December 25th was already a holiday, the feast of Invictus Sol and his brother Herschel, the inventors of the pneumatic chariot wheel, upon which the good fortune of the Roman Empire did not rely in the slightest. Then Constantine had the Pope read the relevant portions of the Gospel of Luke. The Pope stumbled through the text, His Holiness being unused to reading anything longer than an address; he had come to Rome to land a post office job in Gaul and wound up as Pope for lack of any other available employment; and after he finished reading Constantine asked the retailers how they proposed to get around the Gospel’s clearly pointing to a summer date for Christ’s birth. After all, first century Judean shepherds did not keep flocks of sheep out on barren hillsides by night in the middle of winter just on the off chance that a passing heavenly host with some free time on their hands would wander by belting out their rendition of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ in digitally remastered stereophonic sound. Clearly, December 25th did not meet the high burden of theological and historical proof required for such an august feast day.

Then someone, possibly the shoemaker who first suggested the idea of the 25th, or maybe his twin brother—no one could really tell them apart—told the Emperor something that emperors, as a class, love to hear: he was emperor, therefore he could put the holiday anywhere he felt like putting it. And so he did, on the 25th day of December, the high burden of historical and theological proof bending slightly in deference to Constantine’s sudden need for campaign contributions; not everyone in the Roman Empire thought that Constantine’s being emperor was such a good idea and he needed money fast; armies, then and now, don’t come cheaply. Well, over the centuries more and more days got added to Christmas; travel was slow in those days and most people had to use oxcarts that only got twelve miles to the dry gallon of oats, despite the best efforts of the ruminant companies to meet new government mileage standards. The retailers, however, loved the ever-lengthening Christmas season and did their level best to stretch the season out even more.

Matters came to a head in 800 A.D., when on the first day of Christmas the Pope crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor and Charlemagne discovered that he and his entourage were stuck in Rome until the end of Christmas, which occurred sometime in the middle of April. This was a major source of annoyance for Charlemagne, who wanted to go home for the holidays, and so in his third official act, the first two being an announcement that alternate side of the street parking rules were in effect and the world’s first pooper scooper law, Charlemagne decreed that Christmas would only last for twelve days. Retailers throughout Europe objected, which seems to be a theme here, saying that a twelve day Christmas season would drive them out of business; there wasn’t enough time for the scribes to pump out advertising copy in a twelve day season. Charlemagne said, tough luck, pal, in Latin and French, and doesn't almost everything sound better in Latin and French, and then left town with the imperial crown in his luggage, as well as a couple of counterfeit Rolexes he’d bought from a Senegalese immigrant who’d set up his blanket in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The retailers, of course, did not go down without a fight. They’ve been pushing the seasonal envelope ever since Charlemagne rode Out of Town for a second place finish in the fifth race at the Roman Aqueduct. This explains why today, in our modern postindustrial information society, the official Christmas season begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and why we still have an annoying carol about the twelve days of Christmas. The unofficial Christmas season, of course, begins near the end of August. This may be why everyone is so happy when Christmas finally arrives—it means that we won’t hear about the damn day again for at least another eight months, something for which we should all shout, Hallelujah and Happy Holidays to all and to all, a good night!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

