The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

THOUGHTS ON ARROWS SHOT INTO THE AIR: Bookstores are wonderful places, especially if you are a librarian. In a bookstore you are surrounded by the very thing that got you into the bookslinging profession to begin with, you invariably know more about the product than any of the bookstore staff, who are for the most part kids who’ve spent most of their lives watching MTV and can’t really tell the difference between one book and another; they could be selling cans of string beans at your local supermarket for all they know about the product they’re pushing, and best of all, you can go to a bookstore and no one will ask you to do anything. On occasion, you will get the odd question from someone who thinks that because you seem to know your way around large numbers of book, you must therefore be an employee. This has happened to me a couple of times and it always feels good to say, I don’t know, I don’t work here to the questioner. Sometimes I feel bad about it afterwards, particularly if the person needed help finding something, but I figure if my local neighborhood Barnes & Noble superstore wants me to find books for their customers, then they can pay me for my expertise. And I really don’t feel bad if the person is there to complain about something. I have to listen to enough of that where I do work, so telling the complainers that they’re barking up the wrong tree doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

You can learn a great many things about yourself in a bookstore. For example, if you wander through the New Age section, as I did the other day, you can learn if you’re psychic, which is always a good thing to know, and, if you are, you can also learn how to release your inner psychic, win friends, influence people, and score with major babes in the meantime. You may even win the lottery several times over, if your inner psychic is amenable to the idea. The possibilities for psychics are almost literally endless, although as I was counting the number of Leicas I could buy if I hit the number in the MegaMillions lottery it did occur to me that there might be a bit of a problem with unleashing my inner psychic. Now, don’t get me wrong here—I am all for releasing the psychic within me; I have no problem whatsoever with parole for non-violent offenders—and if these books work for you, then more power to you, it’s nice to know that someone’s getting ahead in this odd world of ours, but when I’m in a bookstore faced with shelf after shelf of this type of book, the same question keeps running through my mind: if I were psychic, wouldn’t I know that already without buying the book?

This is an excellent question, I think, even if many skeptics will refuse to believe that anything about me runs anywhere. I am not a running person, I fear; at best, I can break into a particularly breathless saunter before collapsing into an apathetic heap in front of the television set, a fact that is all too well-known in many quarters here in our happy little burg. So rather than strain the reader’s credulity in such an egregious manner; I suspect that many of your HMO’s will not cover a strained credulity so close to a Presidential election year; let me just say that the thought crossed my mind at a slow mosey, taking time out every so often to stop at some diner and buy some lemon Danish and a Diet Coke, and then just sit at the table and watch the cars go by on the highway. I usually do this at night, as I prefer driving at night—that way I don’t have to look at the scenery while I drive. I dislike scenery; you always feel an obligation to look at it and then say nice things about it, even if you have no particular feeling for the passing scene one way or the other. Driving through a very scenic area is a lot like having an insecure girl friend; you feel obliged to say something positive about how they look today, even if you can’t see the difference between how they looked today and how they looked yesterday. You can’t actually come out and say this, of course, especially if the local Chamber of Commerce and/or your girl friend is anywhere in the neighborhood; both will object vigorously and your girl friend will probably hit you over the head with an aluminum baseball bat as well. This will not change your mind, but it will make her feel better about herself and we should all do our best to raise our collective self-esteem these days. It’s the least we can do to support the war effort.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Relinquunt omnia servare rem publicam

"...and the home of the brave..."



