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)

Friday, August 24, 2007

CHERRY SWEATERS AND FISHNET STOCKINGS: I don’t, as a rule, write these little screeds while I am work; the public is not paying me to write, but to do the librarian thing I do so well; nor do I usually write this stuff directly on the computer; I usually write them out in pencil at home first and then type them up, editing as I go along; but as I bat this thing out at 4:42pm EDT on 24 August 2007 (yes, there are only four shopping months till Christmas) there are three men sitting here in the reference room of this egregious mold pit arguing about the models in Vogue magazine. I suppose that there are more tiresome things for three men to argue about; they could, for example, argue about the designated hitter rule (two of them are for it, one is against. Full disclosure: I am against it as well) or about the price of tea in China or about local politics; but they are refraining from these obvious topics and arguing about the models in Vogue instead.

The fly in the ointment here, as I see it, is that all three of these gentlemen live in the same halfway house down the road from here and they all live there because they’re all clinically nuts, which is not a term the American Psychological Association approves of, but does mean that this conversation is not merely loud (I've noticed over the years that crazy people think that sane people are hard of hearing; I cannot explain why this is so), but in many cases it makes literally no sense. Trains of thought are derailing in this room faster than their medications can lay down new lines of track and Aristotelian logic is taking a beating so bad that philosophy departments from one end of this our Great Republic to the other will have to put the subject on the disabled list until next school season. You cannot, after all, construct a suitable syllogism when your major premise is that God is love but not when he is covered with marmalade (no, I didn’t ask about the theological details—I didn’t even want to think about whatever disturbing experience brought this to this guy’s equally disturbed conscious mind) and your minor premise is that I was a pizza delivery boy in Chicago back when Gina Lollobrigida was wearing fishnet stocking and feeding calzones to the fish in Lake Michigan; they are still arguing about what the logical conclusion to this must needs be as I write, and if they arrive at a solution while this dump is still open I will let you know posthaste.

The really important thing here, as I see it, is whether these guys are nuts for arguing about something that bears no relationship to objective reality, as those of us who do not live in one of the local halfway houses understand that concept, or am I nuts for staying here in the place and listen to them bicker about it? The world wonders and frankly, so do I.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

WHAT GETS US IN THE END: "But in focusing entirely on blood sugar, [he] ended up neglecting the most important treatment for saving lives — lowering the cholesterol level. That protects against heart disease, which eventually kills nearly everyone with diabetes." --The New York Times, 20 August 2007.

Well, that certainly removes takes a bit of the mystery out of being stuck with this damn thing, doesn’t it?

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

CAMPAIGN POSITIONS: Unlike many Democrats, I don’t think about politics morning, noon, and night, even if I am running for my party’s nomination in 2060. This shocks many of my fellow Democrats, for whom politics is not merely a way of wrapping peculation in a sugary but otherwise wholesome covering of chocolate and patriotism, but provides a reason for existence itself. I suppose that one of the benefits of the long 2060 election cycle is that, on occasion, I and my fellow candidates for the nomination get a chance to do other things, like go with the family to the beach, see a movie, or read the paper with some other motive than to see how we’re doing in the polls (I am not doing so well, but I ascribe this to the New York Times’ ongoing embargo of news concerning my candidacy). This is certainly useful for any Presidential candidate; it gives a view of the country and the world that we would otherwise lose amid the constant pressure of campaigning, speechmaking, and reading position papers, campaign strategy memos, and the ingredients on the sides of cereal boxes. Sometimes this down time will even lead to a startling moment of discovery or even provide an idea that might help the campaign. In that case, it is best to strike while the iron is hot, as the old saw has it, and declare your support of the idea before any of your opponents gets to it first and has the sheer unmitigated gall (just for the sake of curiosity, is there such a thing as mitigated gall? If there is, I have not heard of it, but then I lead a very sheltered life) to swipe the idea right out from underneath your nose.

So it was just the other day, when I read in the paper that the government of the People’s Republic of China announced that it and not the Dalai Lama will decide all questions resulting from the unfortunate tendency of certain deceased Tibetan religious leaders to reincarnate themselves in areas outside the reach of the Chinese secret police and most debt collection agencies. This causes the Chinese government no end of distress, as the deceased lama almost invariably leaves a house full of stuff for someone else to sort through and leads the impartial observer inevitably to the suspicion that the lamas have found a somewhat offbeat way of not paying their income taxes. That the government of the People’s Republic does not officially believe in reincarnation in particular or religion in general makes little difference; that government does not really believe in its own founding ideology, either, and seems to be getting on quite well without it, thank you very much. Whatever its ideology, however, the Chinese government insists on its right to control the lives of its citizens, no matter which life they happen to be in at the moment.

