Monthly Archives: February 2007

Ask Montezuma Scott Birdseye

Ask Montezuma: Mapril 2007

It’s The Answer Man from Tenochtitlan!

montezuma
Montezuma is a collector of Meno Corporation macaroni and cheese
products and maintains an almost-complete collection in his home.
He is missing only the #5 rotini style from the summer of 1956.

Dear Montezuma,
My aunt is 56 years old and dresses inappropriately for her age. She wears very short dresses and skirts, usually in a floral print. She also likes to bake, so we unfortunately get ample view of her procedural cop show-themed thongs. She is also at least 300 pounds. Do you think it’s possible to find a way to make her change her personal style for everyone’s personal comfort without hurting her feelings?
Tiger Tanaka
Kobe, Japan

TT, I would be incredibly interested to know your aunt’s choice of thong. I am, in actuality, quite a fan of procedural policeman television shows. My favourite this season is Crime Haven Belgique which is all about the intricacies of tax investigators in Antwerp. Last week’s show involved the assessment of a fee against a man who left his government ceiling repair assistance remuneration off of page four of form 35a. It was quite exciting.

Hi Montezuma,
Every fall I get depressed. It’s not a deep depression. It’s just sort of a general feeling of sadness that pervades my psyche when the temperatures and colors change. Which is better: the catamaran or the canoe?
Jason Vitali
Habberdasher, WI

Mr. Vitali, have you perhaps considered a super tanker or super carrier? Both have super in their name, so they must be better than any other type of ship. Of course, choosing between those two might present one with an incredible challenge. Never fear, though, for I believe I’ve solved the conundrum. You see, a carrier implies moving things around, whilst the tanker reminds one of tanks, which are mighty powerful.

Dear Montezuma,
I heard that tobacco is bad for you. Is this true?
Louis C. Camilleri
New York, NY

To me visiting Australia sounds terrifically bad for anyone. The sheer number of poisonous shellfish, insects, arachnids, snakes and other reptiles, and even mammals would turn anyone off to visiting such a continent. Australia is also rather out of the way, you see, so were you to become empoisoned by one of these creatures, you would be leagues and leagues away from medical treatment. Avoid Australia altogether.

Montezuma,
What’s a Rorschach test?
Robert Pollard
Dayton, OH

Bobby, I cannot say with certainty. Once I received a “TB” test, but with surety I also cannot respond in its regard. Children supposedly take what is called an AP test, however these at least sound dirty and likely are, due to the fact that they involve children. The HIV test is quite popular, or so I hear. I am quite positive that has something to do with allergens. Tests are often administered to cars in states such as California, New York, and New Jersey for something called smog, though I am not sure how an object of mechanical manufacture could contract a disease. The only other test I know of is the DNA test, but I can only guess this has something to do with whether or not one is able to properly alphabetize files.

Dear Montezuma,
My fiancé has just told me that he is bisexual. He said that he has never told anyone else and has hidden it from me until now. I cried all night. I have many self-esteem problems. He also said that if he were in my shoes, he would end the relationship. However, he is glad that I haven’t. He promises me he will be true. What should I do?
Viviane Travin
Ramstein Air Base, Germany

Why are you such a cry baby? Some men simply enjoy the sound of four testicles slapping against each other.
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Katie Stalin Scott Birdseye

Katie Stalin goes to the Grand Canyon

stalin

canyon

Grand Canyon, AZ – So, here it is. I’ve come to the most well-known geological feature in the United States and I’m looking over the edge. There’s a river down there at the bottom. There’s some very high canyon walls. It’s most impressive. But, you know what? I’ve got a problem with it. All the stupid families.

I’m visiting one of the things in nature which holds the most impact for visitors, and there’s a bunch of snot-nosed, whiny little brats running around. How the hell am I supposed to enjoy this grand, natural beauty with these rug rats everywhere?

Earlier in the day I paid for a mule ride tour and hike of the canyon. Things were okay for about the first ten minutes, but then this noise kept bothering me. Finally I looked around for it and it turns out a kid two mules behind was playing some handheld game. That was the noise. Okay, I can deal. I’ve been a bored kid before. But then we get to the bottom and these two elementary school kids start whining. They’re tired. They have to pee. It’s no fun for them. One of them kicked their mule, which was great because the thing totally kicked him back. That kid got knocked right into the Colorado River. It was hilarious. So hilarious it made up for all his crying.

