The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

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

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

PUFFING THE KERFUFFLE: You may not have noticed this, but those of us who live here in this our Great Republic are very fond of kerfuffles. Yes sirree, if there’s anything we love more than Mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet, and if you actually remember that commercial you’re a lot older than you’re telling people you are, it’s a good kerfuffle. Why, only last week, so it was, there was a wonderful kerfuffle in Washington, DC, and if my guess is right, this is not the last kerfuffle we’ll see from this Administration before it kershuffles off this mortal coil. Now, kerfuffle, for those of you who don’t already know, is a geological term, like butte or monadnock, denoting a mountain that last week was something a little less than a molehill. These sudden mountains occur from time to time; in Mexico, for example, Paricutin began life in 1943 as a smoking hole in the middle of a cornfield and by the end of the year the mountain was over a thousand feet tall and still belching smoke and fire like my Uncle Tommy a couple of hours after he’s finished eating his sixth slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza. Both eruptions are and were amazing sights, I’m sure.

Kerfuffles operate in a similar manner, except they are much more common and even more annoying, if such a thing is possible. And kerfuffles tend to build faster than volcanoes, even a relatively speedy one like Paricutin. Kerfuffles also tend to occur in some places more than others. Hollywood, California, and Washington, D.C., to take just two examples, are famous for the size and speed of their kerfuffles. Only last week, for instance, the thunderous sound of yet another kerfuffle slouching towards the television cameras to be born rocked official Washington, whereas unofficial Washington was unmoved. The source of the kerfuffle was, if the press reports are correct, the former junior Senator from Illinois, who decided, for reasons that seem pretty flimsy to me, but then, no one asked me for my opinion, to hold a press conference.

I do not know why he chose to do this; speaking to the White House press corps always seems a losing proposition to me; it detracts them from their primary function, which is taking dictation, and gives them ideas above their station in life. Trying to be reasonable with a group of egomaniacal clods huffed out of their minds on hair spray is never a winning proposition for the politician who attempts it and any pol who does attempt it deserves the pounding he will get. I did not see this press conference myself—I try to avoid looking at politicians when it isn’t an election year, as the exercise often makes me nauseous and despair of constitutional republicanism as a valid form of self-government—but apparently, the former junior Senator from Illinois brought his trusty teleprompter with him to the press conference.

This simple act sparked last week’s outbreak of kerfuffledom, although I am not sure why this is so. That the distinguished gentleman from Illinois is an excellent orator is one of the great political truths of our time; that he tends to put in his mouth whenever he is not delivering a prepared text was one of the lesser known political truths of our time, or it was, until he chose to put his foot in his mouth in front of several million Tonight Show viewers. So, seeking the comfort of the familiar, he brought a teleprompter to a press conference.

The kerfuffle that arose over this simple piece of machinery went up faster than a mob of Amish guys on meth can put up a barn. Opinions flowed from one end of the political spectrum and out the other like green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, and yet the question remains, why should this be so? Surely, if the distinguished gentleman from Illinois finds having a teleprompter in the room comforting than no one could begrudge him that.

No one, I think, would criticize President Linus Van Pelt if he brought his trusty blanket with him to a press conference. Throughout history, great political leaders have brought their personal talismans with them into the great hurly-burly of political life. The French Revolutionary leader, Georges Danton, always brought his pet gerbil, Etienne, with him to meetings of the French National Assembly for good luck; when his enemy Robespierre had Danton guillotined in 1794, Robespierre fed Etienne to his cat, also named Etienne. While the latter Etienne no doubt enjoyed the former, the act did neither Robespierre nor the feline Etienne any good; Robespierre’s enemies sent him to the guillotine a few months after Danton, and they beheaded the cat too, not for any crime against the Republic, but because several members of the National Assembly were allergic to cat dander and wanted to stop sneezing. Eighty years earlier and at the other end of Europe, Sweden’s Charles XII, a young man with an extremely inflated idea of the capabilities of the Swedish Army and a very bad map of Europe, invaded Russia while sitting on a barrel of pickled herring. The thought of pickled herring made him happy, the King wrote in his largely apocryphal memoirs, and he wanted to make sure that he got his fair share of them when his cook, an untrustworthy sort last seen chasing a sock chicken, opened the barrel. Charles may have lost the Battle of Poltava to Peter the Great, but he did make it out of Russia with his barrel of pickled herring intact, although he did have to concede the area Saint Petersburg now stands on to do so. And the historical examples go on and on.

In the end, however, we must ask why kerfuffles should exist at all, but this, I think, is less a political question than a question of moral philosophy, something akin to what is the meaning of life or why a duck? Clearly, a 24/7 news cycle, a cycle that demands that something, anything, gets put on the air no matter how idiotic it might be has something to do with this; the utterly dubious careers of Paris Hilton and her ilk are hardly explainable otherwise; and I suppose that advertisers must love kerfuffles—they drive ratings up, and what advertiser doesn’t like higher ratings? This, I shouldn’t need to explain, is a purely rhetorical question. If you did feel the need to answer this question, please lay down on a comfortable sofa with a cold compress on your forehead and wait for the need to pass. Take some aspirin too, if you have them. All kidding aside, this will make you feel better and will help prevent heart attacks. It will also remind you not to answer rhetorical questions or to raise kerfuffles for fun and profit in your own home, thereby mixing our poor kerfuffle’s metaphors completely. In any case, the only real good thing about kerfuffles is the way they disappear. Unlike Paricutin, which is still sitting there in Mexico being a volcano, I’m pretty sure that no one even remembers last week’s kerfuffle at all. That’s because everyone is waiting for this week’s kerfuffle to start up. Yes sirree, every day’s a kerfuffling adventure here in this our Great Republic, yes it is.

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