Monthly Archives: January 2009

Pirates: in their favour

They mutinied against their tyrannical captains – and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls “one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century.” They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed “quite clearly – and subversively – that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal navy.” This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.

Johan Harri thinks today’s Somalian pirates are guided by the same spirit:

European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood[…] This is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a ‘tax’ on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and it’s not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters… We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.”

Perhaps. Needed: some statistics to show what the pirates’ targets are. My impression has been that the pirates have been attacking ships hauling dry goods — not dumped waste, or Somalian fish.

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Money can corrupt even the upper classes!

Returning to the Caracas country club of her childhood Vanessa Neumann can barely contain her despair:

But it is behind the crumbling walls of the Country Club mansions that the most pathetic chavistas are bred – the secret ones. They can no longer afford to keep up appearances since Ch├ívez is nationalising estates of 100,000 acres or more. The Country Club used to name and shame those members remiss in their subscriptions on a wall. Now, the list is so embarrassingly long that the club has stopped. In order to restore their fortunes, some covert chavistas have grovelled to the government.

At the same time they masquerade as principled members of the upper class and mock the heathen and gauche chavistas while playing golf or sipping a whiskicito at a drinks party. Yet they fret that the secret source of their restored glory will be discovered and they will be reviled by their old-money friends in the opposition.

This is the part of the movie where someone says “I don’t know. it looks like Hugo is changing some of those country-club members. But I wonder: how will they change him?”

All that glisters

Salman Rushdie, now hitting prime award-gathering age, has a nice Borgesian story that only reveals his ignorance of a very wide con that the world is pulling on us all:

I was presented with the Gold Medal by the Historical Society of Trinity College Dublin (“The Hist” to its friends, founded by Edmund Burke). It’s this very beautiful medal with bas relief on it and so forth. But when I opened the box, there was this silver medal inside. I was slightly disappointed and I said, “Oh, so this is the silver medal.” “No, no,” they said, “This is the gold medal – we just make it out of silver.” That’s definitely my favourite prize.’

But it turns out, to my shock, that few gold medals are made of gold. As in Dublin, they’re mostly silver. According to Wikipedia, some of the few truly gold medals are the Nobels, the Lorentz, and the Congressional Gold Medal. For once, base literalism really does have value.