AND NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR: And while I’m thinking of something new to put here, I should point out that The Passing Parade is a blog for the entire family, even if your family is the Gambino Family, and consequently we may not have what you are interested in here. By this I mean that there are no Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, or Paris Hilton crotch shots here; it also means that I do not know what Roberta Vasquez is doing with her life these days, although it is, no doubt, much more interesting than what I am doing with my life these days, and there are no pictures of Pamela Anderson urinating here, either (just as an aside: why would anybody find pictures of anyone taking a leak erotically stimulating?). I do not know what a passing out parade is, although my high school graduation probably came pretty close; out of a class of at least 275 I’d say at least fifty of my fellow seniors were under the influence of something other than the spirit of the day. It was the mid-1970’s, you see, and the consumption of non-FDA approved pharmaceuticals, if not approved of by the relevant authorities, was often overlooked as youthful hijinks until someone did something incredibly stupid like robbing a liquor store or becoming a Red Sox fan. The trimmings in the phrase turkey and all the trimmings refer to the cranberries, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and other traditional side dishes Americans eat with their Thanksgiving dinner. The name Akaky Bashmachkin comes from a Russian short story entitled The Overcoat, and the author’s name is Nikolai Gogol. Gogol was actually a Ukrainian who wrote in Russian, probably because there wasn't much demand for stories in Ukraininan at the time, and no, I don’t know who Samantha is or why she would be in an ass parade. Any number of reasons come immediately to mind, like she’s working her way through college or she’s a stripper for Christ, but in any case, you won’t find her here. You won't find pictures of her here or over at my photoblog. You will, however, find a link to Joseph Addison’s works somewhere in my archives, as well as a link to Jonathan Swift’s A modest proposal and one to George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. It’s been a while since I last tested those links, so I have no idea if they're still any good, but I am sure you can Google these names and find the relevant posts. And yes, I will be reposting my history of Christmas shortly, for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No, there's nothing new here, sorry. I've been trying to think of something to add to the flow but at the moment the well is a bit dry, I fear. These dry spells happen every so often and the only way out of them is just to sit tight and wait for better days. This annoys most people, and I am sure that it has cost me more than one reader who just couldn't bother dealing with my posting inconsistencies. Why stay here, after all, waiting for a Passing Parade that never seems to pass when you can always go somewhere else? But the dry spell will pass eventually; they always do and so will this one, God willing and the river don't rise. If it doesn't, well, I can always pack up the Model T with everything in the house, pile on all of the kinfolk, and light out fer Californy, by gum! There you are, The Grapes of Akaky's Wrath, the perennial best nonseller.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

AN OPINION: To be honest, I don’t care much one way or the other whether or not Vice President Cheney’s gay daughter is pregnant or not. Women get pregnant all the time and one more expectant mother, whatever her sexual predilections, isn’t something I’m going to spend a lot of time worrying about. What seems odd to me, though, is this attempt to describe Ms. Cheney’s partner, Heather Poe, in all of this as something other than what she is. It would appear that the old-fashioned heterosexual term for such a person--stepparent--is not good enough for a lesbian couple. No indeed, Ms. Poe is nothing more or less than the real father of the child, an actual parent in every sense of the word. This, of course, is nonsense on stilts. If Ms. Poe thinks that she is something other than a stepparent Ms. Cheney’s progeny will rudely disabuse her of this delusion sometime in 2022, especially if said progeny is female and she's been out all night and put a ding in the new car's fender in the process. Daughters always seem to have rough patches in their relationships with their mothers, and nowhere does that patch get rougher than in adolescence. Having a mother and a stepmother living together only doubles the opportunities for friction. Ms. Poe will try to lay down the law for Ms. Cheney’s teenager, and the adolescent will, as adolescents are wont to do, point out that Ms. Poe is not her mother and she sure as hell isn’t her father so would she kindly keep her stupid ass opinion to herself. Kids sure have a funny way of hitting the hole in an argument dead center, don’t they?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

EXCITEMENT IN THE NEWS: Well, I am sure you will be happy to know that the excitement is all over now and that peace and tranquility reign once again here in our happy little burg. For a while there we were all wondering what was going to happen next, which is an unusual state of affairs here, where we like one day to be pretty much the same as the day that came before it, but all is well now and all is as it was. At the last meeting of the city council the manager of the local Dunkin Donuts, franchise read a letter from the company’s corporate headquarters officially apologizing for having caused the problem in the first place and detailing the steps, the corporation had in mind to keep the problem from ever recurring. The manager apologized personally to the city council, the chief of police, the president of the local Rotary Club, and just about everyone else he could think of, in what will go down in municipal history as one of the greatest displays of whining, cringing self-abasement ever witnessed by man, beast, or IRS agent, for whom such spectacles are more or less commonplace. The manager did, however, point out that his store had never run out of doughnuts before and consequently he could not know that the local gendarmerie would react in so untoward a manner at the prospect of having no doughnuts to consume with their morning coffee.

