Sticks Up The Bum, mr. putin!

A word of explanation: the Elegant Bastard acknowledges that this is the second consecutive post involving foreign objects being inserted in various body parts. This should not be regarded as a trend. The “fly up the nose” of the previous post was a committee decision, one made after more than one bottle of a good Ripasso. As for “Sticks up the bum”, that phrase came (as does so much that is wise) directly from the mouths of babes.

Oh mr. putin, mr. putin, mr. putin. What are we to make of you, eh? Here it was, a lovely Friday morning, one so sunny and so mild that here in Toronto we could all sit back with our morning beverage, gaze at the whimsical flurries of snow  and imagine a ford-free future.

And then you had to spoil it all by saying something stupid like, “Gay people will be safe at Olympics if they ‘leave kids alone’.

Now really, mr. putin, what was that all about? Did you grin at the image of outraged crowds rushing to all available microphones, ranting and raving about homophobia, your own abuse of children and your latest insult to the Olympic spirit? Did you smile and envision hordes of commentators spluttering in fury and waving the reports that completely invalidate your scummy accusation? Did you giggle in anticipation of the storm?

Look around, vlad. Listen carefully. It’s only one day later and – guess what – no storm. Where are the offended masses?

They’re walking dogs, vlad, or they’re watching football, or studying, or, in my case, prepping an upcoming post about some recently encountered white wines.  And why not? You’re the boy we’ve called “goof” once too often for there to be any chance we would take you seriously. Oh, there might be some minimal “analysis” or “commentary”. It’s a Saturday, typically a slow news day and something’s got to keep the ratings up. But most of us will, I think, just shrug our shoulders and see it as yet another bad vlad day. That’s how irrelevant you’ve become.

And in any case, mr. putin, we know you were not posing an argument. You were performing. For you as for Iran’s ahmadinejad, North Korea’s un (and recently its rodman), Syria’s assad, Toronto’s ford, and all the other piggy-eyed little chinless wonders who periodically find themselves on the world stage, it’s not about the content, is it? It’s about the noise. You are there to make noise and any noise at all will do. What’s fascinating is the motive, this question of what makes putin “tick”?

Just who are you, mr. putin? At first I saw you as a modern day Iago, that great villain from Shakespeare’s Othello. For readers who have yet to experience the play, here’s a brutally brief synopsis of Act Three, scene one. Othello, a Moor (and therefore non-white) has married Desdemona (quite white), the young daughter of a Venetian nobleman (very, very White!) All the affected and offended parties (largely white) storm into the palace to see who (or how many) will end up headless. Every Grand and not-so-grand Poobah is there. So is Iago (kind of pale grey or off-white). He is Othello’s servant and a truly nasty little man.

In the next few minutes, everyone – except Iago – gets to speak: the ruler of Venice, the Moor, some senators and even a teenage girl! Iago clearly feels this is an insult because as soon as the stage is empty, he struts, frets, threatens, pronounces, fumes, cackles and even adds an occasional mwahahaha to show himself what a big bad boy he is. He basically behaves like a poster boy for erectile dysfunction.

That’s more or less how I saw putin – Iago without the cool iambics. In short, he seemed to be the classic little man. Throw in a big case of penis-envy and you’ve got someone the NRA would love to get to know.

But that idea didn’t work. Oh it explained the most recent anti-gay slur and his unsubtle bullying of the Ukraine. But these acts were obvious and clumsy, akin to our ford’s attempt to toss a football or run a lap in the council chamber. The original Iago could be subtle when necessary, and putin doesn’t do subtle.

I next imagined him as a little boy wearing his daddy’s shoes and demanding to be allowed to sit with the grown-ups. His manners are so terrible, however, that he is banished to the children’s table in the pantry. Here, instead of throwing potatoes at his sister, he sells arms to Syria.

Whether little man or little boy, the key word here is “little”. It’s clear that putin, like our ford, feels his smallness. In one famous television scene, he and America’s Obama are sitting beside each other on a stage.  putin gets to his feet. Then Obama stands up – and up – and up, up, up. The look of absolute hatred on putin’s face is almost shocking. Rumour has it that putin’s photo shoots are arranged to ensure that no one taller than he is included in the scene. (Apparently this makes it difficult to assemble much of a crowd.)