I was gobsmacked. The sheer brilliance of the idea stunned me when I first read it, and it stuns me even now that no Democrat has had the wit to see this simple solution to many of the pressing social needs of our time. Therefore, let me be the first Democrat to announce that I fully support government regulation of reincarnation and the equitable redistribution of good karma to those who have had to do without it for much too long. That this is necessary for the long range social health of this our Great Republic is so obvious that it should not require explanation, but let me just say that the centerpiece of any effort to make reincarnation more fair is the need to remove karma from the chaotic effects of the free market. Karma, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, is the Buddhist tenet that what you do in this life governs what happens to you in your next life. A good life begets good karma and hence an even better next life, while an evil life brings suffering and pain in your next incarnation. The whole objective of this cycle of life, suffering, death, and rebirth is the eventual extinction of the individual consciousness in Nirvana, or the E Street Band, if you’re my age, either one being a state of perfect bliss. There are even some great souls who, although entitled to enter this state of perfect bliss, do not, preferring to remain in the cycle of life and death in order to help their fellow human beings reach Nirvana. These great souls are the bodhisattvas, and it is their role that the Chinese government now insists on assuming.

Let me reiterate something here: I do not understand why no Democrat has ever come out in favor of this idea before. Clearly, if we, as Democrats, want to make life more fair and equitable for the great mass of our fellow Americans, which, as Democrats, surely we must, then we must reform the current unfair system of apportioning karma in this country. Relying on the free market and the occasional bodhisattva is no longer enough; the government must step in and regulate the market. Government regulation of karma and reincarnation assures, at long last, the equitable treatment everyone deserves. The bodhisattvas will, at last, be able to move into the eternal bliss of Nirvana that their good actions have earned for them, which has the added benefit of removing them from the scene in such a way that they will not be around to demand the accumulated Social Security checks the government owes them for all of their past lives.

There will be, no doubt about it, the usual carping from the Republicans, who will blather on about the free market and individual responsibility for their own karma and how Democrats are once again instituting another big expensive government bureaucracy without any idea of how the government intends to pay for it beyond jacking everyone’s taxes through the roof, but this, frankly, is just the sort of thing you can expect from a party dedicated to perpetuating societal inequities from one life to the next. Let’s take a look at the karmic free market: poverty and war are still with us, injustice and racism are still with us, the Boston Red Sox and their minions are still with us. Can anyone really say that the vagaries of unregulated karma have been beneficial to the broad spectrum of American citizens? I think we all know the answer to that question.

With government regulation of karma, it will finally be possible to tackle many of the social problems that have, for far too long, plagued our country. Racism will fall by the wayside when the government can guarantee our African American citizens that not only will the government guarantee their equality with white citizens in this life, it can even guarantee that in their next life they will be white as well, despite the bitter cries of reverse discrimination from people who have been white for at least their last five or six lives and have no intention of sharing the whiteness with others. Our traditional supporters in the labor movement will be happy to know that, when I am President, my administration will guarantee that no American worker will be reborn as an Indian or Chinese worker making less than the union wage and that the shameful outsourcing of American souls to foreign countries will cease on the first day of my Presidency. I pledge to all Americans right here and right now: no American will be reborn as a foreigner unless that is their choice and that I will strive to amend the Constitution so that all persons born in the United States shall be reborn in the United States. And I will make sure that the teachers’ unions that there will be more money for teachers and smaller class sizes as well; it has nothing really to do with karma—it’s what they always want and so supporting this is a no-brainer, even if by 2060 class sizes should be so small that there’s no one actually in the classroom.

In any case, regulating karma will lead to a golden age in this country, and provided we can keep control of Congress and the Presidency, for the Democratic Party too; if we can control the bureaucracy that regulates the outflow of karma, we can create enough Democratic voters to keep us in the majority for a very long time to come. It’s not every presidential candidate who can tell his party that if you vote for me in 2060, I will guarantee our party wins the Presidency in 2160 and 2260 and so on and so forth. This was a wonderful idea, even if it was Made in China, and I think we ought to do something about it before anyone can get good karma down at Wal-Mart.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

POSTING AND THE LACK THEREOF: My apologies to everyone for the noticeable lack of posting this past week, but I’ve had to put up with a series of family crises, the details of which I will not bore you with, except to say that any verbal agreement you choose to make with my ex sister—in—law is not worth the paper it’s not written on. That having been said, I do have something on the burner, however, and I do hope to have it up by tomorrow, God willing and the river don’t rise.