Then I took a whitewater rafting trip down the river. This was so awesome, I couldn’t believe it. Yeah, no nachos, but it was really exciting and the guide was so cute. Of course one of those stupid kids had to ruin all the fun. We stopped near some of these awesome Navajo adobe ruins and camped out in front of them. While me and the guide are having some adult fun in one of the upper storeys of the Navajo city, this little bastard starts up crying about his lost cards. They were from some cartoon show and he wouldn’t shut up. So of course Jeb, the guide, had to go down and help out. And I didn’t get any action!

They couldn’t find his cards, so the kid had a huge tantrum. He’s whining into the night, throwing smores at his parents. Then, all of sudden, he runs off towards the adobe structures. We didn’t pay him any mind, but ten minutes later we hear some crackling. As we look over, we notice that stupid kid kicking the city and beating it with a huge branch. That whole building came down.

Well, about ten miles down the river the next day, I got him back. My raft came up right next to his, and I sent it tipping over with my oar. They couldn’t find that little pissant for two hours. He got stuck between to boulders in the river about a mile downstream. It was awesome. Made up for the whole trip.

So, yeah, I would recommend the Grand Canyon. It’s beautiful. Just go in the winter when there aren’t any families around and you won’t have to deal with all the crap that I did.

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Jeremy Rosen Scott Birdseye

The Dim Ages

Pre-Raphaelite Art

Children’s stories are chock full of knights, squires, castles with moats, and damsels who require a healthy amount of rescuing. Of course, these elements have about as much basis in historical fact as the wizards, witches and dragons that also populate the same stories. That is to say that there were real witches, real dragons, real knights and real castles, but the real ones have little in common with their romantic, faerie-tale counterparts.

This is the true story of the Dark Ages, as some call it. Yes, there was a period of time from 500—1000 AD, but what we’ve been told about it is based in 19th Century Romanticism, Roman propaganda and other fictional generalizations. The Dark Ages, while certainly dark, weren’t any less well-lit than any other period in history. No matter what was going on, the lives of the vast majority of people didn’t change a bit, despite the varying empires and cultures which rose and fell. For Jimmy, the peasant with leprosy and his fellow diseased, poverty-ridden ilk, it didn’t matter if you had a consul, an emperor or a lord oppressing you. You were still being oppressed.

The schoolmarm’s old yarn is that the Roman Empire, grand as it were, collapsed and that Barbarism spread throughout Europe. Knowledge was lost, learning stopped, and poverty and superstition reigned for a thousand years until some enterprising artists decided to start painting with perspective and to make really big versions of Greek
statuary. Here we hit the Renaissance and have a happy ending for Jimmy the Leper. As always, the truth is just a bit more complicated.

First there’s one major fallacy to dispel: the classical glory and grandeur of the intellectual paradise of Greece and Rome. Despite what Mrs. Rowland taught you in middle school, the Roman Empire was full of squalor, filth, disease and hunger. In the Greco-Roman world, as in the Dark Ages, practically everyone lived in filth and poverty. Which is better: the cramped, dark tenement or the cramped, dark hovel?

They were poor people, they were diseased and they were oppressed by people who, while not being particularly healthier or cleaner, were certainly richer. If you want to know how truly grand life was in Rome, don’t ask Pliny the Elder, ask Jimmus the Galley Slave.

To put this in perspective, let’s say you put all the people who ever existed into a large bag and pull out a million at a time. Your chances of retrieving one rich, healthy and clean person are about the same as those of procuring a bag large enough to hold every person who ever existed.

The Greeks’ main claims to fame, though, are their culture, learning and art. Well, not all of the Greeks. Only a handful excelled at this and for the most part they weren’t highly paid or not killed. Some weren’t both (look up Socrates some time). They did invent geometry. But then they made it a religion and refused to allow any practical applications of geometry. You know, it would cheapen rectangles and whatnot if everyone knew about them. Some people were so upset with the Pythagoreans for hiding the wonders of the perfect solids that they lynched them upon discovering these great truths were being kept from them. How enlightened.

Also, they invented democracy. Well, they invented something sort of like democracy. That is to say they invented something close enough to democracy that we took their name and used it to describe the idealized version of our current system. No slaves, women, or people busy finding food, please.

The people who made up the bulk of the population? They didn’t care. Rectangles, perfect forms and democracy didn’t help get the dung smell out of a tunic. And you were in real trouble if you lived near the city’s sewage system, if your city was lucky enough to have one. Nope Jimexanos the Leper didn’t get an iota of relief from The Republic. It’s ever so slightly difficult for your people to appreciate your culture’s great literary works when the vast majority of your people are illiterate wretches.