Yet there was something about the “little” variants that still didn’t quite satisfy me. “Little” came close to expressing his essence but something essential was missing. I discovered the secret in Prague.

The Czechs are famous for puppet theatre. A year or so ago, I had the opportunity to walk through a showroom created by one troupe of performers. Here we could see the puppets at rest. They were all standing and with most, the strings were evident. But a few had the strings folded and placed neatly beside them. How then, I wondered, did they stand erect?

One little girl, clearly bursting with scientific curiousity, decided to find out. To the crowd’s horror, she slipped under the guard rope, ran up to an elaborately dressed puppet king and lifted his gorgeous robe. She then called to her mother, revealing the answer to all (who spoke Czech.) However, translations were made available and the whole room soon dissolved into multilingual laughter. What had the little girl said?

“Mommy. He has a stick up his bum.”

In fact, he didn’t. The puppet was simply mounted on a cleverly designed stand. Still, the little girl’s mistake was understandable. And as I reread the story of Putin’s gratuitous and boorish insult to visiting gay athletes and spectators, I am reminded of the little girl’s comment. It captures the missing piece of the putin puzzle  and is equally true of assad and ahmadinejad and our ford. They are puppets, caricatures of power, each held in place with a stick up its bum until its time for it to dance,  twirl, kick, or fight according to its masters’ dictates.

What part of putin made the comment about gay visitors – the Iago, the little boy, the man on a stick? It doesn’t matter. It’s noise. What can we do about it? I suppose it would be nice to expose those who pull the puppets’ strings or manipulate the stick. That would help. Oh yes, and one more thing.

 We could stop electing them to high office.

To the Reader: As Facebook attempts to deal with its unpleasant economic realities, it seems to be changing the way it serves its members. Whether the issue is capacity or shifting priorities, fewer and fewer people are notified when members post. If you enjoy “The Elegant Bastard” and wish to know when new material is published, you should consider going to its facebook page and “liking” the page ( not just a specific post.) Apparently you will then be notified when new posts occur. Here is the link:  https://www.facebook.com/theelegantbastard

 

 

The Deadly Art of Napping

In which the Elegant Bastard argues in favor of limited warfare and offers instruction in the use of appropriate weapons.

I am never at my best when I am under attack.

To a certain extent, these repeated assaults are my own fault, the outcome of my unfortunate tendency to stray without purpose or protection into the larger world. One moment I am safely involved in determining whether this will be a whole wheat or a multi-grain morning. I decide, I toast, and I butter. I then settle into the sunlight and my favorite chair. I am ready to chew peacefully. I turn on the radio…

And suddenly, I am being told that assorted biker-persons have taken to assaulting large sports utility vehicles, that Suzanne Sommers wants the world to know that she and her husband have sex twice a day, that a television network somewhere is promising to provide its viewers with hungrier zombies.

When I find myself wondering if zombies eat toast, I know I have been wounded.

I recover and a little while later, I try again. Friends have arrived. The beans have been properly ground and their rich scent fills the room. We talk about Alice Monroe, the weather in Barcelona and the price of organic asparagus. Someone turns on the television…

And Boehner’s blaming Obama and Obama’s blaming Boehner. The Sochi Olympic flame has gone out four times in two days. Hannah Montana has been murdered; the self-proclaimed killer: Miley Cyrus. Malala wants to be Prime Minister of Pakistan; Beyonce has a new perfume,

I begin to slip over the edge. I lose my grip on the narrative, it fractures into fragments and brand new headlines start to scream: Suzanne Sommers Denies She Had Sex with Olympic Torch; Miley Cyrus Blames Sochi for Boehner: Malala Launches Four New Fragrances; Beyonce Wins in Pakistan; Obama Charged in Hannah Zombie Assault.