P.S. Can anyone explain why all of my Blogger commands are in Japanese?



Wednesday, August 08, 2007

ELECTIONEERING NEWS: I am sure that many of you will be happy to know that my run for the 2060 Democratic Presidential nomination is finally back on track and even, dare I say it at such an early point in my candidacy, acquiring some momentum. The money troubles that plagued the campaign in the beginning have abated somewhat; the money is not exactly pouring in, but the trickle is now a stream of sorts and we have picked up some powerful support. My commitment to raising the refund on all bottles and cans to 75 cents from one end of this our Great Republic to the other has garnered a good sized chunk of the homeless and mentally ill vote, and the good thing about having them on your side is that they are always available, except when they have to line up for their meds at the outpatient clinic, and that five people with multiple personalities can bring a candidate anywhere up to thirty to forty extra votes on Election Day, and a one man voting bloc is nothing to sneeze at, I can tell you.

My opponents still refuse to debate me, that much has not changed, but I am resisting the urge to go negative yet. There seems little point in my pointing out that my honorable opponents routinely behave in an un-Presidential manner when their mothers, of all people, will do that for me, and in public, no less. I don’t believe that I have ever seen a crop of candidates in any election cycle as psychologically immature and unprepared for high office as this one is. But as I said, now is not the time to go negative, I think. If you start with this sort of thing too early in the election cycle, I’ve found, you tend to turn off the voters, who will always associate you with negativity. This is not a good thing for anyone trying to gain elective office.

I have to say, though, that the thought of going negative now is pretty damn tempting, I can tell you. It’s not just the jejune nature of my fellow candidates, it’s that here we are facing the second half of the 21st century and for reasons I am not sure I fathom the Democratic Party was and is the party of nostalgia. It’s as if the last bright idea any Democrat ever had was the New Deal, and let’s face it, even that wasn’t everything Democrats crack it up to be. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not run in 1932 and 1936 on 54—40 or fight or on Tippecanoe and Tyler too, and yet all anyone ever seems to hear from us Democrats is the same old New Deal programs repackaged for a new generation. We keep appealing to the same old class warfare nostrums without thinking that the same old class of people we aim those nostrums at have picked up and moved on. But we don’t want to hear that, because that would mean having to change the game and we like the game as it is, even if it is way out of date.

Still, there may be hope for these Democratic stalwarts. A new underclass may emerge, although just where we’d find this new set of potential voters is a little hard to figure out. We could convince California and its scads of underprivileged to rejoin the Union, even if more than one cynic has pointed out that back in the day, Baja California didn’t start in Oakland, or we could ask the Mexicans if they would rent Texas back to the United States for a little while. That doesn’t seem very likely to me, though. The reemergence of Mexico as a world power was certainly one of the more surprising developments of the past century and I saw in the New York Times the other day that Russia demanded that Mexico stop its ongoing aggression at the latest meeting of the Security Council. The Mexicans denied that they were committing any aggressive acts against Russia—they always deny their hostile intent, no matter what the circumstances—but this time the Russians had proof: a live satellite feed showing shadowy figures in blue jeans and baseball caps crossing the Bering Sea bridge on foot in the middle of the night. Then the Russians showed many of these same people standing outside a 7—11 in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, waiting for los rusos to come and give them a day job working construction or digging snow in the hot July sun. The tenor of the meeting was definitely hostile, with the Russians claiming that their country was not going to meet the same fate as the Disunited States and the Dominion of Nuestra Senora la Virgen de Guadalupe, which I always think sounds so much better than Canada anyway, even if it's hard to get all of that on a bottle of ginger ale, and that the Russian armed forces would use force if need be to halt this ongoing attack on the sacred soil of the Rodina. The Mexican ambassador, clearly outraged by these charges, told the Russian ambassador to go chinga a tu madre, cabron and that if the Russians didn’t stop whining like mi vieja and shut the hell up, Mexico would have no choice but to ram the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo up their culos sideways. Clearly, the Mexicans are not in any mood to rent Texas back to the somewhat United States, not when there are fresher fish to fry.

