Sunday, January 29, 2012

'Espresso a Bordo, Cazzo!'

Press reports noted that after coming ashore, [Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia] took a taxi to a hotel, where he asked the manager for an espresso and a pair of dry socks.    -   Harper’s Magazine, “Findings,” Jan. 24, 2012

Scusi, signor, bongiorno. Per favore. Ay wander might Ay speak to your duce? Ah, good, you are manager. OK, so as you see, Ah'm a leedle wet, had bad morning, pretty bad, all this afternoon.

Ah'm wander, cood you maybe borrow me a dry socks - naw, naw, grazie, shirt ees OK, I got it from a sheeps captain who was himselve a leedle wet. Just a dry socks is good to me. Ah, per favore, maybe una tazza d'espresso? with maybe jost a droppa sambucca? Ah, grazie. 

Naw, naw,  Ah'm fine, no problems. Was out in my boat jost off de coast feeshin' whan ouda nowhere come big sheep rollin half in, half ouda wadder, pipple jomping off sides, screaming, yelling, Ah'm try to get ouda da way. Too late ees captain swim op to my boat and he's climb in. Naw, I say to heem, I gotta full boat now, can't take any more on board. But captain, he don't listen he climb on board.

So now what Ah'm to do? Ah'm start my engine motor over to shore and drop off boatload pipples, go back for more. Many times I pick up drop off pipples from big sheep. Captain he say to me Ah'm hero, he come back out to sheep in mah boat, he say to me here take dis shirt from offa my back, you hero you. Then he go climb onto big sheeps again to save pipples. Ah'm not seeing him again, think maybe he's drowned for good. Ah, well, requiescat in pace, like da padre say.

At'sa nice socks - leetle anchors on them. Maybe un espresso corto, per la strada? Sambucca? grazie.
                 In Memoriam - Francesco Schettino        

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

'The Law is a Ass'

. . .  as Dickens's Mr. Bumble succinctly reminds us. 

Mr. Bumble (by 'Kyd')

This one gets filed under "You Can't Be Too Careful." An Oklahoma state senator named Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill in his state's legislature to ban the use of aborted human fetuses in food, "despite conceding that he's unaware of any company using such a practice." (This according to HuffPost.) The honorable senator "discovered suggestions online that some companies use embryonic stem cells to develop artificial flavors, but added that he is unaware of any Oklahoma companies doing such research." Not the first time the Internet has sent some poor sod off on a fool's errand.

Senator Shortey's primary concern appears to be the rumored use of embryonic stem cells to develop food ingredients such as flavor agents. The University of Oklahoma student newspaper first broke the story, reporting that Senate Bill 1418 "effectively bans the selling or manufacture of food products that contain aborted fetuses or which used aborted fetuses in the development of their ingredients." Which suggests that the senator hopes to spare fellow Oklahomans the prospect of tiny fingers, lips or eyeballs protruding from their deep-fried calamari-and-okra plates.

"There's only two apiece."

An FDA spokesperson says the agency "is not aware of this particular concern." Which has never been a reason for the peculiarly vigilant not to suspect that it might be going on somewhere and to propose visionary legislation to forestall any possible future malfeasances. Proscriptions against sh'aria law proposed by various legislative bodies are kindred pieces of forward-looking legislating.

Hon. Ralph ("Hold the Eyeballs") Shortey

According to the HuffPost story, Shortey has not been behindhand in sponsoring other such visionary legislation. "He sponsored a measure . . . to crack down on illegal immigrants by authorizing law enforcement to seize their homes and vehicles, and to deny Oklahoma citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants. He also offered an amendment to a bill that would have allowed legislators to carry firearms anywhere in the state, including the floor of the House and Senate. This year, Shortey has introduced a bill . . . amending the Oklahoma Constitution to abolish the Court of Criminal Appeals." The Hon. Senator apparently regards the denial of Oklahoma citizenship to be in some way disadvantageous.