I could, were I more careful, avoid this chaotic state of mind. I could simply discipline myself to spend as much time as possible focused on the immediate here and now. I could rush to the rescue of colleagues in need of caffeine, or spend a fruitful hour selecting tomatoes, or unleash a wave of scrubbing bubbles upon the kitchen counter for no reason other than, like Everest, it’s there. And surely somewhere there are essays to mark? But just as I push myself to my feet and stride off to find writers in need of correction, a newspaper is pushed through the mail slot and there, staring up at me from the floor, is the most recent news about the Dennis Rodman – Kim Jong Un bromance … and something in my brain goes TILT.

Now everything I see and smell and hear offends me: my breakfast cereal snaps feebly and it crackles not at all; the pigeons gathering nearby are clearly engaged in a conspiracy; there are far too many people wearing pink who shouldn’t; I discover I live in a city where no matter which way I bike, the wind is in my face; my baguette turns stale in protest; suicidal moths find a window I left open; I swear at the annoying rain but it falls anyway.

Do I flee, gibbering and groaning? Do I stumble off in search of drink or drugs or dark, dark closets? I do not. No, not I, for I am made of stronger stuff. I do what I have learned to do before when all that’s sane seems ready to betray me. I declare war on the world.

What’s that, Dear Reader? You did not know we were allowed to declare war on an individual and ad hoc basis? But of course we are. I see it as a basic human right, and as something we have always done very well. So by all means, wage away. You simply need to find the most effective means of doing so.

I nap.

And before you scoff, let me assure you that the very best authorities endorse my chosen means of engagement. Consider the purpose of a just war (and all my wars are just!)  It seeks to deny an actual or potential enemy the ability to inflict harm. To accomplish this I must understand the nature and motive of the enemy and strike it at its weakest point. I must also attempt to protect myself from unnecessary risk or catastrophic costs. This requires the efficient movement of all available forces as well as the careful observation of rituals and traditions to keep morale at the highest possible levels until victory is finally achieved. It is to these ends that I have developed the Deadly Art of Napping.

My enemy (and yours, Dear Reader) is the mindless and ceaseless barrage of useless “infotainment” launched at us by the barking hordes some call the media.  As massive as this foe might seem, it is vulnerable at one key point: the moment it enters our homes, our private worlds. It is here that our horizontal hostility may – and must – manifest itself!

Let’s review some basic rules. Combat Napping cannot be done on a bed, in pajamas or in the dark. It must not be subtle or easily confused with sleep. Sleep is submission; only naps have teeth. My enemy must know it has been bitten.  I nap fully dressed on the living room couch.

I commence hostilities in the late afternoon or very early evening, precisely when assembled media forces begin to launch their heaviest weapons, their nightly news programs. Like any good soldier, I have gathered reliable intelligence (I love Google) and I know exactly when the first incoming salvos may be expected. In preparation, I turn on the television, set it to mute and scroll through the sub-titling options available before finally selecting something that looks like it could be the national language of Mars. I spend a few delightful moments watching Woolf Blitzer jabber soundlessly, nonsensically and – dare I say it – desperately while I grin (evilly). Ah, but then I remember that this is war and I take up my position.

I open the curtains and the window. I sit down, lay back and position my head upon two plumped pillows, for while I acknowledge that war is hell, I am not prepared to have it be uncomfortable. My feet point east and the back of my head points west, thereby ensuring that the setting sun does not enter the fray as a CNN or BBC agent provocateur. I pick up the novel of my choice – an oh-so subtle insult, no? – open it and rest it on my chest. I check for rations and notice that allied forces have thoughtfully contributed some wine, a few olives, a bit of cheese and a sleepy kitten.  I move my reading glasses down my nose, I breathe deeply and I close my eyes.

The battle is joined.

I know it is intense. I know that just over my right shoulder, the legions of prattle and tattle are demanding my attention. They urge me to regard with shock and awe the news of the great world’s turning. They may offer me panoramic views of floods and fires and fist pumping mobs or close-ups of the tearful, the terrified and the outraged. Whatever!  I am unmoved. I enter my mind, scroll down through the list of prepared dreams, select one and press Play.

They turn to new tactics: not tragedy, but scandal. If killings do not engage me, then what about inappropriate donations, unfortunate copulations, unhealthy inhalations, or even just weird things done with tongues. But in my napping state – somewhere  just below consciousness –  offerings like these cannot arouse me. Yes, I could surface. Of course I could stretch and twist and at least see. But doing so would disturb the kitten on my chest, and that would be cruel. I am never cruel.

