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)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

BLOODSUCKERS AND OTHER DEMOCRATS: Bedbugs are all the rage in New York these days, in the same way that radical chic and mau-mauing the flak catchers used to be. There’s scarcely a day goes by any more without some new report of bedbugs showing up in the local media and sometimes in their beds as well. And now I hear that there’s even bedbugs in the Waldorf-Astoria, and you now that when the grande dame of Manhattan hotels bows to a passing fashion then somehow or other we’ve reached some sort of very important cultural milestone and nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever be the same way ever again. The bedbug has become so popular here that there is even a movement underway to get Albany to declare the bedbug the state insect, a job Joel Steinberg has held for many years. Strangely enough, I have not heard that the bedbug craze has reached Albany itself, but then bloodsucking is an old habit there and the arrival of a fresh batch of parasites would not unduly alarm the inhabitants.

Why bedbugs should be so popular this year is something of a mystery. Granted, fashions in insects change, just as they do for women’s hats and men’s suits (single breasted or double breasted, sir, or do you even care?). Only a few years ago, anyone who wanted to be anybody had spiders in their houses and made sure all the dinner party guests saw the creepy little things whenever the guests came for dinner. Spiders were the thing to have in your house, no doubt the result of the Spiderman movies, and the rarer and more dangerous the arachnid the more chic you would be. The traffic in black widow spiders alone almost brought that species to the brink of extinction and many arachnid counterfeiters did a booming business in painting funnel weaver spiders, an altogether harmless species, black, and then selling them as black widows to an unsuspecting public. This sort of thing would have gone on for years, had it not been for one more of the fickle public’s sudden twists and turns, a pivot that dropped spiders like a Pet Rock and made the praying mantis the headless king of fashionable insects. With the meteoric rise of the praying mantis, a phrase I’ve never really understood, given that meteors don’t rise, they fall, bathrooms all over New York resounded with the sound of the fashion conscious flushing their now terribly passé spiders down the drain. Not all the spiders died in their sudden descent into New York’s sewer system; I’ve heard stories that many spiders survived and flourished in the lower depths, with generations of spiders leaving behind webs so thick they ensnare rats the size of small dogs and even the occasional baby alligator now and again.

And before the spiders were all the rage, there was Beatle mania, which flourished for a few years in the 1960’s, and before that Crickets were big, at least until Buddy Holly died, and before him fleas were wildly popular, for reasons I am not sure I fathom at the moment. You would think that after all the misadventures the fleas caused in the fourteenth century, what with the little critters spreading the bubonic plague throughout the length and breadth of Europe and killing a quarter of the continent’s population, people would regard fleas as something horrific, something no sane person would ever choose to get involved with, like hard drugs or devil worship or the life insurance business, but you would be wrong. We are talking fashion here, boys and girls, and if fashion dictates that fleas are in this year, then fleas are in and you’d better have your fleas out where the cognoscenti, a word that does not come with a side order of marinara sauce, which is a bit of a cheat, if you ask me, can see them. Yes, fleas were everywhere in those days. There were flea markets to shop at and fleabags to put your flea market purchases in while you took in a flea circus and wished everyone a Fleas Navidad, which I always thought was a good name for a stripper. Vanessa Cardui is another good name for a stripper, combining, as it does, choreography and lepidopterology, but I digress here.

The spider rage lasted until the late 1990’s, when it faded from view at about the time the Lewinsky scandal struck. With a distracted press and a polarized political situation in the country, the spider went the way of the Nehru jacket and the liberal Republican. After that, the bug craze ended for a while. There were a few attempts to resurrect it; for a while everyone thought that the deer tick was going to be the next new thing, but the tick didn’t really go anywhere, despite all the type, and most of the best minds in advertising slowly, and very reluctantly, gave up and came to the conclusion that America’s long love affair with the bug was finally over. Bugs had finally worn out their welcome and gotten stomped on once and for all.