That’s what happens when you wind up on the D-list of nations; no one on the A-list wants to take your phone calls and you wind up talking to some punk kid right out of diplomat school who wants to impress his boss by making you feel like the poor relation asking for a handout. Once upon a time in this country, Mexicans came across the river to work for Americans. In 2060, some Mexicans still come across the river to work, but that traffic is very well—regulated nowadays; it is much harder, though, to stop the traffic in Americans crossing the Mississippi to find work in Mexico. That’s one of the major social and economic problems of our times and none of my opponents want to address the issue, not when they can promise the voters that they won’t have to pay for anything ever again. I’m still not sure how they intend to pay for that; we’ve already sold off the Dakotas, and most of Illinois, as well, and I don’t want to frighten anyone here, but if you live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, you might want to learn Mandarin or Arabic in fairly short order. Just giving you guys the heads up. Have a nice day.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007


“We stood on our back deck and watched as filthy refuse shot up in the air like Old Faithful, tampons and all…you’d have to be there to believe the smell.” She maintains the city denied initially the sewage was in evidence.

As you can tell from the passage from our local newspaper of record quoted above, not every day here in our happy little burg is one of completely unalloyed happiness, strange as that may seem to you. Yes, we have our bad days too, the same as everywhere else, and there are times when we want to throttle someone badly. We’re not always sure just who it is we want to throttle on those occasions, but almost anyone will do in a pinch, I suppose. The people in charge of keeping us from going for each other’s throats, our crack force of gendarmerie, are themselves much in the news these days, given their newsworthy habits of suing the city whenever they take a notion to and whacking people with their truncheons to give themselves something to do as they suppress the already nearly nonexistent crime rate.

The police department’s most recent newsworthy whacking comes from an inspector in the city’s building department, who told the press that the police stopped him for going through a stop sign on a street that doesn’t have a stop sign on it and promptly punched him in the mouth when he pointed this out to the officer. The officer, of course, is now suing the city, since the building department doesn’t take kindly to wiseass cops assaulting their employees and immediately hit the cop in question with close to $50,000 in building code violations on his new house. The cop told the newspapers that he’d set his house on fire before he paid a nickel of those fines, which was simple bravado on his part; everyone here in our happy little burg knows that the whole town could burn down before the fire department shows up at a fire at a cop’s house, because that’s how much the two departments hate each other. It’s no wonder that the annual Fire—Police Department football game usually turns into a drunken brawl, complete with Glocks and high-pressure hoses used with equal abandon. Things are getting a little bit better, however; last year only 35 people went to the hospital, a vast improvement over the five dead and 79 wounded the year before.

The people at the top of our uncivil services, the mayor and the city council, would prefer to have all city departments working together for the betterment of the citizenry, but frankly, they have problems of their own these days. As I have mentioned here before, our happy little burg is in a period of economic transition. Where once we were a center for manufacturing bricks, hats, and various other useful things, we are now a center for selling antiques and, increasingly these days, the arts, which may or may not be useful—it really depends on your point of view. Art galleries are popping up like so many mushrooms these days, which is not always a bad thing, I think, although it does lead to some odd signage combinations as you go down Main Street. Not every town in this our Great Republic can offer the casual stroller modern art, a Subway club sandwich, and hair extensions for the black and beautiful woman by simply turning a corner. The problem for the solons who govern us is that, while they intend to give it the old college try, it is not entirely possible for a small American city in the first decade of the twenty-first century to base its economy solely on selling off Grandma’s old furniture and art nobody who actually lives here understands. In order to pay for the excesses of our not so civil servants, and since a return to manufacturing is not possible unless we move the whole town and everyone in it to China, which most people hereabouts probably wouldn’t stand for; there is only so much of General Tso’s chicken you can eat in a given week before you want a hamburger; the city council must pull its collective hand out of the cookie jar just long enough for someone to put some cookies in.