We enter the final stage of the conflict. Here come the “Cute”: the chubby baby pandas, and the clumsy puppies, and the strangely dressed cats, and the funny videos of people falling in or out of places and the interview with yet another celebrity who wants to work for third world peace, albeit only on a New York stage. I am invited to please, please, please laugh and cry and be moved.

But I am unmoved. I sense their weakness; their force is dulled and their edge is blunted. Here, safe on home ground, I launch my most powerful weapon. I like to think that at the moment of detonation, three anchor persons, each equipped with at least two of the Big Teeth-Big Hair-Big Smile trinity are gazing out on what they believe is an attentive and adoring world. I imagine them asking each other questions and then telling each other how wonderful the questions were. I almost hear them telling me to wait while they switch to their correspondent who is “LIVE” in Washington and ready to tell me what the president is doing in Wyoming.

And then I snore.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu refers to the use of weapons in Chapter Twelve, “The Attack by Fire”. A snore is admittedly not combustible, but well timed and well-delivered, one snore can achieve an ironic force  measureable only in megatons.  (And for the record, those who have heard me snore are quite unanimous in preferring immolation to being forced to attend a repeat performance.)

Having snored, I wake, and look around. My war is done. I have demonstrated the truth of one of Tzu’s most critical pieces of advice. “Good warriors take their stand on ground where they cannot lose.” Damn right, Sun, ol’ Buddy! It’s my room, my remote, my couch, my nap, my snore. I win.

I restore my television to its normal settings. The network puppets and my imaginary trinity are all gone, replaced by men with bad hair and plaid jackets telling me what to do when I’m hurt in a car or have stolen jewellery to sell. I go to the window and gaze out over my city. Things seem calm. Order – or its semblance – appears to have been restored. The pigeons even seem to be apologizing.

We cannot write the whole script. But we can always write a little, and improvise an occasional ad lib when the dialogue gets dull. As for those times when the chattering classes seem on the verge of pushing us over the edge, well, that’s when we soldier up and bring out the heavy artillery. We turn our backs and execute an elegant nap, snoring away our foes and reducing them instantly to nothing more than ludicrous mime and impotent fury.

It is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. We shall have turkey and football, both excellent precursors to naps. I have already claimed the couch. And tomorrow we shall have our Prime Minister’s Speech from the Throne. Given his recent history, I am anticipating the sale of at least one – and perhaps two – provinces. Subsequent couch access will apparently be determined by lottery. I have my ticket..

 As is the norm, our outrage has a short shadow, even when it should remain alive. Today for some reason I remembered a young man killed recently by police. I wrote about it at the time. The piece is here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-6s

 

 

 

 

A Letter to whistleblower Edward Snowden

In which the Elegant Bastard objects to Edward Snowden’s use of poetry even more than to his politics.

No, Mr. Snowden, no! This will not do.

I might sit idly by while you do your imitation of Deep Throat and dabble with your nation’s laws and make a play for media stardom and great wealth – others have done far worse – but when you seize upon one of the great heroic poems and try and turn it to an epitaph for your increasingly sad and puerile little tale, Patience sits up straight in her accustomed place on my shoulder, says “Screw this noise” and orders me to rant.

You say, Mr. Snowden, that, “I am unbowed.” Your use of “unbowed” is no accident. It is one of the most moving moments in William Ernest Henley’s, “Invictus”. Henley wrote the poem as a teenager in the 1860’s after losing his leg to tuberculosis of the bone. Imagine the thoughts racing through a sixteen year old boy’s mind as he faces the sure knife and uncertain anesthetics of that era. Imagine his thoughts when a few years later, the other leg contracts the same disease. Fate was not done with him. In his middle years, he would lose his beloved daughter, Margaret Emma – the inspiration for Wendy in Peter Pan – to meningitis. Each time he was able to raise his bloodied head  and move forward.  His words – “I am unbowed” –  become an existential anthem, a barbaric YAWP . Mr. Snowden, in your mouth, they become a whine.