For their part, the police, through a spokeswoman who got her job in the police department’s press office because she is qualified for the job and not because she is the chief of police’s niece, apologized to the citizens of our happy little burg for the officers’ involved totally unprofessional behavior and promised that the department would carry out a thorough investigation of the matter and an equally thorough review of the department’s firearms policy. In response to a question from the local daily paper, the department spokeswoman agreed that five officers firing 439 rounds in a crowded grocery store just because Mrs. Edna Spiegelmann of 197-b North Hickory Street would not hand over the last box of a dozen cinnamon doughnuts in the store did seem a bit excessive at first glance, but the spokeswoman was sure that there might be some mitigating circumstances involved and the department would look into these circumstances as part of its investigation, just as soon as it figured how five officers could shoot off enough ammunition to fight a small sized battle and still only hit the walls, the ceiling, seven guavas, a five pound leg of lamb, a box of Captain Crunch cereal, and a bag of unsalted cashews.

In a not undissimilar factoid, we here at The Passing Parade note with no small amount of trepidation Neil Kramer’s willful denial of the law of gravity. It goes almost without saying that such laws are on the books in order to keep people from harming themselves and others, and that Neil’s obstreperous defiance of the law of gravity, no doubt undertaken for the cheap thrill of it all or to impress the always lovely Sophia, sets a bad example for the younger generation, who will see this sort of thing as a validation of their own defiance of gravity and other natural laws. It is bad enough that the skies over our country’s largest cities are unsafe due to the large numbers of adolescents playing chicken with jetliners; having an adult, who ought to have the sense to know better, doing the same thing and making a public spectacle of his foolishness is simply insupportable from any moral or airline safety point of view. Clearly, the police must step in and put a stop to this behavior before someone gets hurt permanently.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

JUST MY OPINION, YOU UNDERSTAND: So Mr. Baker and friends recommend that we negotiate with Syria, Iran, and the insurgents, pull combat forces out of Iraq and leave training and logistical forces in place, and then, while we're at it, resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict as well. This is all very nice, I’m sure, but as serious policy recommendations they remind me of something the late John Boyd once said about some designs for new fighter aircraft that the Air Force brass wanted him to look at. Colonel Boyd looked at the proposals for a bit and allowed that while he didn’t really know all that much about designing fighter aircraft, he was pretty sure that he could screw up badly and still come up with a better design than the ones the Pentagon wanted to build. Supporters of cutting back the government's waste of our tax dollars should start with Mr. Baker and his band of merry men (and Justice O'Connor). A $600 hammer will still drive nails into a 2 x 4, despite the outrageous cost; I'm not sure what this report is good for except for recycling into something useful like cardboard boxes, toilet paper, and several issues of next October's copy of Playboy.

Monday, December 04, 2006

OVER THE FINANCIAL RAINBOW: In other news, which seems an odd way to start since I haven’t given you any news to start with, there is, as you might have heard, a surfeit of homes on the market. The bloom has gone off the boom, as it were, as thousands of people who invested their life savings in residential real estate in the hope of making a killing have found, to their absolute financial shock and chagrin, that while there’s lots of residential real estate to go around, the one thing that’s in fairly short supply these days are actual residents.

The problem extends far beyond the city limits of our happy little burg, even beyond the shores of this our Great Republic, all the way to the halls of power of Munchkinland, where the long decades of debate about what do to with the house of the good witch Dorothy are finally coming to a conclusion. The debate has lasted for so long for any number of reasons, the most important being that the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, to whom the Munchkins usually referred such weighty macroeconomic decisions, has busted a move, hit the highway, taken a powder, flown the coop, and has otherwise made himself unavailable for immediate consultation. Without the Wizard to guide them, the Munchkins did what the Munchkins do best in times of political turmoil: bicker endlessly after sucking on the helium hose down at the Lullaby League national headquarters. As you might imagine, not much gets down in Munchkinland when the body politic goes after each other with squeaky voices. A Munchkin high on helium is not one of nature’s prettier sights, not by a long shot.

After a few decades of this, the mayor of Munchkinland, a sensible sort of chap named Herbert Hempflannel, figured that things couldn’t keep going on this way, and so he decided to ask Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, for her opinion of the matter. The trouble was no one in Munchkinland had seen much of Glinda since Dorothy left Oz; in fact, a good many people wondered whatever became of Glinda. The mayor and the chief of police went looking for her, no easy task as witches are not easy to locate unless she finds out you’re dating her best friend behind her back. Eventually, they found Glinda living in a rundown trailer park out along the yellow brick road about twenty miles outside the Emerald City, near where the yellow brick road intersects with Interstate 10, telling fortunes for ten dollars a pop and downing a quart of vodka a day, still bitter about how Louis B. Mayer shafted her all those years ago.

