Friday, September 29, 2006

How The Gettysburg Address Changed My Life-IV

Students of poetry are given to understand that when the body of Percy B. Shelley washed ashore on the coast of Lerici in 1822, ten days after his vessel had capsized, the only way The Greatest Poet’s body could be identified was via the open volume of John Keats’ poems in the breast pocket of his jacket.

Likewise, if the yellow Hummer were ever to erupt in a ball of flames, with my charred remains abandoned at the bottom of a ditch, the only way I likely would be identified would be through my single volume summary of the Abraham Lincoln’s Collected Writings (which, as all serious students of Lincoln already know, contains several drafts of the Gettysburg Address, in the sad but distinct handwriting of Father Abraham himself). Like Shelley, I always keep the Collected Writings on my person, and for events such as the Meade Society commemoration, I keep them in the breast pocket of my Presidential jacket.

It was thus with great relief that I determined, after the initial shock of the previous night’s events had worn off, that the thief/thieves who had stolen my hat, boots and footstool had somehow overlooked my Presidential jacket, and with it, the Collected Writings.

Upon awakening and having assessed the full context of the criminal behavior heretofore described, I had less than four hours to figure out how I would give the Gettysburg Address to a crowd of roughly 5,000 people and barnyard animals (some of whom, by the way, would be hard to tell apart). My custom hat, boots and footstool had gone missing. Moreover, a person who fancied herself the living embodiment of Mary Todd Lincoln was simmering over the fact that her son would not be giving the Address, and was threatening vague repercussions. Finally, a room service lackey advised me that the temperature in Gettysburg that morning was already over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and was expected to reach as high as 115 degrees by the time I was to deliver the 272 Words That Changed The World.

These conditions would cause most persons to panic, but not P.D. “Bo” Steed.

It will not surprise those who know me to learn that at the appointed hour, I was seated in front of the gathered crowd, in a black stove-top hat (albeit a large one that barely would stay atop my head) my favorite steel-toed cowboy boots (scuffed to look like the “period” boots that had been stolen the night before), and that I had found a milk crate in the dumpster of my hotel that could double as my footstool (notwithstanding that the 24” crate would render me unusually tall for the Speech). Only the closest of observers would know that I was soldiering on without my original regalia, and when I checked my pulse rate, it was a steady 46. In other words, the previous night’s theft had been an abject failure, if one its purposes were to prevent me from delivering the Address.

And so, at 11:30 a.m., in the middle of the famed Gettysburg Cemetery, amidst the 115 degree heat, and among the horseflesh and hapless humanity, I proceeded to listen to a litany of introductions and speeches, prefatory to my remarks. About fifteen minutes into the introductions, as I gazed over the assembled masses, one thing caught my eye and another my ear.

First, I noticed a bespectacled woman--shaped like Falstaff, dressed like Mary Todd Lincoln, and the spitting image of Bertrand Russell--sitting next to a lanky young lad in the first row of the assembled crowd. She was obviously full of bile, and glared at me during the entire introduction. She seemed to be mouthing the same phrase over and over, all while sweat profusely poured down the bridge of her bulbous nose and manly face. I am not a lip reader, but my best guess is that she was mouthing the phrase “sic semper tyrannis.” It didn’t take long for me to conclude that this was the dreaded Ms. Epsey. I was most amused by her behavior, and did not hide my amusement well. This seemed to rile her even more.

As I was about to give the Address, I then heard the beleaguered bark of Mr. Bo Jangles, coming from the direction of the Cemetery parking lot. (I had left him in the Hummer with some of his favorite Rachmaninoff (specifically, the Second Piano Concerto) playing, the air-conditioning at full blast). I could tell by his bark that Mr. BoJangles was in danger and grew certain that he was being molested, perhaps by the very same criminals who had stolen my regalia. My head started spinning. Sweat started to pour down my nose, and I was nearly overcome by the heat. I took off the ill-fitting, stove-top hat. I tried to gather myself.

Just then I heard the words, “Welcome to Gettysburg, Mr. President,” followed by thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Greetings from the Bush

It was a dark and stormy night, and I and my trusted companion were three days north of the Afghan border, deep in the merciless desert wasteland, inexorably pursued by a band of marauding and generally disreputable desert bandits intent upon inflicting upon our persons such violations as would be exorbitantly unchivalrous to detail in the company of the fairer sex, bravely and determinedly – indeed, with a dogged perseverance -- pressing on even as we were pelted from all sides by a flesh-shredding Central Asian cyclonic dust storm, when George’s ass gave way.

But, I forget myself, most unconscionably. It is exceedingly bad form to allow oneself to forgo the proper social amenities that are de rigueur, even when one finds oneself traversing a most singularly desolate region that could most charitably, if vulgarly, be described as an enflamed carbuncle on the gluteus maximus of the world.

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Major Sir Edward M. Barttelot, KCMG (disp.), of Her Majesty’s Royal Army, late of the Queen’s Own Greater Rutland Regiment, 1st Typographers Corps, now stationed with the British Expeditionary Forces in Kabul, currently on detached duty at an undisclosed location in Central Asia. As my man, George, and I have been on our current mission for the better portion of a fortnight, I decided to take some shelter from the abhorrent heat of the region’s mid-day and peruse my electronic dispatches through the abetment of a portable satellite receiver, which provides us some mean, limited access to the Inter-Net.

I was most heartened to receive a missive from my old correspondent Dr. Brookson, who has invited me to collaborate with the other participants of this most sagacious enterprise, upon which I would direct my most intent interest even if I were not currently caught in a constant struggle to keep biting sand flies from crawling under the desiccated, peeling flaps of my solar-ravaged skin in order to lay their brood of eggs, or so George has informed me is their purpose. Being a native of the region, I have no reason to doubt the man’s word, other than his race’s most intractable tendency toward dissimilation.

As I take it from the current entries in Dr. Brookson’s communal Inter-Net journal, I share a common postulation that many, if not most, of the ills of British, and, by extension, all other Western civilization, can be traced to a most indelicate lack of civilized and intelligent discourse, most notably upon the global communications network.