As it seems the best legislative minds are thinking preemptively these days, there are lots of other things besides embryonic cannibalism our elected representatives might render unlawful in their unstinting effort to make every genuine American's life a better, more secure one. For starters, how about a few strictures on the wily Islamic enemy on our Christian soil,  just to close loopholes?
  • A law making it a crime for any adherent of Islam, whether native born, naturalized or a visitor in our country, to carry out a suicide bombing.
  • Ditto for lying to further the scheme of Islamic world domination.
  • A law prohibiting the grilling, frying, or the otherwise preparing for consumption any halal meats on domestic or international airline flights.  
  • A law making it a crime to conspire against the United States or against the public peace in any foreign (non-English) language.
Then of course there should be other laws guaranteeing the rights of God-fearing Americans, for example why shouldn't there be . . .  
  • A law permitting that citizens may shoot intruders who otherwise pose no threat to the shooter's safety, and generally to kill other citizens in defence of private property. Oh - they can already do that in Florida?
"Welcome to the Sunshine State. Was y'all makin' eye contact?"
    • Well, then, maybe some more prohibitions (since we really seem to prefer them over general liberties) - a law requiring all sale copies of the Koran to display prominently the Surgeon General's warning about the effects on the eyesight of prolonged reading
     "Just one word - 'world domination.'
    • A law making it a crime for any foreign-born alien, whether illegally, legally or maybe resident, to eat their own children.
    •  A law prohibiting "ass coning" or other such use of an offroad motorized vehicle on public roads in any manner calculated to cause any offense to any legally resident person.

    The law is a ass indeed.

    Sunday, January 22, 2012

    'Choose Carefully, My Friend'

    As the Most Interesting Man in the World might say. An Iranian medical journal published a study of a 21-year-old who developed a permanent erection after having the phrase “Good luck with your journeys” tattooed on his penis. (Harper’s Magazine, “Findings,” Jan. 17, 2012) Evidently his tattoo "took."

    I'm unsure where this story should be filed: either it goes in my "Too Much of a Good Thing" file, along with stories about, say, breast enhancements gone awry . . . 

    . . . . or the Ladies' National Basketball Association

    .  .  .  or elderly people who should be wearing clothes but aren't, showing far too much skin:

    Or it goes into my "Be Careful What You Wish For" file:

    (Exhibit A: Ray Wuz Here B4)

    I've already suggested "condoms with scripture verses embossed on them" for the devout - Romans 9:18 comes to mind: "Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden." But up against a condom, if you'll pardon the expression, a tattoo would be a commitment. Judging by this photo, penis tattoos in predictable motifs hold their niche among the cosmetic arts.

    Viagra advertisements caution users to consult a doctor if, upon application, an erection lasting more than four hours should result. I always figured that should the circumstance present itself in my own person, a doctor would be the last person I'd call. But on further reflection, I may have been rash  - I can see the incommodity of such a permanent or persistent state (its unpredictability being an incommodity every chap has learned to live with).

    It may have been the inscription itself more than the cosmetic procedure that occasioned the lasting inconvenience. "Good luck, indeed," sniggered some unseen cosmic malefactor, and perversely granted the poor fellow his wish in spades. “Based on our unique case,” wrote the study’s authors in the cautious understatement of genuine scientific endeavor, “we discourage penile tattooing.”

    In any event, the recipient of the tattoo prudently consulted his doctors, alas to no avail - the authors of the journal article note that subsequent attempts to alleviate the difficulty with surgery proved unsuccessful. “Because of the painless nature of erections, moderately good preservation of erectile function during intercourses, and disappointment with former surgery, the patient has declined to undergo further therapies, and lives with his condition.” Thereby making a virtue of necessity or lemons from lemonade, however you choose to see things.

    So it seems that eveything has worked out, sort of. I'm unable to ascertain whether "Good luck with your journeys" is a Koranic verse, but I can't imagine The Prophet ever having said it. Choose carefully, my friend. Name it "Herman" if you must, but in case it takes, don't name it "Pee Wee."

    Friday, January 20, 2012

    He Rises for the National Anthem

    It requires no great native intellect to figure out that if the excuse you've proffered your wife for your adultery didn't work on her, it probably won't work with more than, say, a few million of the Republican faithful old enough to vote. Newt Gingrich was led to cheat on his second wife with his third-wife-to-be, the hapless victim of a supererogatory patriotism. Newt has explained time and again to an aggrieved ex-wife and numberless interviewers that, “There’s no question, at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”

    Well, he's correct - there's no question that "not appropriate" things happened. When things happen, of course, we're always invited to take the generous view and suppose that whatever happened was not entirely within another's power to prevent happening, and that by itself is as good as not having done anything, really - the thing, I mean, which admittedly did happen.You have to hand it to him - he carries his own baggage where everyone can see it.