The Romans, however, were the real masters of culture and learning, which they mastered by ripping off other people’s ideas. The Romans’ ideas were “adopted” from the Greeks, Phoenicians Carthaginians, and Etruscans. The Romans were famous for their roads, many of which they found intact after the Persians had forgotten to take
them when they left. Those famous Roman roads were a great benefit to the common people, who were able to utilize them as they were forcemarched in chains down the roads so that they could be whipped as they built the next section of road.

No, the truly unique cultural achievement of the Romans was murder. They loved murder; it was their favorite. While the slaves and Plebeians watched other slaves and Plebeians being murdered in the Coliseum, the Patricians were busy murdering each other to see who could win the right to be the next consul or emperor to get murdered.

Eventually the so-called Barbarians got into the game by murdering lots of Romans and the Empire collapsed. All the while, Jimmus the Galley Slave was still a leper living in filth who got to see an occasional sculpture and mighty temple on those few occasions when his galley would dock. But, in the end he was still a leper and a slave.

And then around 500 AD the Dark Ages began. Actually, it was 476, but it’s easier to just round up. So, the crux of the issue is this question: did the collapse of the Roman Empire cause regular folk roundabout Northern Europe any more problems than they already had?

Northern Europe hadn’t quite benefited from all this prosperity, enrichment and enlightening. Actually, it kept on doing its dirt-strewn, illiterate best throughout the
existence of Rome. It was cold, heavily forested and inhabited by bloodthirsty drunks. We call these people Celts. There were also some Goths involved who
eventually founded Austria. Good for them. No matter what was going on or which empire happened to be in ascendancy at the time, they remained bloodthirsty,
drunken farmers. Occasionally one of their leaders got the bright idea to ravage those enlightened softies to the South. You see, the real benefit bestowed upon Northern Europe by the Roman Empire was centuries of warfare and enslavement. The collapse of Rome actually improved these peoples’ lives slightly, as it meant they
could go south and bring more loot back home.

The Dark Ages

A good example of how the collapse of the Roman Empire affected Northern Europe might be the city of Aachen. From Neolithic times up to the era of Greece and Rome it was a minor, backwoods village where farming and stone quarrying happened. Then, a few centuries after Rome fell, Aachen became the capital of a large empire, home to massive palaces and cathedrals and, under Charlemagne, a center of learning and culture.

It doesn’t exactly seem to follow that the collapse of Rome caused a Dark Age in Aachen, especially since the so-called Dark Age turned it from a stone pit to a powerful cultural and political center.

The supposedly backwards people of Northern Europe in the Dark Ages turned out to be fairly skilled engineers and structural designers. During a period devoid of learning, they managed to go from building wooden forts called mot and baileys, to building huge walled cities, massive castles and ridiculously intricate and enormous cathedrals. Granted, they didn’t have 100,000 seat capacity coliseums, but they certainly knew how to stack their stones. Of course the person stacking the stones would have been Jimmy the Peasant, who besides having no rights or money, also had to grow food for everyone, give up a few months out of the year to be trampled by knights in battle and spend another few months hauling stones to build those mighty cathedrals. He probably had leprosy, too.

Speaking of cathedrals, the Dark Ages were known for theocracy and superstition. Though it’s not exactly fair to single them out in that respect. After all, the Romans believed in a pantheon of fickle gods (ooh, Janus god of doorways!) and the Pythagoreans actually believed that dodecahedrons were sacred (though they didn’t give a fig about parallelograms). Of course the Renaissance and “Age of Reason” mark the end of all this. Europe spent those couple of centuries celebrating Reason by fighting religious wars, burning suspected witches, and lynching smart guys.

As you can see, Jimmus, Jimexanos and Jimmy weren’t doing too well regardless of what period in history they lived or which culture happened to be waxing or waning. Whether they were forced to build a Parthenon, an aqueduct or a castle, they were still whipped if they didn’t go fast enough. Whether they were being marched off to war against the Persians, the Parthians or the Muslims, they were still put out in front and armed with farm equipment. Whether their home was Athens, Rome or Aachen, they were still living in filth, disease and squalor.

None of this though, should be taken as an attempt to defend the Dark Ages as a wonderful period in human history. The point is that the Europe your teachers taught you about during the Dark Ages was rife with disease, poverty, oppression and superstition, just like every other time period for which we have records. Remember that the next time you see a story about the Middle Ages. Also, remember that everything your teacher told you was wrong. You don’t listen to that woman, you listen to me.

The Dark Ages