Indeed, I fear that a general lack of proper civility and attention to tradition has contributed to an insupportable collapse of proper etiquette and decorum even within the ranks of Her Majesty’s armed forces, although it shames me to say it. If my great-great-etc-grandpapa, my name- and rank- sake, Edward M. Barttelot, who gave his all for the Empire during Stanley’s expedition to reinstate the Emin Pasha, could see the current state of Her Majesty’s forces, he would be shocked and, dare I say it, aghast.

This was certainly how I reacted when I arrived in Kabul to take up my newly assigned command slightly more than a fortnight ago with the Queen’s Own Greater Rutland Regiment, 1st Typographers Corps. After all, simply because one is living in tents on the edge of a desert is a slight excuse for not heeding to the most ancient traditions of our service and donning the appropriate dress uniform when attending the officers’ mess. True, the heavy wool dress uniforms of the Regiment are perhaps more appropriate for the clime to which we were originally assigned -- north-central England -- than to the desert of Afghanistan, but such trifling matters should not stand between a soldier and his duty to Queen and tradition.

I believe it was on the third day of my new command, as my officers and I gathered in the officers’ mess after another grueling day attending to Her Majesty’s forces’ secure typographic requirements across greater Afghanistan. I was regaling the cadre with another recitation of my great-great-etc-grandpapa’s service in command of Stanley’s rear echelon during the expedition to reinstate the Emin Pasha -- service that has been criminally neglected by the official histories of the era -- when I was briefly called away by a telephonic communication with my superior, who -- although I had been in country only a brief time, had taken a keen interest in my trice daily briefings on the achievements of the corps -- was not on the line. A failure of the network, the technician explained to me. Surely the Colonel would call again as soon as the problem was overcome.

When I returned to the mess, I discovered much to my delight that the lads had decanted what appeared to be a most respectable claret. I was most heartened when each man in turn offered a toast in honour of my great-great-etc-grandpapa’s sadly neglected service to the Empire, as well as my own, which each declared would certainly equal and, indeed, exceed that of my illustrious ancestor. I was so touched and moved by this show of genuine and unexpected camaraderie that I could not but imbibe for each toast, even beyond the point at which I found myself growing increasingly light-headed.

(I am certain at one point that I must have declined any further indulgence -- although, I have to admit, beyond a certain point, my memory on this matter is uncharacteristically tenebrous. I do have a distinct recollection of a most grotesque dream I endured later that evening in which an assemblage of woolen mittens weighted down my arms, while some of their companions forced the aperture of a claret bottle into my mouth, all the while massaging my throat in a most malapropos manner and repeating over and over, “We’ll show you the proper manner in which to run an officers’ mess!” It was a most curious occurrence, I must say, as I hardly ever remember my dreams at all.)

When I awoke the next morning, I most curiously found myself tied in a most undignified manner across the back of an ancient, swaybacked donkey, being led down a path that was a road only in the sense that it had been slightly scratched out of the desert floor, as opposed to simply traversing said desert floor itself, by a stoop-backed chap in the dress of the local tribesmen I had seen milling to and fro as I attended to my duties in Kabul.

After an interminable period attempting to communicate with the fellow the need to release me from this most disagreeable position, he did, indeed, stop, and allowed me to ease the burden of my weight upon his animals’ hindquarters.

I was most enraged to find myself in this wholly unexpected predicament, and was intent upon giving the Afghan a thorough thrashing until he explained to me the meaning of his indecorous transportation of an officer in Her Majesty’s service, when he handed me a letter, addressed to me, and written on the letterhead of the regimental headquarters.

According to the letter, I had been reassigned to a mission to locate and infiltrate a legendary outpost to the north of Afghanistan in which the Colonel suspected senior operatives of the Taliban had established a base of operations from which they were launching attacks against the allied expeditionary forces currently assigned to that country. The assignment, however, was of the most delicate nature, as this outpost was, according to the Colonel’s intelligence, located in an ancient city called Se’narque, located in the former Soviet republic of Khakikistan, a nation with no diplomatic relations with any western country of which one could speak, merely a variety of so-called developing nations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Botswanaland and, of course, France.

The Colonel’s letter impressed upon me the utmost requirements for security and stealth, even going so far as requiring me to consume the letter after reading it, an order that even I found somewhat uninviting, as the chap leading the donkey had clearly been holding the letter within the bowels of his caftan for a considerable period. However, being a loyal officer in Her Majesty’s Royal Army, I gormandized the missive, even as I closed my eyes and thought of England.

So it was that I made the acquaintance of my companion, George. His actual name, or what I assume to be his name, was some apparently random collection of incompatible consonants that was most unpronounceable by anyone raised within the sweet and gentle embrace of the Mother Tongue. Requiring a label by which I could address the man, I determined to call him George, honouring him with the nominative from one of the Empire’s more illustrious lines of monarch.

And so, George and I, George’s swaybacked ass following with the kit of gear assigned for my mission, crossed the frontier from the relative familiarity of Afghanistan into the unknown wilds of Khakikistan, determined to accomplish the assignment entrusted to me by my commanding officer.

I’m afraid that I must cut my entry short now, as George appears to be swaying a bit, out on that outcropping holding the parabola antenna that allows us even the tentative access to the Inter-Net that we have. I suppose I must go check to see if he is beginning to succumb to heat stroke.

Until next time, my fellow sagacious company, I am

Yrs truly,

E.M. Barttelot, Major, KCMG (disp.)

An Extract for Excogitation, Part II

Am I sexist if I say that in all instances save one I have preferred women in supervisory capacities? The sad truth is that men inevitably transform the administrative process into a prick-waving competition.

At nearly every institution of higher learning where I have been so gracious as to serve on the faculty I have encountered male administrators who are apparently intimidated by me, and the reasons why remain mysterious; I have forever maintained my abhorrence of all things bureaucratic and managerial, explicitly and emphatically stating that under no circumstances would I ever enter such a world. No, the world I aim to conquer, the fire hydrant I shall bepiss, is that of knowledge, of the mind. I have no use for titles, I have no desire to rule others. Nameplates do not impress me. And perhaps that is what frightens them: here is one not cowed by the sacred symbols of their tribe.