And then, just when bug lovers everywhere were about to despair and turn to quilting or collecting 15th century sports memorabilia, the bedbugs arrived on the scene, years late, to be sure, but still incredibly welcome, nevertheless. They are everywhere now; even the New York Public Library has bedbugs the size of the Cat in the Hat in all of its branch libraries, and the Met, the Met, and the Mets, have bedbugs piled up to a second violin’s knees. There are some holdouts—the Yankees will not abandon spiders and neither will the city’s Department of Corrections; the inmates on Riker’s Island apparently love their spiders more than life itself—but every other major institution in the city is laden with bedbugs and more than happy to let you know about it.

But the Yankees and the inmates will eventually surrender; the wave of bedbug mania seems too strong for any institution to stand in its way for very long. I’ve seen a good many bug crazes come and go, and to date I’ve never seen one with this kind of staying power. Of course, if DDT makes a comeback this craze will disappear almost immediately, but DDT is on the environmental movement’s list of seven deadly sins, which is good news if you’re a bedbug, but not if you’re a spider-loving Yankee fan. Now if the Yankees could find a bedbug with a great slider and willing to pitch middle relief, well, that would change everything, wouldn’t it? The Yankee management couldn’t let the little bug sign with the Red Sox, could they? No, they couldn’t: that would be stupid.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

OLD GLORY AND THE DISCONTENTED: Now let me see if I’ve got this straight: in the state of California, a state that is slowly (and then suddenly, like Mike in The Sun Also Rises) going bankrupt, school officials have nothing better to do with their time than to tell a kid that he can’t fly an American flag on his bicycle because such flagwaving, an old and endearing American habit, by the way, would cause racial tensions with the Mexican inmates of this politically correct institution. That the child of American citizens, himself an American citizen when he is not busy being an annoying kid, cannot fly an American flag as he rides his American bike (all right, it’s probably Chinese) on American streets on his way to an American school run by (probably) American bureaucrats whose salaries are paid for by American taxpayers because such a display might annoy Mexicans is more than a little outrageous. If the Mexican contingent in the school does not like this display of American pride, I would suggest to them that there are Mexican schools in Mexico where one may fly the Mexican flag to one’s heart’s content and that you can do so for years without ever seeing the American flag and the sooner you take this opportunity to return from whence you came, the sooner you will not have to put up with annoying gringo kids flying their annoying gringo flag from their not-gringo bike.

Hat tip to Snoopy over at Simply Jews: I literally hadn't heard about this before.

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POLITICS AS UNUSUAL: Elections have consequences, a point the former junior Senator from Illinois probably wishes he hadn’t raised back in the halcyon days of 2009, when all the world was fresh and young and filled with infinite possibilities, since there are now all too many Republicans who are more than willing to point out that very same fact to him. Being hoist by one’s own petard is never a comfortable feeling, especially as the former junior Senator from Illinois is one of those people who love to rush in where angels fear to tread and do things that no one wants done, and now his ability to rush in doing things that no one wants done has been diminished significantly. I suspect that he will indulge his need to go on vacation more; he will, like George McClellan, spend more time overseas than most people, if only to avoid hearing slanders about himself, and to avoid Republicans quoting that bit about elections and consequences back to him.

All of which leads, more or less inexorably, I think, to the soon to be erstwhile Speaker of the House, Mrs. Pelosi and her current travails. This may be a statement of the obvious, but Washington D.C. is a place where people will choose to ignore the obvious if the obvious is unpalatable enough. You would think that someone who has reached Mrs. Pelosi’s high station in American politics would recognize the obvious when it is so very obvious, but finding the obvious distasteful, Mrs. Pelosi has skipped over the obvious, even when it is very obvious, in favor of her personal vision of the obvious, to which the vast majority of Americans are oblivious. And so, instead of falling on her sword for the good of the party she led to disaster, she will return to the next Congress as the minority leader, the J. Bruce Ismay of her political generation, unashamed, unabashed, and looking for new icebergs to strike. Given her recent contributions to the electoral success of conservatives from one end of this our Great Republic to the other, we can only hope she finds them and does so without delay.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

