October 22, 2007


Photo credit: WPA poster from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Welcome to Pirate Week at Goat Rope. So hoist the Jolly Roger, stock up on grog and plan to stop by this week.

El Cabrero is not always in sync with popular culture, but I'll give it this one. Old school pirates can be entertaining.

I first started thinking about piracy as an adult while reading Patrick O'Brian's novels about the Napoleonic Wars, the series that inspired Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The main characters, Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, were funny and fascinating. It was kind of like Jane Austen with naval battles.

One thing the Royal Navy at the time had in common with piracy was the prize system, whereby every sailor got a share of the value of an enemy ship captured or sunk. O'Brian would frequently speak of the "piratical gleam" in Aubrey's eyes while he pursued a prize. Of course, those with more rank got most of the prize money; as we'll see later, real pirates got a better deal.

It occurred to me at the time that people who try to work for social justice could use a piratical streak.

A little bit closer to real pirates were privateers, which you can think of as an early form of military contractors. The captain of a privateer would be issued a Letter of Marque allowing him to pursue legitimate targets and keep the rewards.

Real pirates were total freelancers, where loyalty was often reserved to the pirate band, which was surprisingly democratic and egalitarian. When you look at the Powers That Were in those days--despotic monarchies, slaveholders and slave-traders, greedy merchantmen--it makes you wonder who the real pirates were.

More on that tomorrow...

HARD TIMES. The news from this AP story probably won't come as much of a surprise to anyone: it's getter harder for lots of people to make ends meet:

What used to last four days might last half that long now. Pay the gas bill, but skip breakfast. Eat less for lunch so the kids can have a healthy dinner.

Across the nation, Americans are increasingly unable to stretch their dollars to the next payday as they juggle higher rent, food and energy bills. It's starting to affect middle-income working families as well as the poor, and has reached the point of affecting day-to-day calculations of merchants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 7-Eleven Inc. and Family Dollar Stores Inc.

Food pantries, which distribute foodstuffs to the needy, are reporting severe shortages and reduced government funding at the very time that they are seeing a surge of new people seeking their help.

NEW FIG TREE NOTES OFF THE "PRESSES." Jim Lewis muses about Minnesota, mortality and more in his latest Notes from Under the Fig Tree. Here's a nugget from there that I had missed:

Just recently, the Pentagon airdropped soccer balls into Afghanistan in an effort to win the “hearts and minds” of the people. The balls had verses of the Koran printed on them. The people were furious. It’s insulting to put Koranic verses on the ground and then kick them around. An apology from the Pentagon was forthcoming. That’s fact, not fiction.


TO MARKET, TO MARKET. This op-ed of El Cabrero's about the Nobel Prize in economics ran in yesterday's Sunday Gazette-Mail. It also got picked up by Common Dreams.

PROBLEM CHILDREN. I'm a big fan of fellow Gazette op-ed writer Perry Mann. Here's his latest on the simplistic take on the problems of children and families these days.

PRIVATIZATION. Here's Naomi Klein on the outsourcing of government services.

WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT? The University of California, Riverside has come up with a novel recruiting method:

UC Riverside is using a cockroach petting zoo to attract students and parents to an upcoming recruitment fair. The zoo will include several species, including cockroaches that emit a foul, ammonia-like scent and the famous, palm-sized Madagascar hissing cockroach.

I bet the competition between the stinking and hissing cockroaches is fierce...


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