    Let's try this out. Suppose a fellow comes home late from work, suspiciously tardy on yet another evening. He's confronted by an angry and skeptical wife who asks him where the hell he's been all this time. The obvious answer, the one that he'll probably try on first, is that he had to work late. It's plausible, it might just work one more time. Maybe she's not buying it any longer - the scent of another woman, two ticket stubs in his pocket to an anime movie she never saw, a $30,000 Tiffany charge she doesn't recall, any number of little things that an intimate who can add two and two will turn into evidence for the prosecution.

      "Miss me, dear?"

    In the circumstance, it would be immediately clear to the normal adulterer that some extenuating considerations must be floated - she doesn't mean anything to me, it's the only time I've ever, it's really you I love, I've been such a cad. Admittedly all pretty weak, calculated to have a cumulative and long-term palliation rather than immediate alleviation of the discomfort. And these have been proven to work sometimes.

    To his credit, though, Newt avoided the cliche, probably not caring to extricate himself, failing to see any transgression, constitutionally incapable of employing any tactic save pure effrontery. Basically he told the aggrieved Mrs. Gingrich II that he was having an affair because he had to work late, not that he was working late because he was having an affair. It was his own recognition of his value to a grateful nation, a nation he felt "passionately" about, that occasioned his fall from grace. If Newt's real passion was his country, then it seems any reasonable woman should have said, "Oh, well - that's all right, then."

    Obviously she didn't say that. And from there, I can only imagine what ensued . . .

    "What's the bitch's name?"

    "For reasons of national security I'm not at liberty to say."

    "National security - or personal security?"

    "I don't see those as distinct. It's a weird name, anyway."

    "'Weird' how? - you mean weird like Squeaky? or weird like Conestoga?"

    "You know, this really shouldn't be a big deal. Why can't you be more . . . European about this?"

    "European about what? I thought Europeans were socialists."

    "Well, indeed they are, but I just mean civilized. Why can't you just be open and accepting, like a woman with some culture would be? 'European' in its most positive sense."

    "Meaning . . . ? What is it I'm accepting - you screwing around with some tart?"

    "If you wish to put it that way. 'European,' when it doesn't mean 'socialist,' means that the man in a relationship gets to carry on and it's none of the wife's business. An open marriage, if you like."

    "And what about me? How about I start banging John Boehner's golf caddy?"

    "Not on your life. You make everything about you. Where did you learn that kind of talk, anyway? This isn't about you, it's bigger than both of us - it's about my patriotism, which you obviously can't or won't share. It's about my love for my country. I've worked hard to make America a better place for . . . us. I'm passionate about this great nation - I suppose you could say my passion overflowed its cup, but what could be the fault in that? I can't help it, I'm the kind of man who rises when I hear the national anthem. I'm leaving you for the Star Spangled Banner."

    "That one works too."

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    Rags Over the Arkansas

    Colorado has lately become a rich trove for Bureau of Land Mangement (BLM) giveaways. The BLM is the Department of the Interior's pimp for federal gas and oil leases to commercial developers - several years ago, the ecologically diverse Roan Plateau on the Western Slope was swallowed up into BLM's leasing portfolio like a teenage Thai virgin into a Bangkok brothel.

    The slightly-less-than-pristine Arkansas River Valley has now become another chit in the BLM's largesse. The agency has all but granted Christo's Over the River project a green light to suspend six miles of a silvery fabric on iron girders over a 45-mile stretch of the river where it snakes through a steep, narrow canyon along U.S. Highway 50. The BLM's final record of detemination becomes effective in May 2012 - among other things, a permit to sink over 9,000 concrete anchor points along an unstable and environmentally sensitive riparian verge.

    This permit is being granted over strong disrecommendations from the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, and the Royal Gorge Management Area and local organizatons such as ROAR, while ignoring strictures imposed on the Arkansas Canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and in contravention of the BLM's own resource management plan. 

