Sunday, July 29, 2012

Duck Hunting at the Airport

"Obviously the [Second] Amendment does not apply to arms that cannot be hand-carried — it’s to keep and “bear,” so it doesn’t apply to cannons — but I suppose there are hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes. That will have to be decided." 

                            - Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on "Fox News Sunday," July 29, 2012

"Just duck hunting out at the airport."

I will be the last person to insist that any American citizen of any stripe - fundamentalist, evangelical, Buddhist, Baptist, capitalist, anarchist, atheist, supremacist, survivalist, or just barking mad - should be denied the right to carry unnecessarily dangerous, technologically advanced, military-style assault weapons. "Carry," as in "bear." As long as you can carry it, you can bear an arm. It's your right, as Justice Scalia said. (He also said that if Americans cannot be mandated to buy brocolli, they can't be mandated to buy insurance. Which clearly shows, I think, the breadth and scope of his legal mind.)

 "Guy with the brocolli? Shit, I lost 'im."

Unlike my neighbor Zeno and the lion's share of my fellow citizens, I am not an amateur Constitutional scholar. I have no opinion on the question whether this right is contingent on the larger social institution of maintaining a "well regulated militia," or whether it is a right simpliciter, given without prior condition by a benign and trusting God to all his (American-only) children without regard to creed, intellectual and moral competence, mental soundness, medical and criminal background, list of current medications, knowledge of the general workings of a gun, or training in the use thereof. All you have to do, in short, is be able to pick it up.

 "I got a herd here - how many pounds do you want?"

Right thinking Americans will anticipate a liberal outcry at Justice Scalia's interview with Chris Wallace earlier today. The problem is not, as usual, all that serious. I know this because any internet search of "grenade launcher" turns up a host of virtual warfare wikis in which virtual grenade launchers destroy only virtual landscapes, virtual rooms in virtual buildings in virtual cities. Virtual grenade launchers do not kill virtual people. Virtual people do. And video games, as our liberal friends already know, are protected free speech.

 Virtual room destroyed by virtual grenade launcher

So I guess, as I said earlier, just being able to pick the thing up is the same as "carrying" it? I mean, say you picked it up but then it was too heavy to walk with it. You picked it up but you couldn't take a step, like a Russian weightlifter who forgot to take his steroids. Would that be carrying it? Or just "picking it up?" And are they the same?

Forgot his steroids

Here lies a slippery slope, Antonin my boy. Could I wheel a 50-gallon drum of fertilizer bomb into my anger management class on a furniture dolly and be said to legally bear arms? I guess we'll have to wait for the Supreme Court to rule on that.

Michael Tomasky, writing in the Daily Beast, had the last word on Antonin Scalia: "In the 1960s, Nino Scalia would’ve ended up teaching at Notre Dame law school (where he belonged) — a crackpot speaker on a marginal rubber-chicken circuit that mainstream America could have blissfully ignored, instead of sitting on the highest court in the land imposing his 16th-century will on the rest of us."

 "Go ahead - make my day."

UPDATE: In case anyone thinks I just make this stuff up, the LA Times for December 28, 2012 carries a report of two rocket-propelled grenade launchers surrendered to the LAPD in a gun buyback program.

Friday, July 27, 2012

'Marmite on Toast'

One of [Romney's] advisers told Britain’s Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that Romney is better positioned than President Obama to foster a strong relationship with the U.K. because of his "Anglo-Saxon" connection to the country. "We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels the relationship is special," the unnamed aide said of Romney. "The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have." One aide further insisted that Romney is "naturally more of an Atlanticist" than his opponent.

 Our Anglo-Saxon heritage on drugs

Romney for President, Inc. 
80 Hayden 
Lexington, MA  02421 

From: Matt Rhoades, Campaign Manager

To: All Staff

Well, it looks like someone here at 80 Hayden put his or her foot in it with the Daily Telegraph people. It's hard enough keeping Mr. Romney's foot in his Italian loafers and out of his mouth without you people jamming the bandwidth too. Speaking of Italian loafers, let's not use that line on the Vatican trip (note to self).

You know what those Brit reporters are like, I mean it's a tabloid culture for chrissake. You were barely off the Heathrow tarmac when this whole damn flap started, excuse my profanity but Jesus. You know who you are. I mean, couldn't you have just said that Mr. Romney loves Marmite on toast, or a bit of jam trifle after a strenuous chukkar of polo? Something a little less incendiary for want of a less polite word?