Thursday, May 24, 2007

AMNESTY: I’ll be honest with you—I’ve always been of two minds when it comes to the issue of immigration. I suppose that this ambivalence on my part could hardly be otherwise: my paternal grandparents were immigrants to this our Great Republic, as is my mother; and I’ve always had the feeling that there was something more than a little hypocritical about my saying, okay, the Clan Bashmachkin has arrived, thanks be to God, you guys can lift the drawbridge now and keep out the rest of the riff-raff. On the other hand, my mother and grandparents didn’t sneak over the border or jump off the boat when no one was looking; they came to this country legally, after having had to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops and legal twists the warped and malevolent genius of the United States government could devise, a process that makes more than one poor immigrant coming to this, the Land of Opportunity, wonder if they were actually going to America or booking passage for a one way, no expenses paid, five day and twelve night trip into one of the less traveled byways of the Twilight Zone instead. Complaining about the immigration bureaucracy is something many immigrant families do on a more or less constant basis; in fact, we often complain about the immigration bureaucracy for fun and recreation, and now that there are more immigrants in the country than ever before, I am surprised that someone hasn’t started a professional sports league dedicated to complaining about the immigration bureaucracy. The best complainers could meet on the tarmac at JFK in a final ten hour, best of five complain-a-thon to determine the champion of champion complainers, with the smiling immigration people standing nearby to congratulate the winner at the end of his ordeal and then immediately deport his ungrateful ass back to whatever stinking war-torn Third World hellhole he came from in the first place. That’ll teach him to whine, dammit!

Which leads inevitably, as many things are wont to do in our modern age, to Albert Einstein, who, I think we can all agree, was a lot smarter than any five of us put together ever will be and don’t you ever forget it, buster. Albert Einstein was, like Mom and my grandparents, an immigrant to these shores, coming here in 1933, having figured out, years before anyone else did and without the use of a crystal ball or any other artificial ingredients, that Adolf Hitler was a major league loon who liked to start really big wars when he wasn’t busy chasing Eva Braun around the vegetarian buffet counter in the Fuhrerbunker’s cafeteria. Einstein didn’t like wars, big or otherwise, nor did he like wearing socks, which he found irrational, and he was a man, in the words of the late Abba Eban, devoted, in all things, to rationality. The opposite of rationality is irrationality, insanity, or Congress, as it is sometimes called, which now proposes to provide amnesty to the several million immigrants who now reside in this country without the legal blessing of the government. Congress, for reasons best known to itself, does not want to call the amnesty they want to provide an amnesty and so in the interests of fairness, I won’t either. The economist and Carter Administration inflation czar Alfred Kahn used the banana to describe depressions, so let’s call our not-amnesty a loganberry instead. Loganberries are a noble fruit, bred originally by a federal judge who clearly had too much time on his hands. Now, as I understand it, France and Spain have already tried loganberries and found that instead of slowing the rate of illegal immigration (I haven’t thought of a fruit for this term, but I will shortly) loganberries actually increased the rate, since everyone back in their corner of hell’s little half-acre figured that if the French and Spanish handed out loganberries once, they’d have to do it again. In fact, back in 1986, when there were only three million illegal immigrants in this country, the Simpson—Mazzoli loganberry was supposed to stop the tide once and for all; everyone who was already here could stay, but no one else would be allowed in. That’s it; we were finally getting tough. Twenty-one years and about fifteen million illegal immigrants later, Congress is about to do the same thing all over again. Given, as Einstein once put it, that one definition of insanity is the performance of the same action over and over again in anticipation of a different result, what makes Congress think that this time will be any different than the last time?

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

DRY SPELL ALERT: My apologies for the lack of posting this week, but I am yet again in the midst of a vast dry spell in which my every attempt to think of something to write about dies a quick and violent death. These spells occur with more and more often, I’ve noticed, and they tend to last longer now than they used to when I was younger, which, as you might imagine, I find pretty damn annoying. I thought I might do something about the presidential race, but the election is still a year and a half away and, to cite Will Rogers, I don’t waste no oratory on prospects. So, so much for that subject.

Then I thought about the plight of the definite article in Albanian. This is a terrible story, filled with heartache and shame. Albanian does have a definite article, but this sorry article does not stand in front of the noun, as such articles do in many other languages. No indeed, Albanians routinely force their definite article to take up positions behind the noun, slapping it across the face if the poor article even thinks of moving to a better seat. Albanians will abuse the poor definite article even to the point where the poor thing becomes part of the noun. This is just the sort of thing that will crush the self-esteem of any young definite article and limit its life chances. Why should the young definite article go to school at all if all that they can look forward to there is relegation to a second-class status while the nouns rule the school roost? Is it any wonder then that the high school graduation rates for Albanian definite articles are as low as they are? Other languages do not treat their definite articles in this way; some languages have as many as five or six definite articles, depending on gender and case, and those articles always go first, clearing the way for the noun. Definite articles are happy in those languages, knowing, as they do, that they are making a real contribution to society. Even English, which has only one definite article, treats that word with all the attention and consideration an only child gets from overly solicitous parents. And yet Albanian, a language that says it wants to join the European Union, to be part and parcel of the new Europe, still publicly treats its definite articles as though they were second class citizens unworthy of further notice. It seems to me that one of the great violations of linguistic human rights is going on right before our eyes in the Mediterranean basin, and yet no one seems to want to do anything about it.

