Monday, August 31, 2009

Pablo's Hippos

Cleaning up after drug lords is a never-ending process:

African zoologists are in Colombia to advise local authorities on what to do with dozens of hippos roaming around the abandoned zoo of late drug lord Pablo Escobar in the north of the country.

Colombia was shocked last month at news that one of the giant beasts, who had escaped from Escobar's Hacienda Napoles, had been hunted down and shot on order of the government.

Bogota-based beer company Bavaria, owned by SABMiller, invited wildlife experts Michael Knight and Peter Morkel from South Africa and Tanzania to find the best way to deal with the surviving animals.

Wouldn't you want to put them in a zoo? Wait--they did that with most of the animals that Escobar had in his extravagant zoo, but the hippos were deemed to big and dangerous. The death of the hippo named "Pepe" is especially heartbreaking:

The slain hippopotamus, called Pepe, was killed by a .375 caliber round through the heart.

It was a fate not unlike that of Escobar, who controlled most of the world's cocaine supply before being gunned down by police on a Medellin rooftop in 1993. He was so flush with cash in the 1980s that he flew in hundreds of exotic animals, including kangaroos, elephants, rhinos and nine hippos.

The experts will spend a week at Hacienda Napoles to come up with a plan for caring for the hippos that are still living and multiplying on the estate.

The zoologists will also help look for Pepe's mate, Matilda, who escaped along with him in 2006, and their calf.

The mother and child are living in the wild near the Magdalena River, according to local residents who catch sight of them from time to time.

The government called off the hunt for Matilda following the scandal caused by Pepe's killing.

Nine hippos? Nine? Good God, that is extravagant. And, in true "Jurassic Park" mode, they're breeding! And, as everyone knows, nature will defeat man unless man can use machines to fight back against nature. Or, something like that.

Father preferred to shoot and stuff his African wildlife simply because the upkeep was ridiculous. I can't imagine the impact a family of hippos would have on the South American environment. It would be akin to introducing beavers into a non-beaver environment. Hippo dams and beaver dams are pretty dangerous things, as one denies electricity to developing nations and the other can flood an entire city.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Mother Tried to Make a Media Whore Out of Me, Too

Regular readers of my main blog will know from looking into my personal history that, for years, I couldn't even type the word "mother," so strong was my aversion to discussing or acknowledging how mother had created many of my personal problems.

I can get by now. I sometimes have to have Peej type the word for me and then put a piece of tape over the part of the screen on the computer where the word "mother" appears. It sort of works, I guess.

Apparently, there are a lot of mothers out there who are "controversial" because they use the media to enhance their fame. Watching this triggered a terrible, terrible flashback:

[sadly, it was taken down. Trust me, it was vile]

I would say that, had Mother had me during these times, I would most likely be on the cover of People  Magazine or some such publication, with my curly blonde hair tied up with ribbons and my sailor suit looking dapper. I was always a frisky boy, you see, and getting me to sit still took a lot of doing. Mother would do this because she was convinced that I needed to be a big star in order to help her realize her unfulfilled show business goals.

Now, it is true that, for a brief period of time, mother tried to capitalize on the aging of Shirley Temple and her subsequent inability to pull off roles for young girls. By 1948, Shirley Temple was twenty and I was a four year-old triple threat. Mother had given me dance, singing and acting lessons by then and was routinely submitting me for acting roles and musical roles in Hollywood and in New York. She did put me in costumes, otherwise known as dresses, and she changed my stage name to Noreen Rogers. I was henceforth known as a singing and dancing sensation, "Litttle Noreen," and I was expected to perform in clubs when I was not on stage. I say this by way of disclosure, due to the fact that some wag will always dig these things up.

My hair actually looked a bit like what you see on the lovely Lady GaGa above. I think she's beautiful.