Frankly, I didn't see all the backlash coming, but it appears that this campaign is going to have to do some serious damage control on this "Anglo-Saxon" dustup. Fortunately I don't have to rely on you meatheads for a remedy. 

Just thinking out loud here. We fold a little side trip into this tour - arrange for Mr. Romney to make a diplomatic junket to Kenya (unofficial, of course), to include a meeting with their president or chief or tribal elder or head shaman or whatever. I'm not sure what sort of political system is in place there if any, so you'll need to research that. Anyway, the meeting with the head of state includes either a full-blown press conference or, maybe better, an informal meeting with reporters (and try to keep the Telegraph/Mail/Guardian/London Times people occupied with a wart hog hunt or some kind of "recreational opportunity" with the natives - locals, you know what I mean).

"What press conference?"

The speech will celebrate our shared heritage with the Kenyan people, the usual stuff - we elected one of their own as our leader, we have nothing but the highest regard for the rest of the Kenyan people and their culture, even though things haven't exactly worked out for us, something like that. Mr. Romney loves the national food and the music (for background can we get some CDs of . . .  what, drumming or something?) Or wait, those people like jazz, right? Maybe one of the local Mormon jazz bands playing local jazz. Is there Mormon jazz? I mean in Kenya? Anywhere?

Kenyan Mormon jazz band

We'd need a good back story on this, too. I'm thinking we have Mr. Romney try to visit Current Incumbent's birthplace. The story is that we're stonewalled by Kenyan officials at the highest levels, but at least it doesn't seem like we're just on the ground there to diss the CI - visiting the birthplace, trying to anyway - sort of like a tribute to Kenya's rich history or something, right?

Presidential birthplace (artist's conception)

I'm assuming here that most of the locals are towelheads, so we're going to have to manage the photo ops - there must be a few Christians in the country who wear regular hats or at least something  American-looking. No baseball caps if you can help it. The point being we don't want to portray Mr. Romney in the middle of a bunch of Kenyans in Muslim rags, so let's bring some appropriate headgear and maybe a couple of dark suits just in case they're scarce on the ground out there - wherever it is, Africa, I think. 

Which means we don't have to work the "Atlanticist" bit either since last time I looked Africa isn't even on the Atlantic. I think it's nearer the Caribbean. That's an island, not an ocean, by the way. Please someone, check out what ocean Africa is on but I'm pretty sure we don't have to mention the Atlantic. And please, one last time, don't anyone say Mr. Romney doesn't like the Atlantic. Just play it close to the chest - and keep him away from microphones.

 Our Anglo-Saxon heritage on toast

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Great Falafel Conspiracy

"Illumination turns out to be worse than darkness."  

     - John Robison, "Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the secret meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies"
(Edinburgh, 1797)

Speaking for myself, I'm glad it's nearly over. I can't stand this waiting any longer. They can have it. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I have only two words for you - Huma Abedin.

Let me explain. For most of my life, since I was of an age to remember anything I've been waiting for the world to be taken over. By someone or other, it didn't really matter to me who it was going to be. But at last they're baying at America's gates, with Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck ringing the alarm bell on the Final Chapter, warning of the imminent day when sharia law will supplant the good old Constitution and all the dreams of our Founding Fathers (of which Beck seems to be curator) will come to naught. Yet in spite of their finest efforts I fear it may be too little and much too late.

I don't claim to be an expert on sharia law, nor on the Great Falafel Conspiracy unfolding in our nation's capital. But if I might be permitted a little license to speculate here, I foresee sharia law gaining footholds in Minneapolis (Bachmann's hometown) and Oklahoma City, two places where visionary state legislatures have seen the threat and attempted to act accordingly. (In the first instance the lawmaker who introduced the bill withdrew it when Muslim groups objected; in the second instance the bill was overturned by a court. Which shows just how deeply this conspiracy runs.) From these Islamic strongholds on our very soil the Islamic onslaught will catch like a gas fire in a weedlot.

I'm not quite of an age to recall the Yellow Peril, though I'm told it was a heady time when fancies turned to exotic dangers, to the alluring incense of opium, the fond hope of forced attentions from vile and alien strangers, when Virtue was tried in the cauldron of Oriental vice in all its grisliest aspects. Where were the Bachmanns and the Becks then? Yet we prevailed, nay, triumphed. Well, I mean, that was then, of course, in the heathen days before WalMart.