And then there is the shepherd question. You would not know this without the Wall Street Journal telling you this, but apparently lost in the details of the recent immigration deal is a provision that would allow thousands of foreign shepherds to remain here and deprive hard-working American shepherds of their jobs. This, it seems to me, is the lowest sort of crass pandering to the immigration lobby. There are tens of millions of unemployed native-born shepherds in this country who can’t get work because Big Wool is importing Peruvians to do the work at half the wages, and now the Congress wants to put its imprimatur on this gross exploitation by letting the sheep companies keep their foreign shepherds despite the American people’s demand that someone, somewhere exercise some kind of control over the nation’s borders. It is bad enough when American workers lose their jobs because they cannot compete with cheap foreign labor, but when some American companies decide that they want to import that same cheap foreign labor and still pay them starvation wages, well, that’s just way too much for any educated populace to bear, I think.

Since none of these ideas really panned out in any meaningful way, I thought I might do something about the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for my mostly moldy daily bread. The 135th anniversary of the institution’s founding is coming up rapidly and we will be having festivities to mark the event. We should have had them ten years ago to mark the quasquicentennial anniversary, but at the time we were looking for a new director and so had other things on our minds. The reporter for the local journal of record came rushing in the other day to interview the current director. This reporter is an attractive young lady, full of enthusiasm for her job, unlike the fellow they used to send here to do stories about the library. The man was half-crocked all the time and was fond of telling everyone how his wife and the Associated Press didn’t understand him. When he was really drunk, he’d insist on pulling up his shirt and showing you his qwert mark. Apparently, way back in 1968, when men were men, women were women, and Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar was only a few months away from his fateful meeting with a beach chair, the man had thrown himself on a Viet Cong typewriter thrown into the bar of the old Hotel Continental in Saigon, saving his drinking companions from the pernicious threat of the Red Menace and impressing the aforementioned letters into his flesh for as long he lives. He wept for the good old days, when the news he covered was important and bewailed the fate that led him to covering the news here in our happy little burg for a readership that had very little interest in the subject matter. Even the people who live here don’t care all that much; it’s just the way we are sometimes. You have to feel sorry for such people, I think, you really do. Ordinary life can be a terrible comedown.

Well, I’ll think of something eventually; it’s just a matter of waiting for the dry season to pass and the rain will come. It always does, eventually.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

NEWS FROM BOSTON: I do not, as a rule, spend much time thinking about what goes on in Boston. I suppose I should, just as a matter of personal curiosity, but I don’t. I have better things to do with my time than ponder the Byzantine mental contortions necessary to keep voting for Mr. Kennedy every six years or to contemplate the widespread public breakdown in law and order that permits the satanic cult headquartered in Fenway Park to perform their diabolical rituals in full view of an uncomprehending populace. So it came as quite a surprise to me when I heard some news from Boston that I actually found interesting. It seems that last week, after many a long year of suffering in silence, long simmering resentments finally turned violent in the Boston Symphony’s string section when the viola players finally went after the violinists with hammer and tongs, or, in this particular case, with a tuba and a glockenspiel, during a performance of Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto No. 6 in A Minor. Apparently, the violists had had enough of the violinists’ snotty and altogether snooty attitude towards them and their instrument, and were out for some musical payback. Neither the Boston Police Department, who had to call out its SWAT team and use generous amounts of teargas to break up the onstage riot, nor the Boston Symphony will say what finally set the violists off; no one, as far as I can tell, is saying anything about anything up there, but the buzz on the Internet says that the occasion for the melee was the symphony’s second violinist making a crude joke about the first violist’s sister, who plays flute for the symphony and does card tricks on the side. I should say, though, that at this point this is just a rumor, although the first violist’s screaming threats to take out the second violinist’s punk ass if he ever showed his face in the orchestra pit again got major play in the Boston newspapers and on CNN as well.