Unfortunately, I never quite made the breakthrough into A-list show business. I wouldn't work with anyone who wasn't a Republican. I refused to go to tutors or to do my schoolwork. I couldn't pass the physicals, where they checked you to make sure you were the gender indicated on the forms. I couldn't make my act work in loud nightclubs, as I tended to create my own feedback by singing into the wrong end of the microphone because of the catcalls of the drunks. I was able to get into a few films and a few musicals, but I was always relegated to the wings or to the larger group numbers because of my inability to match the timing of the star of the show. It wasn't all bad--I could order around servants, which was my favorite pastime, and I could eat whatever I wanted because they would give me diet pills to keep my motor running.

I gained valuable experience, which helped me later in life when I started making my own music and when I appeared in a few soap operas. Mother's bitter disappointment was always like candy to me, something I could enjoy watching.

World War I Remembered

Henry Nelson Heron, 36th Ulster Division

I'm going to gather up items like these and post them. As we approach the anniversary of World War I, this space will be used to remember what went on and why it is relevant to today.

World War I did not come after a "hundred years of peace" as men like Henry Kissinger wrote. It came about because of the failure of diplomacy and the complete absence of common sense.

This post is from 2007:

My brother has kindly forwarded a copy of another old photograph, taken on the eve of the Battle of the Somme, it shows my Grandfather and his friend aged sixteen just before they were sent into battle on the Somme. Part of the 36th Ulster Division, the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers, in which they were serving, were committed on the first day. Henry Nelson Heron and his best friend fell side by side in no man's land and spent three days there in a shell hole unable to drag themselves back to their lines. When finally recovered, they were not expected to live. Thanks to maggots and the fact that the medics felt they would die if their damaged legs were amputated (they were dying anyway according to the senior surgeon!) they did not lose their limbs and they survived, but were subsequently deemed unfit to continue as infantry and were sent to the Royal Garrison Artillery.

Nelson, as he was known by his friends and family, went on to emigrate to South Africa in 1920 and carved out a career for himself. He was always a man of huge compassion and generosity and lived according to a set of values he gained from his father and mother and forged into a code by which he lived. He loved passionately his family, never turned a friend away in any need and never demanded repayment, but he was not a man to be taken for a fool either. That you did at your peril.

As I have unearthed more of his story in this last year I am amazed at just what he achieved and how much he gave to us, his grandchildren. Truly a man to be very proud to have known.

Amen, sir. Amen.

The Ayatollah Embraces My Uncle Napoleon

Napoleon's Flag in Exile, Flown at Elba, Allowed by the British to Escape?

Oppressive theocrats tend to be slow on the uptake, but when they get it, they get it.

Witness this latest development with regards to Iran:

Foreign influences are not to blame for Iran's post-election violence, the nation's supreme leader has said, according to state-run media.

"I don't accuse the leaders of the recent incidents of being affiliated with foreign countries, including the United States and Britain, since the issue has not been proven for me," Ayatollah Khamenei told a group of university students on Wednesday, Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"But there is no doubt that the events were planned, no matter whether their leaders knew it or not."

Iranian officials, including hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have claimed that nations such as the United States and Britain have meddled in Iranian affairs since elections in June, without offering proof. Ahmadinejad has has warned of repercussions over the alleged meddling.

Gholam-Hosein Mohseni Ejei, Iran's intelligence minister, on Sunday blamed Western powers for stirring up protests. The British Embassy in Tehran "played a heavy role in the recent disturbances," he said, adding that the United States led the effort.

The Ayatollah is obviously aware of the great satire of Iranian modern politics, My Uncle Napoleon, while Ejei and Ahmadinejad still inhabit the witlessness of reactionary delusion. Someone needs to get the Iranian ministers on the same sheet of music.