But in my nonage in knee pants and sailor suits during the Wilson Administration, the threat of the godless Hun washing ashore in hairy waves from unseen U-boats was so palpable that the Espionage Act of 1917 came home to roost and has really never left. (The Obama White House still uses it to considerable effect - ask Bradley Manning.) The civilized world fully expected to be herded by large dogs, forced to forage for roots and berries like the peasantry of a benighted Europe, happy with the odd turnip and last week's funny papers. Once more our xenophobia proved our salvation.

After that it was just one thing after another, world domination ever knocking at our nation's door, threatening to destroy our livelihoods, to unchurch our one true religion, to suborn the sacred democratic process whereby we all agree that members of the Electoral College should exercise their consciences vis-a-vis our consciences.

The Cold War arrived immediately upon the release of some of our citizens from a benign national network of Japanese-only country clubs and gated "communities," raising again the prospect of another prophecy from the Book of Revelation in the person of Nikita Kruschev, who had the effrontery to pound his shoe in the faces of the world's leaders (to which British Prime Minister Harold McMillan responded without a trace of irony, "I'd like that translated, if I may.") The shoe, you will note, was a soft slip-on model, the sort of comfy mocassin favored by grandfatherly types who spend their days seated at their dining tables forwarding jokes and assorted political tripe via e-mail. In time we prevailed again, the danger passed, the shoe went back onto the stubby foot, and we realized that we had quite pardonably overestimated its gravity.

The old soft shoe

This time, I need hardly say, is different. America faces an enemy who can barely afford shoes, an enemy who turns shoes into bombs because his faith dictates world domination and the destruction of every religion other than his own. You can tell by looking at him . . .

. . . they all look the same, pretty much.

. . . hell bent on adding your women to his already overstocked harem, on refusing you service at your favorite Porky Parlor barbecue restaurant, on strictly enforcing the "last call rule," on refusing to grant your teenage daughter her driving privileges (well, I never said it was going to be all bad), ending your farm subsidy and commandeering your ration of fertilizer so he can make bigger IEDs.

Clearly, the inability of the Muslim Brotherhood to take over its own government in Cairo has merely steeled its resolve to take over our kind of foreign-seeming government in Washington. As I write, a Muslim sleeper cell lies embedded in the House of Representatives, two members of Congress duly chosen by a sleeping electorate. The very absence of Muslim members in the Senate only proves the stealth with which a shadowy Islam has infiltrated the highest ranks of government.

But I said I was glad it's nearly over, and I meant it. I'm old enough to remember elementary school air raid drills - everyone under a flimsy school desk, little butts in the air, right out where the shrapnel could rip you a new one. I'm not willing to go through all that again. Destroy this mad brute? I don't care when they get here.

But I know they're coming - else why no peep from James Dobson, to name but one luminary and defender of the faith? Because he's smart enough to keep quiet and preserve the not-so-remote chance of a caliphate, or at the very least a mullahhood in the New World Order. Ditto with Imam Pat Robertson, who knows which side of the pita the hummus is on. For my own part, I'm changing my life in small ways to prepare for the ascendancy of the Star and Crescent - I've given up beer brats (pork) and Coors Light (alcohol); and I'm putting all that air raid drill expertise to the best possible use - after all, you can't be too careful.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

One Blast Goodbye

"[Holy Smoke] offers a means to continue to protect your home and family even after you are gone, by turning ashes into fully-functioning bullets."  - Fox News

 Grandaddy (l.) and Grandma (r.)

The whole idea is so American that it must be, at least implicitly, one of our constitutional rights. (I would say "God-given constitutional rights" were it not axiomatic that the one always implies the other). Holy Smoke LLC, a company in Stockton, Alabama ("Celebrating life"), will load your rifle cartridges, skeet shot, shotgun shells and other assorted munitions with your loved one's ashes. The Final Sendoff, you might call it, except the Holy Smoke method allows you to do it again and again until the whole stash of ammo is gone and that deer in the highway department's yellow deer crossing sign has been freakin' obliterated.

It seems there are those vendors who perform this service in what can only be called a slipshod manner - I meant to say "half-cocked manner." The social commentators at Field & Stream recommend the Holy Smoke approach as a "much more attractive alternative," since "their predecessors would only load your remains into one shell, while the Holy Smoke guys will make a whole flat of ammunition with each shell containing a portion of your ashes. . . . How could you rest in peace if you were worrying that the person you trusted the one and only shell containing your ashes to might miss?" (Read "person to whom you entrusted . . . ")

 "What, me worry?"

Another blurb on the corporate website notes that "Holy Smoke already has a core target audience: people who love hunting and their right to bear arms." The notion of a "target audience" might not be entirely apt here were this not Alabama, where "target audience" means pretty much what it means. Whether the dead retain the right to bear arms is another question, though again, this being Alabama, probably not a serious second amendment hurdle unless you're a dead immigrant.