MGM, it seems, was going to make two movies about Oz, one about Dorothy and the other about Glinda, or so she told the mayor, and she was going to star in the movie as well, not at all like the first flick, where they had to bring in some kid named Judy to play Dorothy because Dorothy, who, just between you and me, Mister Mayor, was not the smartest kid who ever lived—dropping that house on the Wicked Witch of the East was just her dumb luck, which, to be fair, the kid always had a lot of—and she couldn’t act her way out of a soaking wet brown paper bag. They tried to make her a star, you know, but the kid just didn’t have the chops, she froze like a deer in the headlights during her screen test; the only thing they could get her to say was she wanted to go home. Maybe she was ahead of her times, who knows? She could have played E.T. with that go home shtick. She couldn’t sing, either; that’s why they had to bring the Judy kid in.

Mayor Hempflannel tried to bring the subject around to the question of what to do about the house, but it was half past ten in the morning and Glinda was already half in the bag, so he had to keep listening to this boozy rant, which he found embarrassing at first and then a little disquieting, as Glinda apparently began to think he was Louis B. Mayer. This was an easy mistake to make, for the mogul and the Munchkin looked a good deal alike, although the Munchkin was considerably shorter than the man, as Munchkins tend to be. MGM never made the second movie—something about the special effects costing a fortune—and then the war came, which threw everyone in Hollywood for a production loop. Movies about good witches were out and heroics and patriotism were in, and so she had to spend the war years making an occasional USO tour doing card tricks for the boys and laying by a poolside in Beverley Hills knocking back whiskey sours and Manhattans with Bill Faulkner and Bob Benchley. The story about the special effects costing a fortune was a damn lie, Glinda said—she would have done them for nothing just to get the film made and to hell with the unions—and to prove her point she turned the chief of police into a three-legged frog and fed him to Wilbur, her pet piranha. After that Glinda started crying and cracked open a bottle of beer with her teeth, and then began singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ in a voice you couldn’t call off-key, as that term suggests some vague proximity to a key, and that wasn’t really true in this case. The mayor chose this point to beat a hasty retreat from the Good Witch of the North and followed the yellow brick road back to Munchkinland, a sadder and no wiser public servant, wondering the whole long way how he was going to explain the chief of police’s sudden disappearance to his wife and family.

So, the debate about what to do with the house raged on. For a while, the Munchkinland Housing Authority planned to turn Dorothy’s house into a low-income housing project, but the local homeowners did not want any socioeconomically deprived riff-raff in the neighborhood depressing their property values, so that idea didn’t really go anywhere. Rehabilitating the house would have cost a fortune as well, as no one ever bothered to fix the damage the police and the army caused forcing the Dorotheans out of the place.

The local authorities dislike talking about this episode—few governments enjoy talking about their mistakes and many Munchkins find the whole matter a bit distasteful, to put it mildly. The Dorothites, or Dorotheans, as they preferred to call themselves, were, in essence, a cult for very short people who, one fine day, marched into the broken down old house and told the authorities that they were not leaving; they needed the house for their worship services. The major tenet of their belief was that the good witch Dorothy (N.B.: Munchkins, even non-Dorotheans, did not then and do not now believe Dorothy’s protestations that she was not a witch; nobody just dumps a house on top of one wicked witch and melts another one like Cheez-Wiz over an open flame without some powerful mojo of her own) would return someday for the good Munchkins who had faith in Her and bring them back with Her to the mystical land of Kansas, where there would be a hundred slightly over the hill virgins named Tricksy Trixie LaBelle for all the believers, as well as hair for the bald, booze for the bibulous, and free checking on all accounts over a hundred dollars. In addition to all of this, once in Kansas, Dorothy would raise all true believing Munchkins to the staggering and hitherto unimaginable height of five foot five and seven-sixteenths of an inch without the use of platform shoes. The believers could have all of this and more if only they held true to the Faith, especially the parts where they dressed up as Dorothy and sang all the hymns on the Live from the London Palladium album until they fell unconscious to the floor in a state of religious ecstasy.