    These "critical concerns" include habitat for an established bighorn sheep herd and seasonally resident bald eagles, nesting sites for peregrine falcons, migratory and summer residents like the black phoebe, a healthy rainbow and brown trout population, with the concomitant insect ecology that supports all of this diverse and curious biology.

    The industrial-scale artistic project, proposed in an era when we have learned to prize and protect our remaining natural treasures, isn't being scrutinized with much care, either by federal agencies or by the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife (which is distinct from CDOW).The river corridor, much like the Grand Canyon, needs no aesthetic assistance from someone who is, roughly speaking, little better than a second-rate curtainhanger. 

    Given what is understood of the fragile ecosystems comprising the river corridor; given the fragile economic balance of agriculture, basic community services and nature-centered tourism which currently sustains valley communities; given the traffic-limiting conditions of the river corridor which impact local health, physical welfare, and safety and travel efficiencies, the proposal smacks of a wrong-headed egomania that has suborned the agencies charged with preserving the headwaters area. The agencies have allowed Christo to interpret the scope and meaning of their own policy statements rather than the reverse.

    The workmanlike drapery hanger has already left a trail of his industrial detritus in Colorado, failing to properly dismantle and remove his 1970s installation at Rifle Gap, where concrete "bunkers" . . . 

    .  .  . steel I-beams .  .  .

    .  .  .  and similar industrial junk was left behind to settle down mountainsides forty years after the fact.

    Christo's artistic instincts are urban, on an industrial scale outmoded and antique in an era in which Americans have mostly learned to appreciate both the extent of our previous depredations on the natural world and the need to preserve what is still untouched. Christo and the BLM rationalize this proposed intrusion by pointing to the scrappy rural settlement already in place along stretches of the valley, without pointing out further that none of these installations are sited anywhere near current development. It's precisely the untouched stretches of riverway they want to festoon with WalMart's tawdriest awning material. 

    As a work of art, the installation has been panned before it even exists. Writing in the Washington Post (10/22/08), art critic and historian Blake Gopnik noted that the project "is a conceptual and environmental dinosaur, a relic from the days when some land artists and designers aspired to create iconic art without regard to its environmental cost. . . ." And J. William Thompson, editor of Landscape Architecture, wrote in the April 2009 edition that "this kind of 1970s-era environmental art has more links to heavy industry—to old fashioned well drilling and dam building—than to some more recent art that’s been made with genuine ecological feeling." Exactly—the BLM gets well drilling and dam building.

    Christo's installations are intentionally oversized, intended to overwhelm the landscape rather than to correspond with the subtle and ephemeral character of a natural place. Thompson's observation brings to mind another environmental artist, Andrew Goldsworthy, whose site-specific "land art", intended in many cases to be washed or blown away from the site on which he sculpted it, are exemplars of a modesty in the presence of the natural world that is the diametrical oppposite of the factory-scale automonuments of Christo. Here, among any number of long-dispersed artifacts noteworthy for their humility and humanity, is a Goldsworthy icicle star in an icy landscape, built with the artist's saliva:

    I don't know much about art, but for my money an ounce of Goldsworthy's spit is worth a ton of Christo's s**t.

    I'd be happy to let Christo peddle his draperies in Central Park or in parts of the country already paved over by urbanization, already accessible by six-lane roads, already awaiting with 20-storey hotels and Red Robin restaurants.

    Saturday, January 14, 2012

    10 Reasons Corporations Aren't People

    10. People have names, corporations have logos. 
    It's a simple concept: people have names like Larry, Twiggy, Sigismund, Thorvald, Ranjeev, Dev Singh and Thaksin Chachavalpongpun. Corporations have logos with large red or blue letters and nifty tag lines in them, like this one:

    9. People have nicknames, corporations have "alternative negative desciptors."
    So,  for family members we might have affectionate nicknames like Dimple, Cupcake or Beeswax. Or the usual all-purpose sobriquets like Lefty or Gimpy, Butch, Bubba, Chief or Ace. None of these could be applied to a corporate entity with any propriety or plausibility, whereas some such descriptive phrase as "Murder, Inc." could only designate something called Blackwater USA whose logo says it less subtly:

    8. People have families, corporations have subsidiaries. People have genealogies, corporations have histories of acquisition. 