 The "Hefty" model

Another endorsement suggests in hushed tones that, "You want to plan your loved one’s final arrangements in a way that not only celebrate [sic] his or her life but also reflect [sic] that person’s passions and interests. Holy Smoke LLC can help you honor the deceased outdoors person with a unique memorial that commemorates his or her love for shooting sports." Now this is fine so long as "your loved one's" interests were guns. It doesn't work so well in, say, the world of motorsports or aerial stunt flying - loading a loved one down the gas tank could prove an uneconomical memorial.
Sitting quietly in a posthumous flat of ammo, one could always quietly enjoy the satisfaction of a safely retroactive revenge - on the federal government, for example . . . 

. . . or on your goddamned neighbor who's been asking for it for years . . .

As the good folks at Fox News remind us, we can stand our ground even after we're in it. And in its small, quiet way, Holy Smoke has given new meaning to the phrase "family plot."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dead Quiet

A Michigan woman came under investigation after police discovered the neatly dressed body of her companion, who was thought to have died in December 2010, sitting in a living-room chair. . . . the woman . . . would talk to the corpse while watching NASCAR. “I didn’t want to be alone. He was the only guy who was ever nice to me.”    
                                                              (Harpers Magazine, "Findings," July 16, 2012)

I mean, I been with guys, all they ever wanna do is talk. It's just talktalktalk, all about themselves or about their ex-wives, what awful bitches they were, or worse, about what's wrong with you. Which I did not want to hear again. None of it. From anyone ever. Charlie wasn't like that, he was quiet, just watched TV mostly, he knew all the NASCAR drivers, who won what races which years, that kinda thing. He wasn't one for 'Jeopardy!' nor any of the game shows, Charley wasn't. Nor nature shows for all of that. Just NASCAR mostly. Once in a while American Chopper if there wasn't any races on just then.

So it got easier after he quieted down - you know . . . died. I just dressed him the once and then left him to himself as much as he always preferred it, you know, just come in and sit with him in the evenings while my favorite programs were on. That was the other thing after he was, well, quiet - I won't say 'gone' - fewer compromises. I mean, we never disagreed about what to watch, no more flipping through the goddamn channels on the remote, you know what I mean.

Which is the other thing about most guys, the control freak part I mean. Charlie was never like that the last couple of years. Never upset, never angry, never bringing up old stuff that I didn't even remember doing. If I even did it, which I doubt. Can't recall, anyways. He was just easier than most to get along with. Seems almost I just grew fonder of him. Some days he was more decor, see what I mean. Mostly a fella that don't say much bears watching - you know, like that Norman Bates comes to mind, he was the quiet type and look what happened there. Charley was quiet but not so's to make you nervous or not able to sleep with him in the next room like this.

Norman Bates

Most of the guys before Charlie always left pretty abruptly. You know, you'd wake up one morning and the dresser would've been turned out, closets all empty, one stray man's shoe by the front door and the Monte Carlo gone.

Charlie wasn't that way at all. Old Reliable, I got to calling him. Always knew where to find him, always good for a laugh or a cry. Whatever. But it got to be he didn't really know much about some of them newer drivers on the circuit. He liked Danika Patrick but I didn't mind - and about anyone newer than that on the circuit he just never had much to say. So as time went on and the older drivers retired or got to be color commentators, I had to read up for myself on the rookies.

He never really got to smelling bad after he went quiet. I mean, you know - you'd expect a regular corpse to get a bit . . . 'high,' kind of,  light up like old Limburger cheese on a steam register. My ex-boyfriend used to like that stuff, eat it on rye bread with raw onions. Can't even think about it, I can't. But you know, Charley liked a cocktail now and again - 'just the one,' he'd always say, and we'd laugh. Yep, it was just the one, but it sure was a long one. So I think maybe that helped - it's like he was already embalmed, sort of, so he just stayed put where he liked it and I never minded sitting with him and talking over old times. Fact is, I got to kinda liking those chats we'd have. We spent some nice evenings together during the commercials.

Only problem I ever had wasn't with Charley personally, it was with the family. I was put to more trouble than a one-eyed referee at a Whac-A-Mole tournament to keep that son of his out of this house - 'where's my dad, is Dad all right? can't I talk to my dad, is dad even in there?' Dad this, dad that, every week or two he'd be at the back door like a termite on a wood porch.