The violence quickly spread from one end of the orchestra to the other, as tuba players went after trumpeters, bassoonists and oboists had at each other, and the French and English horns decided to have another go at the Battle of Waterloo. The symphony, caught off-guard by this turn of events, as most authorities usually are, it seems, sent its musical director down to the rehearsal hall to calm the situation down, only to see this gentleman wind up face down in a kettledrum. Institutional dithering being what it is, the symphony tried to keep the police out of the matter, which only led to a rapid increase in the violence. Finally, faced with the attempted lynching of one of the symphony’s more prominent guest conductors, whose advocacy of such modern composers as Ives, Varese, and Bartok angered the more traditional supporters of the classical repertory no end, the symphony’s leadership called in the police. The Boston police deployed several hundred officers in full riot gear, a SWAT team, and a hostage negotiator in case things turned truly ugly. Despite the massive show of force, however, it still took the police several hours and the liberal use of tear gas to quell the rioting and get the situation under control. The police arrested over a dozen rioters and several more members of the symphony had to be hospitalized, including the second violin, who had multiple contusions, a fairly massive concussion, and a piccolo wedged halfway up his backside.

No sooner had the riot ended than critics began attacking the police department’s tactics in suppressing it. Almost all the critics pointed out that police clumsiness led to the destruction of at least one Stradivarius cello and an Amati violin, which were both almost literally priceless, and more than one critic said that the police presence was altogether too Wagnerian and out of place in the middle of a Vivaldi concerto. Friends of the violinists told reporters afterwards that the police deliberately targeted them for abuse and arrest, even though the violinists were the victims of the initial attack, proving, they said, that the police shared the same long-term prejudice against violinists that caused the riot in the first place. Many of these same friends demanded an immediate investigation of the police department’s handling of the situation, calling the department heavy-handed and inept.

Defenders of public order swiftly came to the defense of the police, pointing out that the police clearly gave the rioting musicians more than enough time to stop fighting and leave the hall; videotapes from the symphony’s own surveillance system also show the police warning the rioters to stop fighting or face the consequences, albeit on bullhorns that were obviously out of tune and therefore had no business in a concert hall. The liberal use of tear gas also had a detrimental effect on the overall quality of the cellos, making their sound weak and tremulous when it should have been strong and passionate. And, as everyone pointed out, the sirens, bullhorns, and other police instruments were all out of tune. Perhaps there is a future for them in playing the moderns, but on the whole, this sort of thing can be forgiven once, I think, given the exigencies of the situation, but the Boston Police Department will have to spend more time, a lot more time, working on their sound in the rehearsal hall if they ever wish to return to the concert stage again.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

ETERNITY ROAD ALERT: Yes, there's more wisdom available from yours truly over on Eternity Road, so take a pop over there and have a look.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007


A reader writes:

Dear Akaky,

I have been seeing a guy for almost two years now, but I am not sure how this relationship is working out. He has a wonderful house on the Jersey Shore that I helping him remodel, but it just seems to me that all he loves me for is my ability to help him do repairs. I went there last week expecting a nice romantic weekend for two, but what I got was two days of jackhammering his old patio along with a crew of Mexicans and instead of going to the movies we spent all of our spare time at Home Depot. He says that he loves me, but I am starting to think maybe I ought to get out of this relationship. What do you think?


Confused in Corona.

Dear Confused,

Stay in the relationship, my dear; it is obvious that the man is mad about you. Remodeling a house is a stressful business for everyone involved, and nothing makes the stress worse than a woman who thinks that she is the one doing the remodeling. Nothing could be further from the truth. Women may provide ideas for the remodeling, but the actual get down doing of the thing is a male preserve and has been since the first cavewoman told the first caveman that this would be a nice cave to live in, if only we could find some way to get the bear out of the place. The painter Edgar Degas once complained to his friend, the poet Stephane Mallarme, that he didn’t understand why he was having so many problems writing a poem; after all, he had plenty of ideas. Mallarme replied that poems are not written with ideas, but with words. Having ideas is wonderful; making them happen is something else again.