    7. When people sell drugs, they get arrested. When corporations sell drugs, they pay dividends.

     "No, no - it's hydroponic arugula, officer."

    6. People marry, corporations merge. 
     (Although some marriages resemble mergers.)

    "Then I think about how rich you are, and everything's all right again."
    (Gahan Wilson)

    5. People get hostile divorces, corporations manage hostile takeovers.

    Never sell your company to a guy who wears a striped tie.
    4. People get to vote. Corporations don't (yet).
    Basic eligibility to vote is set out in the U.S. Constitution, which says that suffrage cannot be denied on grounds of race or color, sex, or age for citizens eighteen years or older. But it doesn't say anything about corporations being either citizens in the accepted use of the term, nor eligible to vote. I'm sure someone is working on that, though - a block of corporate votes could be ascribed based on net corporate worth. That way, things won't get out of hand again, like they did in Zucotti Park. 

    3. A person cannot buy, purchase, hold financial interest in, inherit, appropriate, own shares in or in other wise own another person. 
    At least that's what the 13th Amendment says. But you can own stock, shares or other interest in AT&T, ExxonMobil, General Motors, General Electric, and it's considered wise investing, not slavery or indentured servitude.

    2. "No person, whether a citizen, naturalized citizen, resident or nonresident alien, may buy, purchase, rent, rent to own, exchange for equivalent consideration, franchise, let, sublet, lease, indenture, auction, or (inclusive of the foregoing) in any manner own, possess, nor hold in seizin, tenancy, socage or villeinage, nor inherit, engross, or appropriate for equivalent consideration, any member duly elected and currently serving elective office in the United States Congress, whether in the House of Representatives or the Senate."  
    I think it says something like that, maybe not those words exactly, but it's somewhere in the Constitution. Isn't it? Did I just write that? So does this mean no subsidies for me again this year?

    "Then I think about how rich you are, and everything's all right again."

     1. As of April 2011, Texas held 321 inmates on death row. As of August 2011, the state has carried out 234 executions. No member of either the detained or executed parties was a corporation.

    "So shoot me."

    The Elephant in the Back Room

    It can hardly have escaped general notice that the world is currently in an election cycle. As happens every five years, it's time once again to elect the legislative assembly of Uttar Pradesh, one of India's larger and more populous states. The reigning party in "You Pee" (as the state is fondly known in India) is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), whose symbol is the evocative and much-adored elephant, rendered exactly thus:

    I say "evocative and much-adored" because the elephant, in the person of Ganesh, is patron of the arts and sciences, bestower of intellect, grantor of wisdom and learning:

    "Four arms and a trunk - top that."

    I say "in the person of Ganesh," presuming godheads can be persons. On the other hand, if corporations can be persons, particularly in an election cycle, then assuredly godheads can be as well, particularly since we've agreed to indulge in fictions. Be that as it may, the Indian nation holds Ganapati in high regard and shows it in many forms, not least of which is an affectionate ritual of waterboarding.

    (Glad he has a long trunk)

    As it happens, the party which has chosen the elephant as its symbol is a centrist party with socialist leanings and represents Bahujans ("people in majority"), the very lowest castes and various neglected minorities. Time reports that in Uttar Pradesh, "Workers had to cover nearly 200 statues of elephants . . . because the nation's election commission ruled that since the statues were built using public money, they violated rules for next month's election and gave the Bahujan Samaj Party an unfair advantage of added visibility." They were duly shrouded from view more or less effectively.

     "Ummm, let's see . . . catamaran? catamite?"

    It should have occurred to someone in the loyal opposition that wrapping acres of large elephant statues in bright colors might not be the best way to divert public attention. Turns out there are a good many elephant statues around You Pee - tarpaulins in any color have quickly come in scarce supply and tarpaulin funds have gone through the ceiling on the Hong Kong Exchange.

    One can only applaud the fairmindedness and evenhandedness of the state's election officials, overlooking for a moment the negligible socio-economic status of the elephantine party's adherents. Such local custom can appear, in a more enlightened and (dare I say) developed country, to be a kind of electoral tampering. And it should come as little surprise that the noble elephant . . . 