It got to the point I nearly called the police on him. He's not a bad fella and he's been a good son to Charley, but I tell you it was almost more than a body could stand. And he probably wouldn't have approved of things as they were, so there was no letting him in to see his dad. I took to putting his copy of Voltaire or Pascal's Pensees next to Charley's chair - just in case the son did get by me and spot Charley lying there, he'd understand that his dad was sound asleep.

I don't know, but it seemed the least I could do. Oh, Charley. He was the only guy was ever nice to me.

Res Civicus, Res Cogitans (The Town That Thinks)

In Corigliano d'Otranto, a little Apulian town just south of Lecce in the heel of Italy's boot, academic politics has invaded civic politics, illustrating again the cautionary observation that academic politics is so vicious because nothing much is really at stake. The town has passed civic resolution 72, citing the tradition of such luminaries as Socrates and Spinoza to create the post of municipal philosopher, stipulating that the first holder of the office, Graziella Lupo, be available for consultation at the town hall "between 15.00 and 19.00 on Fridays." It's nice that the mayor has elevated a fellow woman (if that's the phrase I want) to the post, as women philosophers during the classical ages of philosophy were in short supply - there was a Rene Descartes, but never Renee.

Under the mayoralty of Ada Fiore, a teacher of philosophy, the town has installed ceramic plaques with quotations from the likes of Saint Augustine and has distributed postcards in bars and shops that ask existential questions, such as "Why were you born?"

"Who, me?"

Personally I can think of little that promises more entertainment than sitting in a neighborhood public house listening to a group of the local umbriagi discoursing on why they were born, whether existence is a predicate, or whether one can logically derive an 'ought' proposition from an 'is' proposition. But evidently the local confrerie of psychologists takes a dimmer view of the mayor's bald attempt at an academic coup d'etat. Upon Lupo's official appointment as municipal philosopher, Mayor Fiore received an excoriating letter from the head of the psychologists' professional society in Puglia, the Italian province that includes Corigliano.

 Federatione di Psychologismo Pugliano

Dr Giuseppe Luigi Palma, who has probably never set foot in a companionable Coriglianese auberge nor ever lifted a congenial glass with his fellow man, insisted that the use of a consulting philosopher was "not only misleading and confusing, but utterly perilous," and vowed that his organisation was ready to take "all the most appropriate actions to combat any offence that may be identified."

Lupo, who engages her clients in Socratic dialogue, assured the psychologists that she does not "dwell on their past, but their present and their perspectives on the future." And unlike the psychologist, although she did not say it, she does it all upright. Her rejoinder was brisk and au point: "I don't think the college of psychologists knows what a philosophical consultant is," she said. And, being a philosophical consultant, she added: "Their criticism is in any case devoid of epistemological content." Which is just the nice way a fellow academic would tell Dr. Palma to bugger off. Still, one might hope for a deeper sense of irony in a philosopher - how about "Physician, heel thyself." (Can a bad pun be ironic? Can something arise from nothing? If a tree falls on your car will your insurance pay for it?)

This raises all sorts of further questions for the body politic, which heretofore has had to deal merely with the mundane, concrete particular - traffic violations, zoning regulations, taxation, and maintenance of public spaces such as the new "philosophy park" in the quattro vecchio featuring "trees that talk, walls that light up and images that flow." The introduction into municipal life of philosophical offenses, an idea which Dr. Palma seems to float, will surely require a specialized law enforcement - an epistemological judiciary, an existential enquiry team, a linguistic analyst, a deconstructionist to take down all the ceramic plaques when the posted questions have been irrefragably answered, and so on. Imagine being apprehended by the logic police for perpetrating the following fallacy:

Ants are numberless.
This little fellow is an ant.
Ergo, as I have just unimpeachably demonstrated even to the satisfaction of a wit so dim as yours, this ant is numberless.   

Or again: 
All elephants are large.
Your dog is large.
Therefore, I am led inexorably by the bonds of logic to the conclusion that your dog is an elephant.

Clearly it would require a certain expertise to be able to say to the offending party, "Awright, Bub, yer comin' wid me." And I haven't even touched on formal syllogisms in quantified logic, for example: 
(x) . φx ⊃ ψx :(x). ψx ⊃ χx :: (x) . φx ⊃ χx

"You kids quit writin' syllogisms in formal notation, dammit!"

Ms. Lupo, the civic philosopher, acknowledged that people brought problems to her. One of her clients was a young man hopelessly bored with the company of his peers (go figure), another could only relate virtually to people of his own age (are virtual people the same age as you are? if they are in fact of any age, how would you determine it? are your virtual friends different from or the same as your imaginary friends?) These may not strike some as philosophical problems so much as social shortcomings, or simply as no problem at all. Still, a problem is a problem and anything is worthy of discussion to a philosophical soul.