NO, I DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS: There’s been a good deal of talk these past few years about the genetic modification of various foodstuffs, especially those foodstuffs derived from plants. I suppose I should be worried about this; millions of other people are worried about genetic modification and who am I not to be worried when so many others are; but frankly, I’m not. No matter how much you genetically modify a vegetable, said vegetable will rarely do anything interesting beyond lying on a plate next to the meat. Even if you put ketchup on a genetically modified vegetable, the end result will not taste differently than a non-genetically modified vegetable with ketchup on it. It will taste like ketchup with something else in there somewhere. That is the whole point of ketchup in the first place—to render palatable that which is inherently unpalatable, like eggs or liver (ketchup only works with liver if you put lots, and I do mean lots, of the stuff on the liver. Liver is so inherently disgusting that you need large amounts of ketchup to keep you from gagging on it. I hear the Heinz Corporation’s Keg O’Ketchup works wonderfully in these situations, so you might want to try it, and no, this is not a paid advertisement, but if you work for Heinz and you like this bit of product placement, please feel free to send me a check; I’m saving up for a wildly expensive camera, or a new roof, whichever comes, or in the case of my current roof, goes first).

But the most intensive DNA manipulation you can imagine will not permit your zucchini to enliven your boring dinner party with scintillating conversation—what the zucchini thinks of the veal is always interesting, I think, as are his stories about what a trollop the veal’s mother was—nor will it permit your ears of corn to dance the more difficult parts of Le sacre du printemps backwards while discussing Proust’s use of the double narrator, much as you may want to. You may be able grow the rutabaga that crushed Pittsburgh, especially if you can find enough fertilizer, but other than that, genetically modified plants don’t do much of anything except be vegetables, which is something most vegetables, all teenagers, and the vast majority of civil servants can do without any genetic modification whatsoever.

Of course, genetic modification has been going on for quite a while. For all it may gall the Gallic sensitivities of French wine connoisseurs, their ancestors the Gauls didn’t drink the wine the French drink today; in the 19th century, after blight devastated most of the French vineyards, the French imported blight-resistant vines from California and grafted them onto the remaining good vines. So whether the French want to admit it or not, they’ve been drinking California wine for more than a century, a fact that goes a long way towards explaining why no one knows where Antoine de Saint-Exupery is these days (no, I have absolutely no clue what that means). Throughout history, people have done strange things to plants and animals in order to give them the traits that people find desirable. Chihuahuas, for example, sit in their teacups all day long and remember when they were wolves and know how the mighty are fallen, all because people chose to make them fit into teacups. If you have a Chihuahua, this goes a long way towards explaining their resentful attitude towards people (look, if you started off as a wolf, the mighty hunter of the forest, and wound up in a damn teacup pissing on yourself, you’d be pretty damn annoyed too).

The orange, to take another example, began life in Los Angeles, California, the only child of hardworking emigrants from Iowa (in those days, all native Californians came from Iowa) who had lost everything at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and went to California without looking under the couch for their lost stuff (always a big mistake). The orange was a bright young lad; he did well in school and played well with others, and eventually went on to University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in international relations and Freudian metempsychosis. After the war—do you really care which one? I didn’t think so—the orange fell under the influence and woke up as a potted plant, the result of a CIA thought control/genetic modification experiment, and from that day to this he has been a pillar of California’s economy, although he would rather play center field for the Dodgers. Well, we can’t have everything, I guess. Florida oranges are an entirely different species, or so people tell me, and have nothing to do with genetic modification, thought control, or the CIA, but that’s what they want you to think, isn’t it?

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

"In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."

Again, for my grandfather, Thomas, Sergeant, 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment (18th of Foot), who served 1914-1918 in France, Flanders, Egypt, and Salonika, and for his brother Joseph, Serjeant, 2nd Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, who fell on 28 September 1918 and who lies buried still in Flanders Fields,

"Some returned from the fields of gory,
To their loved ones who held them dear.
But some fell in that hour of glory,
And were left to their resting there."

"March no more, my soldier laddie,
There is peace where there once was war.
Sleep in peace my soldier laddie,
Sleep in peace, now the battle's o'er."

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