    . . . should, in a benighted nation, stand for adherence to a godless socialism, or symbolize wisdom, learning and intellect, for all of that - a nation of heathens who subscribe to erroneous creation myths, heterodox incarnations of the Divine, the carnal trafficking of gods with humans, and other like superstitions. . . .

    Wait. I've seen that blank stare, the studied smile, the deathlike rictus somewhere before. Ahh . . .

    Nonetheless, it seems creditable of India's national election commission to at least attempt to obscure from public notice anything that may unduly influence democratic process in the world's largest democracy. In this, India has taken a page from the world's oldest democracy, our own, where anything that may unduly influence democratic process is, with the wise indulgence of our highest courts, obscured from public notice.

    Friday, January 13, 2012

    Cod's Honest Truth (A Fish Story)

    Cod mislabeling in Ireland and casual prostitution in Wales were rampant. 
                                             - Harper’s Magazine, “Findings,” Jan. 12, 2012

    I had caught the Heathrow-Shannon redeye that week on some serious business for the Crown. The Royal Fisheries Commission had fingered me to go to Galway and check out a counterfeiting operation - some mugs were selling hake for cod and I was smart enough to know that 'cod' doesn't start with an 'h'. But the pilot was high on dexedrine and Nyquil, which is how I came to be in Cardiff instead. Story of my life, as you may say.

    So there I was, paddling along in one of the seedier bywaters when I spotted her sidling away from the wall she was holding up and oozing onto my section of the sidewalk. I was on a straight and narrow to the nearest boozer when she swam into view, right in midstream. She had hips like an eel and she was playing it casual, as you may say. I hove to and planted the old soles on the pavement.

    Is that a cod in your codpiece, she purred, or are you glad to . . . .

    Cod? I snorted. Kiddo, at my age that's just a fluke.

    False advertising? she smiled. Let's see the wee lad. I know how to turn a prawn into a bishop, mind.

    I gave her the fisheye. Lady, I'm nearly a croaker, I said. These days that old cod is a limpet. But how about you? Even for a hooker you're beating your drum in plain view. No mistaking you for the vicar's missus.

    Oh, is it obvious? Am I too . . . am I rampant? Am I being too rampant? Is it the fishnets?

    Rampant, I agreed. Maybe too rampant. Do I look like some blinking skate you can just pick up? What's your game, lass?

    Blinking skate

    Just out fishing, she murmured. Just looking for trout in trousers.

    And that would be me? Just me and my haddock?

    Could be you, she sulked. Maybe it's not a fluke after all.

    I'd be lying if I told you it was a halibut, I admitted.

    I appreciate that, she said. You seem like a gentleman. A girl can get her expectations up.

    Lady, for all you know I'm just hired mussel, I said. I was warming to this dame and I couldn't figure it. I pulled out a fin and we went into the Prince of Wales. I ordered a pint, she ordered the fish and chips, but I can spot a tilapia when it flops down in front of me. That was no cod in among the fries. This bum cod ring had its tentacles all over the North Atlantic fish trade. There aren't very many ways to spell 'cod' and they were getting it all wrong.

    The Prince of Wales (formerly Nunzio's)

    Dive in, I told her. Fill yourself to the gills. She was hungry, so she clammed up and chowed down in the proper prepositional sequence. Sure, I coulda told you we found some flophouse and floundered around for an hour or two. But I'd be lying - I was heading for something fishy in Ireland and here I was, in the wrong town at the wrong time with some dame who had spent her entire working life trying to land some finnan haddie.

    It wasn't going to be me. I had a date with some Irishmen with bad mullets who couldn't spell "c-o-d."

    Truth in advertising

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    The Pirate's Resume

    Three days after Iran warned an American aircraft carrier . . . the carrier’s battle group freed 13 Iranian hostages from Somali pirates who had attacked them near where the carrier was floating. “These might be the dumbest pirates ever,” said Rear Admiral Craig S. Faller. “I don’t have skills,” said pirate Mohammed Mahmoud.
                                          - Harper's Magazine, "Weekly Review" (Jan. 10, 2012)

    Call me Mohammed.

    First off I should probably tell you that I have three wives and seven children at home. Not the smartest thing I've ever done, I'll admit. What was he thinking, you're probably thinking. Which goes a long way towards explaining this whole pirate business. Not to mention you don't make a lot on goats. I was happy just to get out of the house and I'd thank you not to print that.