"Oh, youbetcha I'm philosophical!"

Mayor Fiore may have bitten off more than the Coriglianesi can chew. An epistemological court of law would first have to vet whether the wrong under legal examination is a fact in any absolute sense; whether, if it is a fact in that sense, it is knowable as a fact; or whether it is merely a fact of law; and if only a fact of law is it worth being tried; and whether any worth whatsoever is a matter of certain knowledge or merely a matter of belief and opinion; and if of certain knowledge, demonstrably so? and if merely of opinion, reasonable and justifiable opinion?

Or again, who exactly is the defendant in any case before the court clearly becomes a matter for the existential enquiry team. If said defendant is a person, which person is it, assuming of course that anyone besides me is in fact a person and not merely some appliance with non-self-conscious behavioral capacities; and of course raising and answering the question whether a person is some self-conscious amalgm of physical and spiritual substance, or merely a corporeal machine capable of rational behavior and utterance, or merely a bundle of perceptions loosely associated with a body. And to what extent any of said entities, should they exist, are capable of freely initiating said actions which led to the etc. etc. etc. And if not capable of initiating said action freely, spontaneously and independently of any prior or supervening system of metaphysical causality, then in what possible sense and to what degree responsible for said event or action?

I think you see the problem here. Dr. Giuseppe Luigi Palma's caution is probably well-advised, but even he doesn't have a clue.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jeeves and the Great Bicycle Race

[From a manuscript purported to be among the literary relicts of the estate of Sir Pelham Grenville (P.G.) Wodehouse. In observance of the 2012 Tour de France which commenced this July, as it does each year.]

 Jeeves and the Great Bicycle Race

 Bertram Wooster and his soigneur Jeeves

I awoke on the morning in question feeling quite myself, very much in top form, as I may say. It was one of those bluey-shiny summer morns when the birds are a-twitter in the treetops, God's in his heaven and all's right with the w. as I think I've heard Jeeves put it. The night before, the Drones had outdone its usual orgy with a feed of unwonted splendor. The champers and oysters were thick upon the ground as the saying goes, and there flowed a bounty of the blushful Hippocrene, bumper to bumper and damn the torpedoes or something like that. It was not until the wee hours that Bertram arrived back at Wooster Arms.

Right on cue Jeeves shimmered in with the eggs and b. and a steaming cup of the life-giving. I saw at once that he was leading a two-man breakaway. I say "two-man" advisedly, as it was my Aunt Agatha immediately on his wheel. I sputtered out a "What - I say!" by way of protest, but the aged relative flew past Jeeves into the room to take that day's stage. Before Jeeves could explain the sitch, Aunt Agatha was on me like rash on a downhill crash. I think I may have mentioned that the august forebear is the stuff of nightmare. How does it go - something something royal cheer, they crossed themselves for fear, all the knights in Camelot. That would have been my Aunt Agatha, that bit about fear I mean to say.

"Still in bed, I might have known," she said in the voice of what's his name - the hound at the gates of hell - Cerberus I think it was. "You may as well dress immediately, Bertram. You are coming to Bumpleigh Hall this weekend. I require you to represent the Hall in the yearly bicycle races down at Bumpleigh."

"But dash it all, Aunt . . ." I sputtered.

"I very distinctly dislike your tone. If anyone bearing the Wooster name is to be seen careering about on a bicycle, it will be you, Bertram. You, as the Gospel phrases it so generously, 'the least of these my children.' Jeeves, see that my nephew is packed and ready today."

"Very well, Madam."

When the aged aunt chuffed off I lit a revivifying cigarette and lay back on the pillow to see my way out of this bit of hash. I had suffered through enough of these Bumpleigh-on-Moor annual races to know that I had rather be licked clean of chain grease by my uncle's four water spaniels, or curl Fabian Cancellara's hair, than ride with the local gang of thugs again.

F. Cancellara

By the time breakfast was over, Jeeves had packed the trunks for the weekend and stowed a hamper in the two-seater with a shaker of martinis, a bottle of the best, Turkish cigarettes and all the necessaries. "I hope it meets with your approval, sir," Jeeves murmured, "but I have taken the liberty of packing your most serviceable bicycling ensemble, the one you wore to such effect in last year's event."

