From French ninja-antiquers to the Great Venezuelan Toilet Paper Caper, here’s a quick jaunt through the most ridiculous news items of the past month.
Overwhelmed with information, we often miss revealing tidbits in the news that can be so enriching to our appreciation of life as it is lived early in the 21st century. Herewith, for your delectation, some items you may have missed from late 2007.
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On November 25, the Washington Post reported that members of this metropolis are so burdened with their busy schedules that they are hiring people to live their lives for them — a fulfillment of the prophetic line from Villiers de L’Isle Adam’s late-19th century play Axel, in which the hero announces: "As for living, our servants will do that for us." Firms providing "customized approaches to lifestyle management" take over parenting, bill-paying, and just about anything else.
Some of the most interesting items, however, concern the care of family pets. One firm flew a dog to spend a summer with his family in Colorado. Even better: "Other helpers changed the TV channel at one client’s house; her beagle liked the Animal Planet network, but the client didn’t want the dog watching its more troubling animal-rescue shows."
Depriving one’s pet of the spiritual purgation that Aristotle said great drama could provide is a sign of the superficiality of our times. One could perhaps understand the client not wishing the beagle to watch a show in which the animal does not get rescued, but what is wrong with the effect of a good drama in which the animal is rescued? I think the beagle would be a better dog for it. The more "troubling" the predicament, the greater the catharsis, as Aristotle might have put it in The Poetics.
However, Aristotle was addressing humans. As one, I may be out of my depth here. Also, instead of pets, I have children, and they do not watch TV at all. However, they have seen a number of people-rescue movies, and seem spiritually refreshed by them. In fact, they even like animal-rescue movies. Perhaps the beagle could nudge into this genre by trying a people-rescue show and, if not too distressed, move on to Animal Planet.
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Animals were back in the news December 5 when the Post reported ("Ex-Ambassador Criticizes Rice") that Michael Guest resigned his State Department post "in order to protest rules and regulations that he believes are unfair to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers, giving them fewer benefits than family pets" (emphasis added).
There is an unfortunate insinuation here that leaves one in doubt as to exactly where Guest stands in respect to the rights of such pets. Could this be because the great majority of family pets are heterosexual? Guest’s snide remark leaves him open to charges of discrimination.
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Nonetheless, the family unit has been immeasurably strengthened by another December story in the Post headlined, "Divorce Found to Harm the Environment With Higher Energy, Water Use." We do not presume to call these people selfish, but "if the divorced couples had stayed together in 2005, the United States would have saved 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water in that year alone." It seems that "divorced American households used between 42 and 61 percent more resources per person than before they separated." I think one possible explanation is that there is no one there to tell them to turn off the lights. (I know men are driven to drink by these situations, but water?)
When is Nobel laureate Al Gore going to pick up on this?
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However, the Post is not quite ready to embrace the moral underpinnings of the family, as revealed by some caustic remarks in the review of a short documentary film, Attached, chronicling the problems of singles in the Modern Orthodox Jewish world of Manhattan. What disturbed the reviewer was the statement made in the film by Rabbi Allen Schwartz, obviously an avid environmentalist:
If every woman in this room said, ‘You don’t touch me till you marry me,’ then these guys will step forth a lot more quickly. Because they’re getting a lot of the stuff that they’re getting in marriage, just without the commitment.
Reviewer Rachel Beckman objected, "Yeah, blame those loose women. I’m sure the ‘singles crisis’ has nothing to do with their communities, families or synagogues." My synagogue made me do it? This could be very bad for the environment.
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Calling George Orwell. On the civilization-is-dead-side of things, the Post reported on December 1 that Venezuelan Finance Minster Rodrigo Cabezas went on state television, before the referendum to make Hugo Chavez presidente for life, and said, "We know there are sectors hiding toiler paper. A group of business leaders are playing mean, playing dirty."
How do you think the people without toilet paper felt? Now we know why Chavez lost the vote. Viva democracia!
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Civilization-is-dead, part two. December 9 the Chicago Tribune reported that the Dignitas group in Switzerland is having a hard time holding leases because neighboring tenants complain about the body bags carted out from its "office." Dignitas supports "assisted suicide." Apparently, countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, which allow this curious ritual, require its beneficiaries to be citizens, a dubious right of sovereignty that must have escaped the American Founders. Broad-minded Switzerland allows foreign visitors to partake, earning it the appellation "the capital of death tourism." Since 1998, the appeal of "See Switzerland and Die" has attracted more than 750 temporary visitors, all of whom promise not to overstay their visas.
However, the regular sight of body bags upset neighbors like Margo Heyer, who said: "You see the people arrive . . . you know that in a few hours they will be dead. I found myself constantly thinking of death." I suggest Dignitas could solve this problem by providing graveside services, thus relieving the Swiss of these dreadful thoughts.
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On the civilization-is-not-yet-dead side of things, the Independent has reported that a shadowy European group called Untergunther — undercover or underwear, depending on your German translation — has been breaking into historical sites with the intention of restoring items of cultural significance. Part of a 150-person cabal, these worthies, right out of a G. K. Chesterton novel, would warm the heart of Father Brown.
As part of their "clandestine historic restoration projects in France," a team of four Untergunther members broke into the Pantheon in Paris and set up a secret workshop. The group worked on a broken clock for a year, informing Pantheon management once the repairs were complete so that officials would know to wind the timepiece.
They were arrested but released for lack of evidence. How can I get them to break into my house?
Robert R. Reilly was a special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and served as his liaison to the Catholic Church. He is a frequent contributor to InsideCatholic.com and Crisis magazine.