    Actually, being a pirate turned out a whole lot more complicated than I thought it would be - you're boarding a ship and the boarding ladder breaks, you pick up some hostages and they blow your cover to the Americans just because one feringhee sailor speaks Urdu - who would have figured that? And before you start, how was I supposed to know it was an aircraft carrier, for crying out loud? I've never seen an aircraft carrier before. There were lots of ships floating around when we boarded that lousy dhow.


    I've tried a few lines of work before this job came along. Farming didn't pan out after Monsanto moved into the Somalian seed market - talk about piracy. So I tried fishing - another bust when Whole Foods went all ecological on us and wouldn't buy any more "wild caught previously frozen" fish because they claimed it was us depleting the oceans, and because we couldn't prove it was raised organically. Truth of the matter is, we couldn't compete against the Japanese. They were practically giving the stuff away. We couldn't even gill net a dolphin after they trawled everything up.

    "One whale God grant us and we can retire."

    Over the years things have gotten to a pretty desperate pass for me and the wives. Never rains but it pours. Actually, never rains is closer to the truth. Meanwhile, the neighbors were doing pretty well at the local version of piracy, so I thought I'd try my hand at stockbroking, which is kind of like being a pirate without having to own a boat or get wet. That was about the time the global markets went to hell - I was selling a bunch of Greek debt just when European bonds went down the toilet. Talk about getting wet, I took a bath on that one. I don't mind telling you, some of my clients are still looking for me. Where I come from, you don't want that. And after the goats starved I figured I can't afford to retire yet.

    I even tried being a lawyer for a while. In Somalia, you don't need a law degree to be a lawyer - there aren't that many laws that require a whole lot of interpretation - and just about everyone I know needs a lawyer. I figured it would be a home run. But the cell phone coverage out here is so bad I couldn't keep a client on the line long enough to find out what the problem was. You can't sustain a legal practice if you're dropping a caller every 30 seconds. And of course there was the added problem that most of the cases were being tried in other countries and I frankly didn't have the money for travel expenses to Singapore, Jakarta, Mumbai, Abu Dhabi - you name the place, I couldn't get there. I went to Mombasa once for a case, but I had to walk. Mogadishu, forget it.

    So I was pretty happy when this gig came along. My neighbor had a runabout, he'd made a few bucks trading hostages on the open seas, it sounded like I couldn't go wrong. It was my first try at actual pirating and I thought I could just do it until I paid off my mortgage, got a little bit ahead, had a down payment on a Kubota ATV. Hell, I figured all we'd need is one WalMart container ship en route from China and we'd all have enough clothes, toaster ovens, barbecue grills, plastic shoes, disposable diapers and "educational" toys for the kids and what have you to last us for years. Maybe some plastic flowers for the wives. 

    Lousy way to make the New York Times. I should have known. Dumbest idea ever.

    Walmart shoppers

    Sunday, January 8, 2012

    Critic's Notebook: Clyfford Still Gets 'Butt Slide'

    According to a recent Denver Post, "A 36-year-old Denver woman, apparently drunk, leaned against an iconic Clyfford Still painting worth more than $30 million last week, punched it, slid down it and urinated on herself . . . 'It doesn't appear she urinated on the painting or that the urine damaged it, so she's not being charged with that,' said a spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office, in a thanks-for-small-favors summation. The painting is Still's "1957-J-No. 2."

    Other sources describe the woman as having not merely slid down it, but "rubbed her buttocks" down the painting while collapsing in a puddle. I think it a safe conjecture, based on the fact that she was un-pantsed and urinating on the floor, that she was both "apparently" and assuredly drunk. The question remains whether that fact alone disqualifies her as a critic or compromises the accuracy of her critical insights.

    My own critical opinions, puzzled, disorderly, unschooled as they may appear to the learned, are on record - pale and feeble maunderings when compared with the fervent discommendations of the woman in custody. Take her how you will, she is willing to be incommoded for her aesthetic sensibilities.