Though one will occasionally encounter (as I have) female administrators obsessed with proving their equality--or more likely, as they would have it, their superiority--to their Y-chromosomed colleagues through excessive browbeating, I generally find them to be far more reasonable and capable of considering the matter at hand without concern about what such-and-such decision might suggest about the size of their genitalia. I know some have accused such persons of being too deferential and fawning toward me, but such regrettable falsehoods are undoubtedly spoken out of jealousy.

I imagine it is evident I am in something of a bad temper. Perhaps it would be best to say no more. But oh yes: the matter of my item for discussion (my "puzzler") from last week. It was in fact not taken from the latest musings of Pat Buchanan or Mark Steyn (to which it is, but for a slight archaic style, otherwise identical), but rather from a curious 1835 publication entitled Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States, written by one Samuel F. B. Morse--most widely known as the inventor of the Morse Code—warning his readers not of the invasion of the Saracens but the Papists. Such words are, I think, useful for perspective when we find them repeated well-nigh verbatim in today’s opinion pages and blogs. So far as I am able to determine, our nation survived an influx of Catholics (not a few of them swarthy, and many of the rest from the Old Sod—much to the consternation of those preceding them) with (to this point) our liberties intact, despite the supposed diviners who foretold our doom well beyond the 1830s, as evidenced by the works of Paul Blanshard as well as numerous sermons warning against the election of John Kennedy.

This note is, of course, not intended as an apology for deeply regrettable barbaric behavior on the part of some Muslims. Strange as I may find Joseph Ratzinger’s New Medievalism, I am not compelled to riot in the streets. Indeed, even hothead Catholic agitator Bill Donohue resists the urge to set things aflame when he finds himself offended (which is often). But more on these matters soon.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

My Marital Status, Part 1: A Response to the Captain

In his first and latest post, the good Captain raised what has for me become an all too ubiquitous question: that of my marital status.

It may interest you to know that the Captain and I have not yet once made acquaintance--not counting those one or two brief correspondences, during the short course of our fellowship at SAGE, via this lattice of ever-swelling tubes we call the Internets. Until recently, I was thus blissfully unaware of the Captain's antediluvian attitudes toward the "fairer sex."

And what curious attitudes they are!

"In my many years, I've come across too few members of the fairer sex capable of treating with brutes such as myself," he writes. And then: "I do hope the painfully unnecessary punctuation that so unceremoniously bifurcates your surname is not, in fact, the piercing bugle oft carried by the Herald of The Armies of Feminism. That would surely sour what presently appears to be a pristine bunch of grapes."

As the Captain has taken the liberty of offering unsolicited appraisals of his colleagues for all the blogging world to peruse, I shall follow suit and let be known my first impressions of Captain Nigel P. Fritters III. (Good Captain, rest assured this gentle retort is in the spirit of genteel, erudite criticism--and I invite you to correct me if I'm wrong.)

The Captain appears to be a fossilized old Tory in the mould of a seafaring John Derbyshire. No doubt he waxes nostalgic over the days when the Union Jack flapped gloriously over the heads of millions of brown-skinned people in balmier climes. He cheered, his blue heart a-flutter, in 1982 when Maggie dispatched the British navy to those inconsequential Argentine rocks--though I suspect he could never quite support Ms. Thatcher, she being a woman in a man's job. Surely, Lady Thatcher would not call herself a feminist any more than she would call herself a Red Communist or a humble servant of Allah. Nevertheless, I'll wager that the good Captain regarded her premiership as a step too far. What next on the slippery slope to the feminist dystopia? Men suckling babes in the nursery while their wives toil late and earn the daily bread?

Here I must profess my own sympathy with what the Captain calls "The Armies of Feminism." I am a woman, after all, and an educated, modern woman at that. Moreover, I am proud to say that Daddy raised me to be a feminist.

I have more to say on this topic, but I shall leave it for a later post: I've got a date to meet a professor for coffee, and I wouldn't want to keep him waiting!

And I shall in due time arrive at the subject of my marital status, if that is what you most care to know.

How the Gettysburg Address Changed My Life-III

As Mr. Bo Jangles and I drove into Gettysburg I, for one, felt transported into a previous century.

Generally speaking, Civil War reenactors are to history what bad karaoke singers are to music, with the same jolting effect upon the senses. Everywhere I looked I saw people who looked they had either just barely survived Andersonville, or perhaps belonged back in Andersonville. It was not a pretty sight. Adding to the tension, Mr. Bo Jangles was rather surprisingly frightened by all the horses and other barnyard animals milling about. I couldn't help but notice, however, that as we drove down the main street of the town, heads were on a swivel as our bright yellow Hummer picked its way through the crowds.

Happily, it wasn't long before we were in our hotel room, relieved to be away from the wretched wartime wannabees. I did several hundred push ups, fed and watered Mr. Bo Jangles, and laid out my custom-made Lincoln regalia, which I would be donning the next day. I then proceeded, as I always do when I go to a new town, to find a game of poker.

On that evening, Gettysburg may have contained, per capita, the worst group of poker players in the Western Hemisphere. It took me less than 4 hours to clean everybody out in a simple game of Pot Limit Hold 'Em. Unfortunately, because I was playing with reenactors (most of whom wore their silly ill fitting costumes to the poker game), I was subjected to any number of half-baked lectures about the importance of the Gettysburg Address. As a general poker rule, the more people talk (about any subject), they more poker information they provide. Accordingly, I suffered through many ill-informed ramblings, but in service of the larger cause of separating my opponents from their money.

I was also subjected to an entire evening of the usual tiresome queries and jibes.

Which jibes and queries, you ask? All I will say for now, my dear readers, is that I bear a striking similarity to a very famous person from the Civil War Era. My likeness to this historical figure makes a dime store comedian out of most reenactors I meet, causes not a small amount of resentment in some others, and, for reasons that will become obvious in due course, creates in the occasional crackpot what only can be described as rage.