My Uncle Napoleon should be known to everyone who studies satire and foreign policy because it is a fearless attempt at showing a people that blaming foreigners is a ludicrous dead end. The book is reviewed and explained in great detail here:

My Uncle Napoleon was written in the Seventies, so the memory of that interference was fairly fresh in the author Iraj Pezeshkzad’s mind. However, the action of the book is set in the Forties, and the heroic exploits of ‘my uncle’ belong to a (mythical) past even further back than that. This temporal distance, and the multiple layers of reference, extend into the present of the reader - the book has an uncanny way of telescoping time - so when Uncle Napoleon, terrified that the British are out to get him, decides to take action to protect his own backside, he’s easily persuaded to write a letter to Hitler himself in a vain hope that he might be spirited away to Berlin before the avenging English get their hands on him. It’s as if Uncle Napoleon has been drawn into the same Aryan propaganda and Holocaust denial as his present day equivalent, though his escape to Germany doesn’t happen. Instead, the farcical plot gets diverted by the appearance of a shoeshine man who Uncle Napoleon assumes is a German functionary sent to guard him against British perfidy. And yet the current taste for Nazi ideology in the Middle East exists for very similar reasons. Our enemy’s enemy is our friend, and you have to hand it to Hitler, he was no slouch when it came to acting against the Protocols of Zion.

This principle is also behind My Uncle’s adoration of Napoleon himself, a martyr to the cowardly back-stabbing English. He quotes Napoleon at the slightest opportunity, often absurdly, as when he says that ‘great men are the children of danger’ and manages to imply that he himself is childish. In an undistinguished career as a member of the gendarmerie, My Uncle has done little more than sort out some minor criminals, but in his imagination - stoked by the narrator’s father who seeks revenge on the old fool - these become the famous battles of Kazerun and Mamasani, the details of which he retells and elaborates at every opportunity. He illustrates perfectly the psychology described by Luis Bunuel, whereby the mind, as it sinks into dotage, ceases to distinguish between fantasies and real events. But whereas Bunuel appears to have thought he’d slept with Hollywood starlets, Uncle Napoleon is persuaded that he fought off English generals, humiliated them in the field, and to some immodest extent determined the course of world history. In this fiction he is abetted by Mash Qasem, a servant who has himself become convinced that he was in attendance at all these world historical events, and whose suspicions of the English outdo even his master’s. He is the Corporal Trim of the piece, who does little more than water the plants, but who loves to talk and has a catchphrase that apparently became widely imitated in Iran at the time of the TV series, “Why should I lie? From here to the grave it’s ah…ah,” with which he twice flags up two fingers.

My Uncle Napoleon is wildly popular in Iran, and I don't know what it would equate to in our culture in terms of the catchphrase popularity it has inspired. In politics, and in the culture at large, it looms large there. The only thing that comes to mind for me is the line from Network, which is "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."

Our political satire, at least in this country, tends to divide people down partisan lines and doesn't infiltrate the consciousness. People do not quote lines from American political satires so much because our satire is either heavy handed or absurdly light. If you've ever seen Bob Roberts (1992), the Tim Robbins film about a conservative candidate who uses folk music to espouse his right wing values, there's a scene where a very young Jack Black does an incredible job, in just a few short moments, of showing us what a mindless zealot looks like.


It's a great moment, but it hardly pervades the culture the way that it should. The odious toady is just not a candidate for widespread cultural significance.

Anyway, it's nice to note that the Ayatollah has people telling him what Iranians think of all of this Western-bashing. He seems to have decided to rule with a literate fist now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Happens When the Cheering Stops?

I'm not sure where this series is going, but this is a kick in the pants:

At least once every few days, someone walks into Findlay Toyota in Henderson, Nev., spots the 6-foot-8 car salesman with the familiar face and wonders, "Is that Ed O'Bannon, the former UCLA star and NBA flameout?" Yes, it is.

Ouch! How'd you like your pals to read that back to you over the phone?

Anyway, the Washington Post is doing a series on "These Athletes Retired as Multimillionaires, But Has Money Bought Them Happiness?" and it goes into the struggles and choices of some familiar names and faces.

Here's an excerpt from the piece about Bret Boone:

Bret Boone's 2008 comeback attempt with the Washington Nationals, after two full seasons out of the game, may have been born into a world of wealth and tranquillity -- a world made possible by a total of nearly $50 million he earned in his career -- but it was spawned from darkness. From the descent into the hell of alcoholism and the climb back out. From primal urges -- conquering demons, proving something to oneself, gaining closure.

