Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back in Action

Goodtime Charlie is once again stateside, so please set aside any worries you might have about our nation's future--it is once again in good hands.

What has happened while I've been away from the controls? Mucho.

The financial system has gone to pot, thanks to all the people not smoking it.

Do I sound like my mom when I say that people who risked their savings in the stock market should not have been gambling what they could not afford to lose? Yes.

According to Forbes, there are 946 billionaires in the world, due to the unrelentingly-bullish (til recently) global markets. What goes up must come down, right? Right.
Why can't each billionaire the shady financial system created just give $1 billion back to it? Oh, wait, I know--they're greedy. That's why we're in this problem in the first place...

Is it all as easy as I make it sound here? Nope.

My favorite living writer, David Foster Wallace, forever tortured by his own overbearing genius and armor-piercing powers of observation, gave up his struggles and hanged himself in Claremont, California.

Admittedly, the news wasn't exactly shocking--anybody who has read his writings realized how profoundly he struggled with the dark side of life--but it was certainly saddening. For those of us who actually read books (sadly, we are few), the next several decades just got much bleaker for the novels, stories, and essays that he will not create for our enjoyment.

On the other hand, as his sister Amy said (I'm paraphrasing here), rather than think about how much time we did not get from him, it is better to think about how much time he did give us, how long he held on to life in the face of a catastrophically acute depression. Imagining a life without his work, since I have now been spoiled by it, simply makes me grateful for every bit of writing he did provide.

It is hard, especially now, not to imagine Wallace as somewhat of a real-life Hal Incandenza, the main character of his masterwork, Infinite Jest-- so unbelievably intelligent that he is eventually unable to communicate with others, who hear his eloquent oratory only as unintelligible screaming. How long can a man tolerate that? Life at the top of the intellectual heap is no doubt lonely, and knowing all that is wrong with the world, but being powerless to fix it, must be paralyzingly frustrating.

Wallace hadn't written anything in over a year, which is mind-boggling to imagine, considering his output in the past. I always used to hope he was spending most of his time locked in a basement somewhere, methodically perfecting another Infinite Jest-like, 1000-page epic, and I know I wasn't the only one.

He was a literary giant and he will be missed.

Paul Newman also died recently. Not as relevant to my life as Wallace--mostly just a face on one of my favorite salad dressings--but I did enjoy his performances in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Cool Hand Luke. I'm glad he got to live a long, relatively-healthy, satisfying life, and I feel sorry for his wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward; that has to be tough. That is all.

In other news, pirates have taken over a ship full of weapons off the coast of Somalia, and are holding it for ransom, currently surrounded by US gunboats.

How could this have happened? I mean, this was not a freighter full of Pampers--it is crammed to the gills with 33 Russian-built tanks, grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns, ammunition, etc. Could the men onboard not have perhaps used some of their ship's cargo against the surely-outmatched Somali pirates? That might have been a good idea.

According to this article, Kenya--the purchaser of the weapons--refuses to negotiate with pirates or terrorists, and is therefore on the sidelines, waiting for other countries to solve the problem for them. Whether or not Kenya intended to give the tanks to forces in South Sudan--which would violate an agreement they have with the Sudanese government--is up for debate. The curious thing is that nobody in the Kenyan military is even trained to operate a Russian tank, since they buy theirs from us...

[Question: Should the Kenyan government be allowed to keep the cargo if it is salvaged? Or should the tanks be given to coalition forces and used to shell the pirate town of Eyl until all the pirates' SUVs and lawn ornaments are reduced to rubble? Discuss.]

That debate aside, the incident certainly begs the question that if a boatload of armaments is not safe in the water these days, what chance does anybody else have? Answer: Slim.
"Today there are thought to be ten gangs operating around Somalia with as many as 1,000 members. Two years ago there were only about a hundred pirates. Most are based in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region that angles around the Horn. Recent visitors say that the tiny fishing village of Eyl has enjoyed a huge economic boom as the pirates buy luxury 4x4s and build smart new homes. Men with laptops describing themselves as “pirate accountants” come and go and restaurants have opened to cater for more than 200 hostages. In all, 13 ships are under the control of pirates. Two more vessels – a Greek cargo ship and a Hong Kong-flagged vessel – were snatched this week and attacks are reported almost daily."
(from The Times online)
Why has the US Government not carpet-bombed this pirate village yet? They don't seem to have any problem with killing innocent people while 'valiantly' fighting to rid the world of terrorism in every other corner of the world. Maybe the pirates are more valuable as defense-contractor customers? Otherwise, you'd think they could at least stop the flow of luxury SUVs and granite counter tops, just to piss them off...

Enjoy your Tuesday, and stay tuned for tales from Tanzania...


Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Goodtime Charlie is on assignment in Tanzania until September 28th.
Please act accordingly.

- His Assistant