In fact, let’s take a little stroll through that short poem and compare it to the experience you have chosen for yourself.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,

Mr. Snowden, look around. You are not in a “pit” or a perpetual “night”. You are in Moscow’s International Airport where the Putin government, having used you once, apparently has no desire to use you twice. Moscow may not be your destination of choice but I think it transcends the desperate ambiance and inadequate facilities found in a nineteenth century British hospital.

I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

As an atheist and an existentialist, I struggle with notions of God and soul. Still, as a curious man, I am often intrigued by others’ arguments concerning the existence of either. They speak of faith and of the need to be guided by something greater than personal comfort, profit, ease or health. Proof, it seems, is in the suffering. Lot, Job and Abraham demonstrate this in the Bible; Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Oskar Schindler and the Standing Man in Tiananmen square demonstrate heroic suffering in our own era. Each faced death for something greater than Self.

Again, Mr. Snowden, you are sleeping on waiting room chairs and eating whatever the vending machines can offer. That may be tough, but it ain’t no existential threat, now is it. Nor does there seem to be a line-up of those seeking to murder or martyr you. In fact, until your most recent outburst, we all seemed to be in the process of forgetting you, especially since Mr. Obama seems as bored with you as Mr. Putin. (Yes, CNN still loves you – you poor man!) So it`s a little early to claim to be “unconquerable”. (Especially since Daddy is apparently negotiating optimum terms for your surrender as I write this.)

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Mr. Snowden, you have not yet stopped wincing. You are turning wincing into an art form. True, many in the American media are hurling nasty words at you, but that is their habit. Sticks and stones, Mr. Snowden, sticks and stones. And since many of them seem to feel that you have broken their nation’s laws – which you admit – and endangered national security – which you argue is less important than moral issues – what did you think they would do? Send chocolates and flowers to Moscow? But bludgeoned? Oh come! Bieber has been bludgeoned. Baldwin will be. You haven’t even been spanked. As for complaining about the “clutch of circumstance”, no one shoved you in a box, flourished the duct tape and forced you to Moscow.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

Wrath and tears?.Were you a 16 year old young man who had survived an undeserved ordeal, only to find it returning, I would be moved to weep for you. But this is not the case. You are an articulate and educated adult. You claim to be outraged by the systemic abuse of human rights by the government expected to defend those rights. To address this, you deliberately broke laws and endangered what others regarded as necessary measures. You claimed this abuse was secret; others argued that safeguards were in place. In short, you are right smack dab in the middle of what most would call a debate, one that you began. There’s been some wrath but no tears and as for “the Horror of the shade”, well, Death seems as bored by the whole business as Obama so let’s try to be a tad less hysterical.

I have not yet entirely decided whether I personally approve or disapprove of the action you took that precipitated your current condidtion. I am, however, beginning to find you tiresome. More and more, you strike me as a person with an “i” who dearly wants an “I” and more than anything an I. Your bio suggests a life of flitting here and there in search of a convenient cause. And you would not be the first to use such a cause to arrange a painless and temporary crucifixion as the first steps toward a guest shot on “Piers Morgan Live” and a condo on Fifth Avenue.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

It is in this last stanza that I find the greatest lie. In its first two lines, Henley announces his determination to go forward, to accept the uncertainties and pains that life brings to all of us. He notes that the expectations placed upon him are high and that he must acknowledge his own sins and possible punishments. You, Mr. Snowden, for whatever reason, have set yourself above the law and placed your own morality above what we sometimes term “shared values”.  This is your right as a free person in a democracy. What you face now are simply consequences – expected and deserved – unless in your paradigm you feel you have achieved a higher status, one transcending the reach of the nation’s or God’s laws. If so, you have greater issues to deal with that the comfort provided by waiting room seats in Moscow.

And given your current situation, the last two lines are simply ironic. You are now the tool of The Guardian, a source for writers seeking lucrative stories, a plaything to be used as Putin slaps around Obama to score points back home, and yet another stick Ecuador’s Correa will use to beat up the US to deflect his people’s attention from the ongoing crisis that is Ecuador. From this I suppose will come some benefit – a book deal certainly (though the book tour might be necessarily limited in scope.)

But you are not Henley, Mr. Snowden. And “Invictus” was not written for you.