As we drove out of London, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster was feeling pretty low down in the general classification. I mean, what with bon vivant-ing and man about town-ing on a pretty regular schedule, in fact very much as a life's calling you may say, I was not feeling confident that I could represent Bumpleigh Hall and the Wooster lineage against the barbarian hordes of Bumpleigh-on-Moor with the espiglierie and brio demanded by such an endeavor. I put the case to Jeeves in pretty much those words.

"Your reticence in the matter is very understandable, sir," was all he said. "Oh, well that's all very well for you to say, Jeeves," I said with the Wooster irony, and I meant it to sting. "There may be a solution to the dilemma, however," Jeeves continued. "If you will leave matters to me, sir, perhaps the Wooster name can be made to prevail in some manner and degree. I should think Mrs. Worplesdon" - meaning my Aunt Agatha - "should be in some measure gratified by any success you may enjoy."

I hadn't a glimmer what he might be thinking, but in my experience it is always best to turn matters over to Jeeves straightaway and trust his invincible genius to arrive at a solution. Fish, I am told, is the best aid to cogitation, and I have in our time together seen him eat little else. A herring is to Jeeves as good as another idea.

The Wooster two-seater

Alighting at Bumpleigh Hall I was greeted in the drive by the twin scourges, my young cousins Claude and Eustace. "Down for the bicycle races, Bertie?" asked Claude, knowing full well the predic Bertram found himself in and relishing it to the utmost. "We've got a betting pool on the weekend," Eustace chimed in. "We've listed you at 13-to-3 to finish last, Bertie."

"Thirtee . . . I say, couldn't you have just given me a decent handicap?"

"Oh, we did, Bertie, we gave you six hours on the field," chirped Claude. Well I mean to say, it's a bit thick when one's flesh and b. are wagering on the local ruffians against one of their own to come through the breach and ride off with the Pink Garter which, being unfit to wear in public, even on one's sleeve as Jeeves assures me, and being otherwise of no use is the traditional prize for the Bumpleigh races. And I said as much to the cousins. The part about all that being a bit thick, I mean.

That evening as I was dressing to put on the old feedbag, I thought it time to consult with Jeeves. "Jeeves," I said, "I do not like the shape of things, vis-a-vis this bicycle thingy. Not shaping up well for Bertram, would you think? Not looking like a podium spot in this local Volta a Spaniel, what?"

"That would be the Vuelta a Espagna, I believe. Though I confess the locals seem able to field a strong group of riders in the contest, sir. But if you will allow me to enlist young Claude and Eustace in the effort, sir, I am sufficiently confident to believe our side might prevail tomorrow."

"Jeeves," I remonstrated, if that's the word I want. "Those two young blighters bring nothing but woe and desolation to an otherwise cheery old world."

"The young gentlemen do, I confess, want some management and careful diplomacy, sir. But with your permission, granting their evident penchant for the wager I incline to believe they may prove valuable assistants."

"Very well, Jeeves," I sighed. "But it's against my better judgment."

"In the event, sir, I believe the young gentlemen will not disappoint. And if I might mention, sir, you are in training - perhaps a second martini would be ill-advised."

 Claude and Eustace

The race day dawned bright and June-like, all 'when on a summer's morn I wake and something something eyes, something something my something spirit flies.' Something like that, only the Wooster spirit on that particular summer's morn was feeling the urge to fly straight back to the urbs Londonensis, being pretty low down in the gen.class.

Having breakfasted and togged myself out for the impending contest, my heart followed my face down amongst the wines and spirits when I spied the local peloton roll by on their way to the start line in the village. En masse they appeared to be on day release from Newgate or Dartmoor, one of those colorful prisons you read about in Dickens, and I said as much to Jeeves. "Very apt, I'm sure, sir," was all he said.

Peloton des Damnees

To make matters worse for Bertram, Jeeves had dug out the old Pashley, which had not seen daylight since last year's go-round amongst the bracken and heather. It returned to me as in a dream that the old pony had required considerable effort to pedal, what with all the fenders and chainguards and levers and thingummies, and I imagine it was probably made of lead plumbing to boot. "I have taken the liberty to dust the machine, sir," Jeeves murmured like a museum curator.

The old Pashley

At the starting line, young Claude and Eustace were nowhere in the pic, which struck Bertram as perhaps the one bright spot in the new day. While Jeeves steadied the Pashley I clambered aboard, having clamped my trouser cuffs and reversed my tweed cap in anticipation of a brisk pace. The Wooster name was at stake and by this time Bertram's spirits were up amongst the spires and gargoyles, if that's the phrase I want. The boy stood on the burning deck and that sort of thing.