In addition to a number of ill-informed remarks and the usual jibes and queries, I was privy to a most interesting rumor. A man who fancied himself General George Pickett, of Pickett's Charge fame (and who, by the way, would not know pot odds from burnt ends, and was dressed like he was going to a Halloween Party at an insane asylum), advised me that there was an especially resentful individual in Gettysburg that weekend. This person, who I had never laid eyes upon, was the wife of the late "William Lincoln Epsey III" and the mother of one "William Lincoln Epsey IV." Apparently, Mrs. Epsey humbly believed her 6' 4" teenage son should be giving the Gettysburg Address the next day, rather than yours truly. According to "General Pickett," she also it in her head that I had pulled strings to oust her son from the role, notwithstanding that I had never met or even heard of the young man.

I was told of Ms. Epsey's history of violence and her myopic attachment to the role of Mary Todd Lincoln in these events. I was advised to steer clear of Ms. Epsey if at all possible. Most surprisingly, I was advised that this Ms. Epsey and her late husband had always hated me, and considered me too short of stature (!) to play the role of Father Abraham (she obviously was not aware of my handcrafted 12-inch footstool).

As I peered down at a nut flush drawing hand, I was breathlessly warned by "General Pickett" that Ms. Epsey had an uncontrollable temper. As the man continued to babble, I continued to rake in pot after pot.

I gave these warnings what I like to call "due consideration," which, for a man who had fought in over 100 mixed-martial arts tournaments, had climbed and stood atop the world's tallest and coldest mountains, and who knew, if all else failed, that he would always have Mr. Bo Jangles at his side, was no consideration at all.

That is, until I awoke the next morning to find that, as Mr. Bo Jangles and I had soundly slept, my stove-top hat, "period" boots and 12" footstool had all disappeared, without a trace.

Friday, September 22, 2006

An Extract for Excogitation

My Esteemed Colleagues,

My apologies for beginning this humble project and going "incommunicado" (as the good Major would say). Last week while wethering a young kid I was confronted with what I feared was a possible coccidiosis outbreak in my herd. As I am something of a Renaissance man, I thought it might be both enjoyable and economical to perform the fecals myself. This proved rather more troublesome than I had anticipated, and I shall henceforth refer such matters to my university's veterinary school. In any case, my fears were unfounded, and I have set aside my burdizzo and fecal loops and shall be devoting more time to our pleasurable enterprise.

I shall leave you today with a passage I recently encountered on the Internet that I believe worthy of some weekend rumination. Please share your thoughts, and early next week I shall provide some elucidation as part of a longer disquisition.

Americans, you indeed sleep upon a mine. This is scarcely a figure of speech; you have excitable materials in the bosom of your society, which, skilfully put in action by artful demagogues, will subvert your present social system; you have a foreign interest too, daily, hourly, increasing, ready to take advantage of every excitement, and which will shortly be beyond your control, or will be subdued only by blood. You have agents among you, men in the pay of those very foreign powers, whose every measure of foreign and domestic policy has now for its end and aim the destruction of liberty everywhere. To increase your peril, you have a press that will not apprise you of the dangers that threaten you . . . the daily press is blind, or asleep, or bribed, or afraid; at any rate, it is silent on this subject, and thus is throwing the weight of its influence on the side of your enemies. Foreign spies have clothed themselves in a religious dress, and so awestruck are our journalists at its sacred texture, or so unable or unwilling to discern the difference between the man and his mask, that they start away in fear, lest they should be called bigoted or intolerant, or persecuting, if they should venture to lift up the consecrated cloak that hides a foreign foe. Americans, if you depend on your daily press, you rely on a broken reed; it fails you in your need.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Old Is Once Again New?

Whew boy! This, I see, has been quite a week back home!

First, allow me to apologize for not checking in earlier this week. As promised I’ve kept abreast of my colleagues’ posts here – or the lack thereof -, but simply haven’t had the time to provide my own updates due to some unscheduled travels. Nothing exciting, I assure you, unless you consider advance laser targeting in the blistering heat your cup of tea. This is the tedious part of the job, the all important field work that makes the fun part pay off. Sadly, the old 80/20 rule applies, and like everyone in the business, we live for the 20 baby.

It wasn’t always so either. Nope way back in the early years, when my predecessors were just finding their way, improvisation was the name of the game, and to hear the stories (as well as read the classified histories), it seems as though there was plenty of adventure to go around.

One of the downsides of joining the cause at the time I did, was that by then, the agency had already become a bit of a bureaucracy. The Church hearings predominated and our country was in the grip of what I like to call the sanctimonious elite. The dirty work that had to be done was just too objectionable for these wide eyed fools, and people like the great men that preceded me were treated quite harshly for doing nothing more than supporting the cause.

But that is my axe to grind and I think we all can agree that it should stay that way.

Nope when I joined the great governmental machine was taking over. All the living on the edge and the wild improvisational daring that had characterized the team in the early days had been largely removed by the dour “risk managing” pasty faces.

Surely I was born a few decades too late! Exploding cigars! Acid coated steering wheels! Attack dolphins (friggin’ attack dolphins, can you believe it?) and many other heady gambits! These were the thrilling stories I was recruited with and they were the things that made legends of the men and women that conceived and implemented such daring schemes.

Oh sure, they weren’t always successful, and yes a few did end up causing us a little embarrassment in the long run. But the ones that worked! Such spectacular successes! These were the projects that made my blood run and gave all of us a reason to risk our lives in the name of a service that would never be acknowledged by our employer. I know it’s hard to understand, but for a job to be more than a pay check, it must have art and beauty. It must thrill the senses and feed the human need for creativity and intellectual stimulation. Hell, anyone can take out a tin pot; the Ruskies proved that. But to do so with verve and style! Well that is what makes this, our chosen life, a true pursuit!

Yes, those were the entrepreneurial days in our firm. The team was small and they were keenly aware that they were lightly funded and far behind the biggies in the business. But they knew they could be better. Yes, they had less money, and a shortage of man power, yet they had orders from the very top to win at any cost from men that knew that winning was our only option. This was the formula that inspired the greats! They were forced to use their wits, and achieve with cunning what others were able to do by spreading a little cash around.