The council of peculation, which has absolutely nothing to do with academic criticism of the films of Gregory Peck or with the ecclesiastical council of Pecula, a synod of bishops, learned theologians, and leading Armenian ecdysiasts that met in the eponymous Anatolian pesthole in the sixth century to determine whether or not Christians could eat kosher hot dogs without committing a mortal sin (Yes, but only if they use ketchup or relish; mustard, whether yellow or spicy brown, is an abomination on the order of homosexuality, idolatry, or selling term life insurance to dyslexic Red Sox fans, such fandom in and of itself constituting a mortal sin) mulled the problem over, and if there is anything those guys are good at, it’s mulling; they live to mull and have even won mulling championships, no easy feat here in the Vampire State, where almost any elected official can mull the pants off the best mulling official from almost anywhere else without even breaking a sweat; and while they mulled, both years and gas passed three dollars a gallon and the son went down in the west and came up five years later in the advertising business.

Finally, after a prolonged mull that caused an equally prolonged sense of ennui in laboratory rats and prevented a nasty outbreak of the plague in North Dakota, someone had a bright idea: mining. The city could sell the local mountain (yes, we have a mountain, which has the same name as the city) to a mining company, who would, in turn, tear the mountain down and sell the stone, resulting in jobs, taxes, and civic improvements for all the citizenry. The police would even be able to afford machine guns, the better to slaughter the fire department whenever the mood struck them. Of course, at the end of fifty to a hundred years, there wouldn’t be a mountain where the mountain now stands, but all such plans require some small measure of sacrifice and at the end of that time, the mining company could sell the plain where the mountain once was to a real estate developer; the money would still roll in hand over fist. As the genius who came up with this idea pronounced the benefits of his plan with a glee he didn’t even try to hide—there’s no doubt that visions of fresh graft danced in his head—one of his fellow council members patted him on the back, announced the idea excellent and well worth studying, and then walloped his distinguished colleague over the noggin with a two by four. Everyone in attendance knew that was coming; if I’d been a second faster, I could have gotten a good picture of the two by four breaking in half over the councilman’s uncommonly thick skull. The reason for this is fairly easy to grasp: even though our happy little burg bears the name of the mountain, the mountain is not physically within the city limits of our happy little burg. You’d think a city councilman would know something like that, wouldn’t you?

Despair gripped the members of the city council, with the notable exception of the councilman for the third ward, who is still in the hospital with a concussion and a lump on his head the size of a fairly large cabbage, when fate, as it is wont to do, took a hand and changed forever the way things are done here, which is a terribly portentous way of saying that a sewer pipe broke, if you ask me. Like many places on the Eastern Seaboard, the municipal infrastructure tends to be a mix of various technologies, not all of them from the same century, and nowhere is this truer than in the city’s water department, which brings water down from the reservoir to the thirsty citizenry in pipes laid down when Eisenhower was President and removes the used water (and everything in said water) in pipes first laid down on the day after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. As you might imagine, those pipes are more than a little rusty now and after the recent heavy rains, one such pipe, a well-known Confederate sympathizer from way back, finally gave up the gray ghost. It ruptured, big time.

Now, as you know from reading the quote that begins this screed, the city initially denied there was anything wrong. Denial is the default position of any bureaucracy, since most bureaucrats regard appeals to objective reality as somewhat gauche, if not an actual threat to their jobs, an occupational trait they share with most philosophy and literature professors these days. However, every so often something happens that, even with the best will in the world, the bureaucracy cannot deny, and a sewer pipe spewing ordure and tampons high into the air would seem to be one of those events. And so, with heavy hearts, the water department roused itself from its institutional stupor and put on its hip high boots, and went forth to do battle with the busted pipe. No sooner had they arrived on site that they got a call from the mayor to turn around, go home, and do nothing with the pipe. Not needing any encouragement from the mayor to do what they do best, the water department decamped swiftly, leaving several shocked property owners in their noisome wake.

And so it is, folks, that very soon, you will not have to go to Yellowstone National Park to see a geyser. No sir, they’re printing the tickets up now and the out of town developers are out looking for prime properties in the area for hotels and maybe even a casino, if they can convince the Iroquois to build one in this neck of the woods. Tampon and toilet paper manufacturers are already lining up for billboards coming in and going out of town. Yes, tourism is going to save our happy little burg. A million people or so go to see Old Faithful every year; if we get just part of that action, we will be sitting pretty for a good long time, I think. Old Faithful erupts every hour or so; Old whatever we’re going to call it will erupt all the time, just like Mount Kilauea. Every time someone flushes, they’ll be doing their part to improve the commonweal, and before you come to see our happy little burg’s newest attraction, I should tell you that, by order of the city council, Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate are now officially controlled substances within the city limits and an upset stomach the sign of a true citizen who wants the best for his community. I thought you might to know that before you came up to take a look.

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