If the athlete's playing career is life, and retirement is death, Boone -- or at least the ghost of him that showed up in 2008 -- refused to go into that good night until his career was given a proper burial.

"I struggled for that 18-month period where I was just kind of lost," Boone, now 40, says. "Your whole life, [baseball] is . . . not exactly what defines you -- but it's all I've done my whole life. You're Bret Boone, the second baseman, and all of a sudden you're not that guy anymore."

In all but a few pockets of the country that still cared about Bret Boone, the news went by in barely noticed flashes on a television screen or small headlines in a newspaper, stretched across a time frame that, in the mind's eye, could have been weeks or years: March 2006 -- Bret Boone Retires. February 2008 -- Bret Boone Making Comeback. April 2008 -- Bret Boone Retires Again.

But when it's your life and your career, it can consume you. The comeback lasted all of two months, encompassing one final spring training in Viera, Fla., and exactly 13 games in Columbus, Ohio, at the time the home of the Nationals' Class AAA affiliate, where Boone found the answers he sought and buried his career the proper way -- with dignity and finality.

"I had some closure," he says of that spring, when he hit .261 and played passable defense at second base for the Columbus Clippers, but walked away before the Nationals could call him up. "I could still play. I wasn't going to be what I used to be, but I could compete. I knew where I was. And I was okay with it."

It's interesting to consider the wealth being a fixed number, and then thinking of it as a lump sum paid to the players. That's, of course, not the case at all. This is money they were paid, and then everyone came for their cut, and they probably spent a good share of it thinking another bigger payday was around the corner.

Seven million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but when you get past buying three Bentleys for your moms--one for church, one for the store, one for going to the beauty parlor--it adds up quickly. I don't know if anyone has ever had to buy 3 Bentleys for their mother, but I can assure you, it's a pain in the neck to find a dealer with three identical ones on the lot.

UPDATE: Go check out for more information on coping with post-sports issues.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Will the Quagga Ever Return?

No, this extinct version of a brown zebra with a distinct lack of stripes on the hind quarters is extinct, but it is possible that a project in South Africa can bring us some relatives of the Quagga:

This project, started in 1987, is an attempt by a group of dedicated people in South Africa to bring back an animal from extinction and reintroduce it into reserves in its former habitat.

DNA analysis has shown that the Quagga was not a separate species of zebra but in fact a subspecies of the Plains Zebra (Equus Quagga) The Quagga, formerly inhabited the Karoo and southern Free State of South Africa...

By breeding with selected southern Plains Zebras an attempt is being made to retrieve at least the genes responsible for the Quaggas colouration.

The project, if successful, will rectify a tragic mistake made over a hundred years ago through greed and short sightedness. Once again herds of "Quaggas" will roam the plains of the Karoo.

When the Quagga mare at Amsterdam Zoo died on 12 August 1883, it was not realised that she was the very last of her kind. Because of the confusion caused by the indiscriminate use of the term "Quagga" for any zebra, the true Quagga was hunted to extinction without this being realised until many years later.

Interesting. We are currently seeing many species of animal become extinct. Is that a bad thing? Probably not. It's just something for liberals to moan about. Thanks for the guilt. I'm trying to have a good time. Can you take it somewhere else? Thank you.

Quagga, as painted by someone who does some really nice work

Like other animal species that disappeared in Africa during the 19th century, the quagga was hunted to extinction. It was the age of the great white hunter, when privileged Europeans with too much time on their hands and too much firepower at their disposal roamed Africa, killing indiscriminately.

Settlers in the new continent also hunted them. The colonials considered the quagga a pest, because it vied with their cattle for grazing land. Additionally, the meat was edible, and the hides were exported to the leather industry, making the quagga commercially viable.

While some accounts maintain that the quagga was deliberately exterminated, this does not appear to have been the case.

The hide of the last quagga, the one that had lived at the Amsterdam Zoo since 1867, is among 23 still extant. Her skull is also preserved. With the exception of one specimen in Cape Town and another in Kazan, the hides are scattered throughout Europe in museums.

Ah, endangered and extinct species. Mankind must always prevail.