I mention this because hope rises again in my business. Today the agency finds itself in a different situation, but one that is not without its parallels. Killers are on the loose! We face a distributed enemy, with manically committed manpower. Their systems are simple, yet elegant in a sort of primitive way that is indicative of a powerful genius. Most of all, they are driven by a wild desire to cause us great harm. This, my dear colleagues, is a new and dangerous dynamic. Our old ways are ineffective against such a foe and my team has had to get creative.

Hoo hoo! It was with a great laugh that I awoke early this morning to the news. I could hardly believe my eyes, but I know in my heart it is true! The old methods have won sway again and a tin pot was made the fool for the whole world to see.

Mind you I have no proof and no certain detail since we keep projects fairly well compartmentalized. None-the-less it sure looks to me like it’s been “back to the future” for some of my colleagues! Imagine my surprise and great amusement when, after a long day yesterday and a very short night, my team and I witnessed the performance of a certain South American leader before the U.N.! A thing of beauty! Here is a little flavor:

“Yesterday, the devil came here," "Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of."

Oh that is good…just precious! I’m reminded of what a friend once said about trying to assassinate targets with drug overdoses; “It’s a tricky thing….if you get the dosage wrong, they just end up having a good time”.

Ha! I love that line and I was reminded of it yesterday as I watched the poor man. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that they wanted to remove him from the world scene; that would have been more easily accomplished by other means. Still, it does appear as if some sort of operation was underway to discredit they guy. I do wonder if maybe they were a little heavy handed though; I mean the guy was barking! “Oooh I smell sulphur! Ooh I see a devil!”

Rich, just absolutely rich. It’s a wonder the guy didn’t start raving about the pretty colors that concealed the two headed devils swirling in the air above him! For a minute there I half expected little Hugy to announce that he had ordered garbage pizzas for everyone, and then crank some Hendrix through the PA!

Oh my goodness, I’m afraid I’ll bust a gut on this one if I go on. Really I’m sorry. I know this must seem quite untoward, but I am so damn full of pride. I tell you folks, I work with some fine Americans. Yes, I most certainly do.

Hats off boys, hats off!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How The Gettysburg Address Changed My Life-II

I mentioned in my last post that Mr. Bo Jangles has, at least for the time being, accommodated himself to short stints in the Hummer while I pursue the occasional drink, grab a workout, etc. I suppose, when under Doctor’s orders, we all do what we must, and this applies as much to adorable miniature bulldogs as it does to anybody else. Mr. Bo Jangles, however, has not always been so sanguine about these two-hour plus stints in the Hummer—classical music or not. This I learned a few short summers ago.

As many of you know, I am acknowledged legal expert in Presidential War Powers, and specifically, the use of such powers by President Lincoln during the American Civil War, aka “The Recent Unpleasantness.” Less well known is the fact that I am acknowledged as one of the finest Lincoln impersonaters presently alive today, at least since the death of President Lincoln’s great, great, great-grandson, a certain pompous and very irritating Mr. “William Lincoln Epsey, III” whose only claim to fame in this regard was, as far as I can tell, his claim to fame in this regard.

Since Mr. Epsey’s untimely death, however, there is little doubt that I am a “first among equals” as regards those who would be Lincoln. Perhaps it is my clear and high-pitched tenor voice, which allows me to project, not unlike the famed Rail Splitter himself, across large audiences and without the aid of electronic gadgetry. (Contrary to ill informed opinion on this subject, President Lincoln did not have a Henry Fondaesque baritone, and anybody who tells you otherwise is probably just succombing to a general prejudice against people with high-pitched voices, which is really nothing more than "code" for another tired form of heightism). Perhaps it is my generally imposing presence and diligent attention to detail about the Great Emancipator’s life, something which is evidenced from the top of my 7 inch custom-made, stove-top hat, to the heels of my size 4 “period” boots, and even includes the use of a hand built 12 inch step stool, all of which allows me to stand nearly 7 feet tall during Lincoln related events. Many is the time that these indicia of authenticity (aided by my scandalous memory, which allows me to recite without notes the verbatim words of Honest Abe) have brought a crowd to tears of sorrow, and sometimes joy.

Alas, perhaps it is the fact that I, too, suffer some of the same dark melancholy attributed to our finest President, and, occasionally, I must admit, succumb to the hopeful myth of reincarnation, which, during flights of fancy I cannot control, transports me back to the War Room or Telegraph Office of the President, circa 1864, wherein I imagine myself barking orders at a doddering old Lew Wallace or maybe a George "Old Slow Trot" Thomas to get off their asses and fight.

Whatever the cause, rest assured that if there is a Lincoln Day parade afoot, or some other noteworthy commemoration on the calendar relating to the Civil War, I am usually the first person called to serve in the role of the Man Who Saved The Union.

Which is exactly what happened in several years ago, when I was invited to the annual George Meade Society’s Commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg. This grand event was to consist of a three day reenactment of The Great Battle. It was to involve no less than 3,000 Civil War re-enactors, 425 horses and carriages, and countless authentic muskets and field artillery.

The culminating event was to be, of course, yours truly, playing the role of Father Abraham himself, in full regalia, and reciting the Gettysburg Address; quite possibly the greatest speech ever given; that ringing anthem to liberty (which also, it must be said, served to pick the intellectual pocket of Civil War America); and the 272 words that changed the world.

I accepted the invitation without hesitation.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

How The Gettysburg Address Changed My Life-I

I have already a had few queries about why I retired from MMA, or "Mixed Martial Arts."

I am going to assume these questions are in good faith, and are not feeble attempts to question whether a man of my stature can truly compete in the MMA world, something which, by the way, I was doing long before MMA became "cool."

As most of you know, the "public" reason for my retirement, or at least the one quoted in most of the newspapers at the time, was arthritis of the knuckles. Obviously, when one has thrown hands as many times as I, both in tournaments and in other more routine scrapes (and, yes, even when one's specialty is Gracie Jujitzu) well, that takes a toll on the knuckles. I am not bragging here, just stating facts.