    I confess to a certain sensible agitation while viewing some of the artist's larger works - a nameless, floating disorientation in the face of a structure that seems now fixed, now mobile, protean, almost Heraclitean in its refusal to sustain a focal perspective. The painting into which one cannot step twice, a gambit the woman fortunately did not attempt. This is in no way to disparage the work - on the contrary, its dynamism is one of its strengths. Having said that, I understand the urge to grasp it in the fist, to stay its evident restlessness, to wish to stabilize its electrical gestalt. Was it a punch, as the police would have it, or an inchoate, perhaps frustrated act of appreciation?

    Her peculiar critical perspective or artistic prepossessions are unknown, having been largely overlooked by the press. In the face of deficient information, suppose for the sake of argument that she is of the Formalist or Structuralist persuasion in which spatial relationship, juxtapostion of shape and color fields are paramount. In that case, intoxication may arguably disqualify her from pronouncing on the aesthetic value of the work in question. The same considerations of spatial literacy and the finer appreciation of the relational attributes of geometric solids would also argue against her being permitted to drive herself home following her appraisal of Still's work.

    On the other hand, the engagement of the buttocks as an organ of aesthetic appraisal suggests an attachment either to the Expressionist movement, tactilism, sentimentalism, impressionism, surrealism or any of the Nonformalist artistic claques. If this should prove the case, then her sensibilities and critical responses may well have been heightened, attuned even to the point of preternatural irritability. Thus, while we may not in the end fully agree with her critical judgments, we cannot disqualify her out of hand nor disregard her artistic deliverances without further hearing.

    The artistic world deserves a verdict.

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    Three Queers in a Tub

    The GOP is having its difficulties with sassy youngsters, who won't stop asking about equal marital rights. First it was Michelle Bachmann explaining tendentiously to some Iowa high schoolers that everyone already has equal rights - just so long as they marry outside of their gender and within their species. The other day Rick Santorum walked into the same revolving door in New Hampshire with some college kids and emerged swinging, if one can use that word in the same sentence with "Santorum."

    "Are we saying everyone should have the right to marry? So anyone can marry anyone else?" Santorum asked the insurgent crowd by way of countering the question. "So anybody can marry several people?" (Yes, yes, and why not?) There is always something disingenuous when an adult perpetrates an evident fallacy, particularly one hoary with age and overemployment. In this instance, Santorum offered his justifiably unruly audience a "straw man," the fallacy of exchanging whatever argument is currently on the table (equal marriage rights for everyone) for one speciously similar (three men! Oh gawd!). He then mistakenly presumed that the surrogate argument is so preposterous as not to require demolition. Like most common fallacies of informal logic, it introduces irrelevant matter into the conversation. It is of a piece with that other straw man offering, his famous "man on dog" comment (2003).

    "Roll over."

    Santorum, the press assumed, was likening gay marriages to polygamous ones, even though he did specifically ask one young interlocutor, "Well, what about three men?" He was understandably booed for this baldfaced evasion. Faced with a roomful of hostile youth, one wonders whether in an unchristian moment the candidate may have reconsidered, however briefly, his stand on abortion.


    Even so he raises an interesting point. Why shouldn't anyone be permitted to marry several people, indeed? Or just foregatherings of any sexes in any numbers within a single matrimonial bond? The problem isn't an ethical one: marriage, whatever its current religious and cultural baggage, is at bottom (if I may use that phrase on the same page with "Santorum") an economic institution. The rules and the mythical status we attach to it are as purely conventional as the good manners we observe while eating. There are in nature as many ways to marry as there are to eat your lunch.

     "Nuclear" family 

    No, it seems to me that as a culture, the Judaeo-Christian West just made a sheep-like dash for the simplest solution to getting the laundry and the cooking done. But it didn't have to work out this way - polygynous and polyandrous societies have been all the rage for milennia and they seem to work pretty well. Not to mention that such intricate arrangements may present a pretty serious obstacle to divorce, which would in the circumstance amount to expulsion from your accustomed part of town.

    The advantages of such an arrangement are clear - everyone gets regular meals, everyone wears clean clothes, at least one adult knows what the kids are up to, and with a little bit of judicious scheduling, everyone gets regularly serviced. At the same time, the emotional baggage is lightened by being spread thin, sentiment never degenerates into the rank sentimentality of "hearts beating as one." It sounds like a no-nonsense, workable agreement.  It sounds like a "win-win" . . . or "win-win-win."