The local pack was down the road and nearly around the bend by the time I found the pedal and managed to mash it down. The Pash was off to a rolling start, pretty much a field of one and quite a furlong or a farsang off the back. I decided on the old tortoise-and-hare strategy that has served the Wooster escutcheon so admirably since the time of the Crusades, when I'm told the family forebear, old Guillaume Ousterre, managed to avoid any of that hand-to-hand silliness during the entire battle of Hastings. Which I've been told was a one-day event like Paris-Roubaix or Ghent-Wevelgem, and spilt a nearly equal amount of mud and blood.

 Battle of Hastings

After a half-hour's leisurely pedal through the local lanes and over a stretch of the moor, I came upon my first cyclist. Eustace was helping him off the ground and consoling him after his cold-hearted way about several broken spokes in the round whirly thing. I saw there was nothing more to be done and rode on, leaving the competition to the questionable ministrations of the cuz.

It occurred to me that if my strategy were correct I should be encountering more of these bicycle chappies very soon. By this time, very natch, I was dying for a gasper so I leaned the old leaden pipes against an obliging tree, seated myself in the shade, lit one of Turkey's finest and felt the revivifying smoke waft into grateful lungs. I was musing on the palpable absence, if that's the term I want, of the comp when my thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of young Claude.

"What ho, young Claude," I called out. "What's become of the other chappies?"

"No worries, Bertie," he answered. "Eustace and I managed to take out nearly all of the fellows who wouldn't take the side bet on the other course. There may be one we haven't foundered yet so I'll be needing your frame pump to manage his spokes."

"Side bet?" I stammered. "What other course? What the deuce . . . say more, young Claude, I implore you."

"Didn't Jeeves mention it, Bertie? He had us talk it over with the local riders last evening - a fifty-pound purse for a course he set. The ride goes through Biggleston, on the main street that goes up the Stairway and over Heaven's Gate before it comes back onto the Bumpleigh ride. Rather tiring, I should think."

'The Stairway,' Biggleston, Hampshire

"But . . . but . . . what about the local punters?" I queried in a fever. "You've got me losing thirteen-to-three. There will, I promise you, be an entire village baying after all our hides if I make a podium ride."

"Not to worry, Bertie - Jeeves persuaded us to put the purse on the Biggleston group. So you can still take the Pink Garter in the Bumpleigh race and nothing lost. Eustace and I will make a packet on the side race to Biggleston and, as far as Aunt Agatha, you'll be in roses."

"Well, I'm dashed. And which of you young financiers put up this princely purse, if I might know?"

"Wasn't us, Bertie. Jeeves thought you might spare it from the household money. It's a small investment, he said, for the glory of the Woosters."

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beer and Peace

The world is invariably made up of two kinds of people, depending on which point one wishes to make about human nature, or what human peculiarity has captured the attention. FloatingSheep has mapped social networking in GIS to give us a new twist on the old Blue State/Red State divide. The map below depicts areas of the nation during a week in June in which tweets about either beer or church predominate (I'll let you guess which color stands for which tweet).

It is another of life's ironies that, although I have had to foreswear beer forever, I live in that not quite negligible portion of Colorado in which tweets about church predominate. The best I can hope for is that most of the church tweets have to do with the quality and amount of the communion wine. But there is an upside to this - the technological limits of Twitter dictate that any theological observation must be encompassed in 140 characters. Take that, John Calvin.

Imagine, between Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Luther's hymns, theses, catechisms, tracts, tractatuses and what-have-yous, not to mention a host of commentaries by and about Mohammed, plus all the world's Melancthons, Knoxes, Husses, Niebuhrs, Bonhoeffers, Kungs and innumerable lesser lights, what floods of ink and blood we might have all been spared in our evolutionary climb towards enlightenment. Might we not, after all, find world peace through beer

"San Francisco," the data analysis notes, "has the largest margin in favor of 'beer' tweets (191 compared to 46 for 'church') with Boston running a close second. . . . In contrast, Dallas wins the FloatingSheep award for most geotagged tweets about 'church' with 178 compared to only 83 about 'beer.' " San Francisco is the city, you may recall, where city ordinance permits elderly men to go about naked. So it's not all foam on your beer there, either.

This Red/Blue split roughly correlates with another FloatingSheep mapping of bars versus grocery stores across the U.S.:

There are all sorts of ways to slice this apple, of course. I doubt there's any correlation between, say, the incidence of grocery stores versus churches (we all have to eat); but a high correlation between churches and Denny's, since that's where you go to eat after church.