Regarding the subject of routine scrapes, I can't tell you the number of times I have taken my miniature bulldog Mr. Bo Jangles with me into a quiet bar for a simple drink, only to end up having to fight my way out that very same bar, and for no apparent reason. I have learned that there is something about a miniature bulldog and my pencil-thin moustache which brings out the worst in young American males (we have never had such problems in Europe or Asia), and especially those of a certain height. Regrettably, a few years back, after one especially ugly such brawl, I had to fly Mr. Bo Jangles to LA to have him treated by a veterinarian specializing in anxiety disorders, and, I am not happy to admit this, Mr. Bo Jangles is under doctor's orders to no longer to go into bars with me. Instead, he merely stands guard in the Hummer, like a parking-lot sentinel, seemingly content so long as I keep the radio tuned in to the local classical music station, the window cracked, his favorite biscuits close at hand.

I can't help but think Mr. Bo Jangles misses the good old days. I know I sometimes do.

But arthritis of the knuckles is only a part of the story. The true cause of my retirement from MMA is Abraham Lincoln, and, specifically, the Gettysburg Address.

I will tell you about that next week.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A general throat-clearing and all that...

Most honourable readers and esteemed colleagues,
I am loathe to admit, though it will come a surprise to no one, that my woeful inexpertise with this unfathomable "Dashboard" has rather hindered any chances of an expeditious electronic rambling from yours truly. The blistering sun of this hellish underhemisphere, upon the waters of which my trusty vessel, HMS Derring-do, teeters at this very moment, has infuriatingly crept across the vast sky twice since I began the arduous undertaking of deciphering this diabolic thing. It haunts my dreams, as an amorphous horde of mysterious, yet sinister, electronic imps dancing like savages between my stooped, yet noble, frame and a simple publishing of one damned post! I appear to be holding the beasties at bay for the moment, which is a delightful change of pace for once.

Now as to the current topics of debate, les mots du jour, if you will, I am equally lost. You obscenely clever bastards burst past me daily, expelling critical thoughts and perceptions wantonly about the front page of the Society's virtual headquarters. I believe the dash-cunning Mssr Hedrick has chosen yours truly for participation in this grand experiment in part for my aged wisdom, and in the other part for my tendency to look like the legendary Mssr Van Winkle, awakening to find himself in the center of a verbal controversy strictly meant for the ears and grey matter of those short-of-tooth enough to know that once-simple words like "radical" and "gnarly" have gained surprising new connotations. In light of this profound self-realization, I'm taking upon myself to blurt forth my initial opinions of my esteemed erudite compatriots in a most rude fashion. If there's one thing this old hound enjoys, it's taking the first bite out of the exposed ankle. Let us begin:

Mssr X:
Hear, hear! Unsheathe thy weapon and drive it deep into the heart of thine enemy! Whether ‘tis from the front, your flashing saber leaping into the frantic arc of their panicked eyes, or your nefarious stiletto biting deep between their shoulder blades, I will certainly sleep easier knowing that a modern paladin, the paragon of justice, creeps through this worlds low points and strides valiantly across its peaks, meting justice to those who oppress the defenseless. Also, that exploding sheep bit is brilliant. As an advance warning to save you trouble with my fellow Britons: Keep away from the Falklands.

Mssr Steed:
Though your nom de guerre makes you sound as though you'd prefer to be ridden into battle, I am of the opinion that despite your short stature, you are oft the last brawler crawling from beneath a pile of unconscious men stacked upon the ale-soaked floorboards of many a seedy drinking establishment. I find this endearing, as well as reminiscent of the younger days of yours truly. I think every man, regardless of stature, should stand tall within their sphere of self-respect. No one, even the tiniest and most misshapen of dwarves, is better off fleeing like some Lincolnshire yellowbelly!

Mssr Mule:
Another erudite companion that appears to have developed some unnatural affinity for things equine, you also reveal a rather overdeveloped appetite pour des expériences dangereuses. Do not forget that the nomadic lifestyle of a gypsy is oft necessitated by a lingering trail of misdeeds. (I must admit, though, that the coffee sounds most exhilarating! Would it be possible to have some shipped?)

Mme/Mlle Deyton-Knox: (whose marital status remains a mystery)
What a delightful brain you have! Perusing your posts will be a treat! In my many years, I've come across too few members of the fairer sex capable of treating with brutes such as myself, and here you stand, now certainly interlocked in unending, verbal fisticuffs with this gang of prehistoric, self-deceived (myself included) "scholars". I do hope the painfully unnecessary punctuation that so unceremoniously bifurcates your surname is not, in fact, the piercing bugle oft carried by the Herald of The Armies of Feminism. That would surely sour what presently appears to be a pristine bunch of grapes.

Mssr Brookson:
What can I say about this gentleman other than if it is possible to substitute a simple word with one that is constituted of three or more extra syllables than said original word, he will certainly do so. Here we have yet another example of a man that trucks regularly with quadrupeds, though by "trucks" I mean "attempts ludicrous experiments such as training them to beat his less-than-brilliant stable hands at Scrabble". Regardless of blatant character flaws such as "pacifism"and "intellectualism", he has taken it upon himself to purchase, and comment most favourably upon my single published work of poetry, "Le Serenade D'un Homme de la Mer". For this I am, and ever shall be, eternally grateful. I am sure to press those words close to my wrinkled heart until that fateful day I dance the bitter, creaking jig off the final plank of my own, grave mortality.

I do hope this will keep you braying harpies off my desiccated hump for at least a few days of relative peace and quiet, for I solemnly swear I meant it all...every last word!

Yours Tiredly,
Captain Nigel P. "Destrier" Fritters III

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Few Words, Part 1: By Way of Explanation

Long have I been but a spectator of the vulgar bloodsport that is the partisan-political "blogosphere," and of its idiot cousins, the "personal" and "entertainment" bloggers LOL-ing their way to perpetual mediocrity. The thought of immersing myself in such acrid slough has always been distasteful, and I have thus stayed away.

Until now. Last week, I was pleased to receive an email from the esteemed Dr. Brookson, in which he extended me an invitation to join his new enterprise, the Society for Acute and Genteel Erudition. I could not have been more honored, for I consider Dr. Brookson a mentor of sorts.