Similarly, a woman may have all the ideas in the world about how to remodel a house; men, on the other hand, have to make these sometimes-vague ideas reality. Clearly, if this man wants you around to help him rip the guts out of his house, he loves you more than life itself. That he wants to spend time with you at Home Depot is yet a further declaration of just how seriously he takes his relationship with you. A man may buy you all the flowers in the world, he may take you to romantic movies, he may get you the most exquisite chocolates in the world, and it means nothing, really; guys will do anything if they think it’s foreplay, as Susan Sarandon quite rightly points out in Bull Durham; but a man who takes a woman to check out the newest Black & Decker circular saw at Home Depot and to smell the aroma of freshly cut two by fours in the morning, well, that man is in love. And let’s face reality here: five will get you ten that the reason you’re the one using the jackhammer on the patio is that he wants to see your breasts jiggle; even the most deeply enraptured guy in the world is still a guy. Why go to Hooters when he can see the same thing at home and get some work done on his new patio as well?

If you have nothing to worry about now, then what about the future, you might want to know. How, then, will you know this relationship is over? I realize I shouldn’t be telling you this; it is a guy thing and therefore should not be revealed to women, children, small dogs, members of the Communist Party, or to anyone who works for the Internal Revenue Service; but you will know the romance is gone when he asks you to snake out his toilet. Carpentry and stonemasonry are sure signs of true love, bricklaying a sign that this relationship is really going places, and putting in electric wire is tantamount to a proposal of marriage, but plumbing is always and everywhere a bad sign for women, and one you should not take lightly if ever your relationship comes to this point. No man lets a woman have anything to do with plumbing; even in this licentious age no decent, respectable woman should have anything to do with plumbing in any of its manifestations. Picking out shower curtains and bathroom tile is all right, but pipefitting is utterly beyond the pale. I do not wish to speculate in the absence of solid scientific data, which is odd, now that I think about it, as I’ve never let the absence of solid scientific data get in the way of a good speculation before and all of Wall Street would tumble if everyone adopted this as a model of making decisions, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. It seems, based on this evidence, that seven out of every ten relationships in which a woman does plumbing or related work end after only three or four months. In each and every case, the beginning of the end came when the man in the relationship asked the woman to snake out the toilet. No one is sure why this is so and a good many people at the American Psychological Association aren’t talking; they’re just sitting behind the couch going uh-hunh…and then, how did you feel about that?

Frankly, I think the reason is pretty easy to figure out. You don’t have to be some kind of neo-Freudian headshrinker lying on a couch free-associating about your childhood traumas to the music of KC and the Sunshine Band to figure out the sexual symbolism of a woman snaking out a man’s toilet. I mean, this one is pretty obvious, isn’t it? You’ve got the fear of the emasculating woman there, the woman who seizes the male role in the relationship, as well as some fairly potent latent homosexual imagery going on as well, and so it doesn’t surprise me that guys don’t want to deal with this sort of thing at all. Just thinking about this is enough to give most guys a royal case of the heebie-jeebies. Once the woman snakes a toilet out, no man will ever look at her in the same way again, even if the guy appreciates not having yesterday’s breakfast coming up all over the bathroom floor. At this point, you might as well as forget about this guy once and for all and start looking around for someone new, because no matter how much he tells you he loves you, no matter how many times he tells you that his feelings for you haven’t changed a bit since those halcyon days when the two of you picked out cement mixers, plywood, and extension cords at Home Depot, stick a fork in it, honey, it’s over.



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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

GETTYSBURG INTERLUDE: In lieu of my further adventures in the wilds of deepest, darkest Pennsyltucky, I give you instead a long and profound effort on the economic consequences of racism in America. I am sure you will find this piece intellectually stimulating and profoundly moving, and tests have shown that the essay does not cause bladder cancer or psoriasis in laboratory rats, just in case you are worried about that sort of thing.

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