Clearly, no one wanted to persecute a religious minority for their beliefs; Munchkins are a fairly broad-minded lot, all told; but there are only so many renditions of ‘When the saints go marching in’ anyone can listen to on any given night before it starts getting on your nerves. The complaints from the neighbors, which the authorities had ignored up to that point because they like collecting their boodle without having to do too much for it, and the actions of the Dorotheans themselves finally forced a confrontation with the government. A theological dispute between those who held that Dorothy was one in substance with Toto and those who held that Toto was a lesser, dependent entity turned violent, with rioters in the street smashing windows and bludgeoning each other into unconsciousness with oversized lollipops. The rioting lasted for the better part of a week and the government finally had to call in the army to quell the disturbance and clear the cultists out of Dorothy’s house. The cult still survives in the more rural areas of Munchkinland, where the landscape is dotted with shrines to the good witch where the locals can come to pray and sacrifice their old shoes and Fats Waller records in hopes of gaining Dorothy’s favor and a good harvest.

At this point, the government despaired, as governments are wont to do when confronted with a problem that raising taxes cannot solve. Just when things seemed darkest, however, Mayor Hempflannel’s son-in-law, Mortimer Twiddlefist, found a solution acceptable to almost everyone. Consequently, next week the government of Munchkinland will cease operation under its current name and will reconstitute itself as the tribal government of the Munchkin Reservation. The lawyers and the diplomats are still working out the details of the jurisdictional transfer of sovereignty from the Emerald City to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and in the meantime scriveners from one end of Munchkinland to the other, an admittedly short distance for most non-Munchkins, are busy writing gaming licenses as fast their small fingers and their quill pens can stand the strain. Plans for the Good Witch Dorothy Historic Site and Casino are already in the works and last week Mayor Hempflannel reported at a meeting of the Munchkin Board of Aldermen that at least three other companies expressed an interest in the possibilities of Munchkin gaming. Things in Munchkinland, for the first time in many a year, are finally looking up.

Not everyone is thrilled with these changes, however. Many older Munchkins point out that Munchkins are neither Indians nor Americans, but citizens of Oz, and the Dorotheans regard the United States as a sinkhole of vice, depravity, and sin; after all, no matter what the American government may tell you, the true believer cannot reach the perfect spiritual state of Kansas by catching the 9:27 a.m. flight from Chicago to Topeka. The idea is absurd, too absurd to even bother thinking about.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE: So there I was, stuck in morning traffic behind an armored bus transporting a fresh crop of miscreants to one of our happy little burg’s many vacation facilities for the feloniously inclined, when I heard something strange on the radio. No, it wasn't gangsta rap or heavy metal or even that crazy preacher from the slough of urban despond immediately across the river from us, for whom the existence of gays, Jews, Catholics, and tuna casserole is incontrovertible evidence that the last days are upon us; no indeed, it was the news. I listen to the news on my way into work, for reasons I am not sure I fathom; you’d think that the last thing anyone would want to listen to in the morning is a recounting of everything that went wrong in the world since they went to bed the night before, but there are stranger things in the world, I suppose. I make no claims to perfect knowledge here, and like Job and his sufferings, I simply assume there must be a reason for the phenomenon and then move on.

Even with this stress-relieving view of the world and its manifold stupidities, I am still not sure how to react to the news that Britney Spears was photographed this week in the act of not wearing underwear, a type of photography known to the paparazzi who traffic in such imagery as a crotch shot. At the time the paparazzi caught Ms. Spears sans lingerie, she was in the company of Paris Hilton, whom we have discussed here before, and Lindsey Lohan, both of whom have contributed greatly to this particular genre of photojournalism in the past and will, no doubt, continue to do so in the future. I do not know why this particular photographic genre exists; barring the effects of hermaphroditism, a rose is a rose is a rose, as it were, but the genre does exist so someone must find this sort of photograph interesting. I just find it odd that a woman who has just had two children in as many years would want to expose her reproductive anatomy to anyone; you’d think that after all that labor she’d just want the thing to rest for a while. But then, as I said, I make no claims to omniscience here, although the ongoing interest in Ms. Spears' genitalia might be the proof the crazy preacher is looking for and the Day of Judgement really is nigh. That's something to think about.