I first wrote to him over a year ago, after having stumbled, quite by accident, upon his latest book (Paradise: How the World Would Be a Better Place if Only the Right Intellectuals Were Selected to Lead It) nestled between two obscure tomes on an obscure shelf at the library of my alma mater. But what serendipity! I soon realized that on the book's untouched pages were written the words of a genius. A rare genius with the mettle to reprehend what is undoubtedly reprehensible: the baseness of our public discourse.

I understood instantly that I had discovered a like mind, and for a month I searched for some way to make contact with Dr. Brookson. I combed the Internet. I made inquiries at the Classics department, the History department, and even the abominable Sociology department, but no one had even heard of a Dr. Hedrick Allan Brookson. Finally, about to give up, I found myself at the school of Law, where a friendly (if irksomely chipper) secretary directed me to the office of a sub-department known as the Association for Legal Enlightenment (ALE).

The name on the door held promise. I was not disappointed, for therein, I was introduced to a tweedy, bespectacled, English gentleman who called himself Dr. Percy Ellsworth Horsepool. While clearly a relic from another age, Dr. Horsepool proved helpful where all others were not: he was acquainted with the good Dr. Brookson.

"Ah, Hedrick," he said, leaning back in his chair. "Of course I've heard of him. A brilliant man, decent, and well ahead of his time. I am sorry to say I no longer know how to reach him. I will, however, direct you to someone who does--it is always a pleasure to be of assistance to a lady." He scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave it to me, saying, "P.D. 'Bo' Steed is a dear friend and colleague of mine. What he lacks in stature, he makes up with his scholarship, and what he lacks in scholarship, he makes up with a good game of poker. Godspeed."

I wasted no time in sending an email to P.D. "Bo" Steed. In spite of his busy schedule, Professor Steed was quick to respond with an address at which I could, at last, reach the brave scholar who had dazzled me with Paradise.

All of which is quite a long-winded* way of explaining how I came to be a part of this unique society and why, in spite of my visceral distaste for the blogging world, I am now becoming a part of it.

For Dr. Hedrick has convinced me that if anything is capable of stemming the blathering tide, doubtless it is SAGE. And if there is but a one percent chance our little endeavor will change this thing, by Jove, I shall give it my one hundred percent.

*If I am long-winded, dear reader, forgive me this foible of youth. I shall strive to be more succinct in future.

Environs Mazunte

I have taken up with a traveling circus band from Polk County. A Ukrainian gypsy plays the horn, and every night I am born again. Maybe she’s the reason I am here. It’s not the money, you can rest assured.

I come from the lower stretches of the southern hemisphere, and not that it matters this early in the game, I am a damn fine shot. I was called down to middle America for several years, and I have worked on projects similar in secrecy to our devoted Major.

What I can say is this: the Oaxacan coffee industry is built around the La Trinidad cooperative just in from the pacific coast. Hard living folks. You head east from Mazunte, that heavy-wave town of hammocks and deep water snapper. I have never seen a better stretch of beach.

I am a mountain man, though, and I do better when the air thins my breathing to a wheeze. So my story begins at 10,000 feet, with a letter from Allan.

But our band is off to Gros Ventre at dawn tomorrow, and that curve hipped thing wants a tomato sandwich. Please accept my diligent escape, for now, and I bid each of my comrades good travel. In the meantime, remember the call of that too dark crow: nevermore.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An Introduction of Sorts

It has been my recent pleasure to make the introduction of Dr. Brookson. For a pacifist, he seems to be an intelligent sort, although to be honest I’m not always fully clear on what the man is trying to say. Perhaps it’s the result of a life spent undercover, and often under fire, that has led me to appreciate brevity and clarity of communication, which, no doubt, you’ve noticed escapes my friend.

Or maybe he’s just your typical egghead type more comfortable with his books and goats than with an agent of this country who has spent his life ensuring that these United States remain free and secure for all citizens. Whatever the case, I’m grateful to him for including me in this project. As for those goats, well more on them in a minute.

Me? Well all you really need to know is that I am man familiar with danger. I’ve looked death in the eye, humped it dry, and not even bothered to kiss it goodnight! I guess you could say it was good for me. Oh, but see I’ve forgotten myself, and my esteemed company here at SAGE. Doc was worried that I’d slip into some of the more quaint colloquialisms that I’ve picked up in my exploits and I’ve promised to behave, so no more of that!

As I was saying, I’m a man of action. Many of my exploits you’ve read about in your morning paper while still in your jammies at home with a nice cup of jo. Try to comprehend that while you were sipping some overly roasted Sumatra I was, at the very same moment, high tailing it out of some backwater hell hole, made just a bit more hellish for my having been there. I don’t begrudge you your comfort; I chose my fate when I was recruited into the agency. Still, awareness, like freedom, comes at a cost. As I will remind you many times over the coming months, I am truth and my price is your innocence. Others have had to pay; now it is your turn. Consider yourself warned.

How did I come to join this project? Well it’s those damned goats that did it. During my last mission I had a need for a steady supply of the aforementioned animals. I can’t say much, so I’ll just say that in some cultures a suicide goat mission can be a very effective form of warfare. I was put in charge of the project once the concept team completed the initial specs. In the beginning we actually started with a design for exploding sheep, but you just couldn’t imagine the havoc created by all that static electricity coming out of their wool! I lost some damn fine men on that project because the boys in the concept lab really didn’t think things through at first!

So we made a field decision to switch to goats, and the truth is we were having a little trouble at the agency perfecting things with them too, logistics are always the hard part - where do you put the explosives, how in the world do you get the goat to hold still for THAT, etc.-, when the Doc was referred to me. Of course we kept him in the dark with a story about experiments on increasing milk production for the starving children, and things went pretty well for a while. That is until the Doc noticed a marked decrease in his flock and a certain correlation of that decline with the sound of explosions, coming from his back 40.

I tried to talk around the story for a while and my team feverishly kept the experiments going trying to find a methodology that was secure and repeatable. Finally, the Doc’s persistence got the best of us and I had to make a call on whether to bring the Doc in on the program, or to “ensure the integrity of the project”, to use some agency vernacular. Well, the Doc seemed like a good guy, and the truth is that his place was quite a bit more comfy than life in the foothills of some locale amidst a herd of explosive laden goats ready to be deployed. So we gave him most of the details.

As you can imagine, the Doc had a little trouble with the concept, but by then most of our work was done. We therefore agreed to desist and spent the remainder of our development time drinking the Doc’s tequila (Mexican Barking Juice he got to calling it), and improvising fireworks displays for the local toothless set with our left over plastique, some surplus aluminum fence posts and the ignition system of a ’76 lime green Nova that the Doc was driving at the time. It was at one of these all nighters that the Doc suggested I join in this effort.

I’m currently in seclusion writing my memoirs at a location I chose not to disclose. The agency is unaware of my compositional activities, so I’m keeping a low profile since this country does seem to have a continuing need for my talents. I never seem to run into a recession in my line of work, and the pay is quite good. Best of all, the agency has a terrific benefit plan; the real key to it is staying alive.

I am looking forward to our exchange of ideas, and I will ensure that my satellite uplink remains active regardless of where I may be off to.

Until we chat again remember, if you hear of any goat bomber missions, that was me.

Carpe Diem-II

In the event it is not otherwise obvious from my post yesterday and my personal website, I believe that life should be taken by the scruff of the neck and shaken, without apology.

I believe that each individual bears responsibility for the course and the actions that animate his life, notwithstanding any limitations, or, in my circumstance, the lack of limitations. I believe people should keep their hands out of each other’s pockets, both literally and figuratively. I believe that people need to suck it up, quit all the whining, and be the best they can.

And, unfortunately, I believe the lights are about to go out on Western Civilization if we refuse to unlock our lips from the sagging and tired papilla mammae of postmodernism and political correctness; if we refuse to call on the carpet the pernicious professoriate that infests our academies, responsible for that very postmodernism and political correctness, and pining for a Brave New World that would make the Taliban (or Stalin) proud; if we refuse to recognize the harsh implications of the fact that ours is a citizenry that wouldn’t know the works of Edward Gibbon from the works of Regis Philbin (and, in fact, from all indications, does not aspire to); if we refuse to hold accountable a class of political “leaders” and chattering classes (from both the left and the right—please, dear readers, try to resist the urge to pigeon-hole me) which seems, against all odds, to plum new depths of buffoonery on a daily basis; and finally, if we refuse to understand that each of the points I have just made are as interrelated as the kinky strands of a fat man's pony tail, and just as unfortunate.

These beliefs and concerns are the DNA of my philosophy, my metaphysics, my politics, my scholarship, and yes, even my oil paintings. When my participation in this project is finished (which may be sooner rather than later given the upcoming National Association of Short Statured Adults “NASSA” Bodybuilding Championship (and assuming further that my deltoids are where they need to be)) I am betting they will be yours as well.

For now, let’s get to work on talking about these problems and doing something about them, and let’s keep the whining to a minimum.* Until then,

Carpe diem, “Bo”

(*To keep things on a lighter note, I may occasionally incorporate into future posts insights into the world of high-stakes poker, answer reader mail, and perhaps offer tips on street fighting techniques (tip #1: seek to kick him squarely in the balls). Bearing in mind that I am not a performing monkey, I may also consider special requests for essays on particular topics from my fans.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Carpe Diem-I

My friend Allan has asked me to join him in this project. I must say that I do so with some trepidation, not just because I have so many demands on my time, but also because I am not used to writing anything without the strictest level of peer review, cite-checking, and/or quality control.

Such trepidation is heightened because I can hardly bear the thought of diminishing my substantial reputation with a base form of self-publishing, which may or may not put me in the same league as the authors of The Anarchist’s Cookbook or some such; which seems to allow any middle-runger with access to a keyboard to count himself as an expert, notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary; where stylistic flaccidity is the coin of the realm, and double-digit inflation prevails; where the din of this peculiar medium resembles the sounds heard when the metal lid of a garbage-filled dumpster is repeatedly slammed up and down, and creates the same effect on one’s nostrils; and where it appears that the average research and mental effort put into most “posts” seems to consist of a 2-minute Google search with a dose of warmed-over plagiarism sprinkled on top, creating a downward, vertigo-inducing spiral of ignorance.

I would not lend my time to this effort had Allan (I knew him before people called him “Dr.”) not convinced me (over a glass of fine wine on his veranda, a sad Puccini aria in the background, his delightful goats in the foreground) that this project will begin a reversal of the trends he has described, or perhaps slow them down just a bit. Frankly, I am not optimistic, but as a favor to an old friend, I offer my experience and expertise to this effort.

Allow me to introduce myself by directing you my personal website, which excerpts a profile written of me some months ago in one of the nation’s leading journals of culture. The referenced summary more or less gets it right (I am actually closer to 5’4”, which, by the way, I pointed out in a stinging letter to the editor).

Tomorrow, I shall tell you just abit about my worldview. Until then, carpe diem. "Bo"

Welcome to SAGE

Most sadly, what often passes for discourse these days sounds to my ears rather more like the braying of donkeys.

We at SAGE intend to change that. We will lead by example.

This Society is a true rarity: that singular blog wherein esteemed personages of disparate opinions and perspectives engage in a spirited and penetrating exchange of ideas, sans the boorish, tit-for-tat aboiement that has become the blogosphere’s dernier cri.

No doubt my colleagues here will offer opinions that I will consider the very depths of imbecility--the product of cruelly stunted minds, likely little better than the animal intelligence of that evolutionary dead-end, the Neanderthal. I am certain I shall recoil from such anoia no less than if I were to find myself bescumbered. And yet I will not descend to lowbrow name-calling, cheap sloganeering, or base partisanship. I ask you, what do we gain from such mindless vituperation? Shall we next dine in troughs like swine?

If you prefer cacophonous vociferation and rodomontade, then abandon this small oasis, and return to the blatherskites. But if you seek a high order of descant, I bid you welcome, and I invite you to join our discussions in the comments section. In due course, we may perhaps even invite you to join our society as a fellow.

Read and learn.