Archive for March, 2014

Poverty As A Parable

March 31, 2014

For reasons that may as well remain obscure, Lunghu was recently reading a slapdash historical survey of seventeenth-century Europe.  Amid stories of court intrigues, dynastic struggles, religious wars and outsized egotism, an allegorial folk tale appeared:

One day long ago, two travelers appeared in front of Poverty’s miserable hovel in the countryside.  Custom of the age required that he provide his visitors with hospitality and refreshment, so from his threadbare larder Poverty scraped together a scanty meal of bread, cheese, fruit and a little wine.  The travelers accepted gratefully, and soon completed their repast.

Humble_hut

When they had finished eating, the two guests apologized to their host, explaining that they had no money to pay for the meal, but would grant any favor he might ask.  Little suspecting that his lunch companions were actually Saints Peter and Paul in disguise, Poverty modestly asked that anyone climbing his pear tree should be obliged to remain there so long as he, the owner, pleased.  This wish was granted, and the travelers proceeded on their way.

Not long thereafter, Poverty was able to catch some of his dishonest neighbors trapped among the limbs of the pear tree, but he released each of them with a warning to sin no more.  (Although none admitted his attempted theft, word quickly got around the neighborhood.)

At last Death appeared in person, intent on carrying Poverty to the grave.  The quick-witted peasant promised to come quietly … if only he was permitted to taste one last sweet fruit from the highest bough of the pear tree.  Death obligingly climbed to the top of the tree to pick the desired morsel, only to find that he was unable to descend.  With time a-wasting and millions more souls yet to be carried to their Maker, Death was forced to strike a bargain:  if released from the tree, he would not come again for his captor until Judgement Day.

Thus it is that Poverty will be among us until the end.

In its original formulation, this parable no doubt assisted the higher orders in rationalizing their thoroughly systematic exploitation of the lowly peasant, thus permitting noble, clergy and bourgeois to salve their consciences with the consolation that inequality and suffering has always been divinely ordained.  Modern folk have more or less dispensed with the need for any celestial explanation for poverty: they prefer rationalization to have a pseudo-scientific basis –in which the poor are poor because of their own deficiencies, genetic or otherwise.  But Lunghu isn’t sharing this story merely to observe that “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”  Nope, he’s announcing that he’s hungry, and that a succulent, ripe pear sure sounds delicious right about now.  Fortunately, there are no pear trees in the neighborhood, and in any case it’s much too early in the season.  A grocery pear will have to suffice.

In ancient China, peaches were the fruits that promised immortality.   In France, apparently, it’s pears.  As far as Lunghu is concerned, dou ke yi –both are good.

 

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Untold Bounty

March 20, 2014

During the past few months, one of Lunghu’s slumbering email accounts has been receiving repeated exhortations to participate in a classic Internet scheme that  –in this day and age–  seems like a nostalgic throwback to the dawning infancy of the worldwideweb:  the good ol’ Nigerian banking scam.  Updated for the 21st Century, the word ‘Nigeria’ never appears anywhere in these emails … but two of them boldly claim to originate in nearby Ivory Coast and Ghana.  Perhaps they’re counting on the fact that most Americans’ grasp of global geography is pitifully weak.

  • >> I am checking for a honest and good heated person to partner with me and help me secure my family belongings because we are about to move out of Syria to a safer place and invest there.  I am not one of those internet fraudster I am an Islamic woman a single mother of two children.  I am looking for good investor to partner with me because I want to build up my investment outside Syria because Syria is not a safe place any more. Please you can send your reply in Arabic if you are from the arab world, I send this message in English because I do not know who this message will be delivered to.
  • >> I am a banker by profession from Ghana in West Africa and I have the opportunity of transferring the leftover funds ($17.5 million) of one of my bank clients who died along with his entire family on Monday, 31 July, 2000, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK in a plane crash.
  • >> I am Miss.  Rose Richard, 21 years old, I am the only child of late Mr & Mrs. Yve Richard.  I inherited Six Million, Four Hundred Thousand Dollars ($6,400,000.00) here in my name … and I will require your assistance in receiving the transfer of my inherited money in your local account for investment purposes.  Please i am an orphan and i need your assistance to transfer my inherited money to your country and also your assistance to secure a nice school for me in your country where I will continue my education.
  • >> It is with trust and sincerity that I approach you for assistance to transfer some funds into your bank account. Please do accept my apology if my mail infringes on your personal ethics. My name is Franc N Dumala,  a Private Lawyer based here in Johannesburg South Africa.  Honestly it will be my humble pleasure if we can work together.  PLEASE VIEW ATTACHMENT FOR DETAILS

Still, Lunghu has to wonder:  why is a 21-year-old orphan from Abidjan using email accounts furnished by a South Korean internet portal?  And why is an attorney “based in Johannesburg South Africa” using Israeli email providers?  And how is it that a young Syrian mother of two children came to be using a German email account to request help in fleeing her war-torn country?  It’s [slightly] more understandable that the “Director of Auditing and Accounting” at a Ghanaian bank would have both gmail and rocketmail accounts, but why use one account to invite a reply to the other?

Worst of all, the [alleged] amounts of money involved haven’t really kept pace with inflation.  Seventeen point five million dollars here, 6.4 million dollars there, and unspecified details in a “text file” attachment that Lunghu ain’t about to touch with a 3 meter pole.  If you want to nudge greed over the hurdle of skeptical prudence, you’re gonna have to tack on a few more zeros to the left of the decimal point.

Some of these solicitations aren’t actually old-school attempts to defraud.  At least one is probably a phishing expedition, in which the file attachment contains a malware payload.  Others may just be projects to build a “sucker list” of email addresses and cellphone numbers for onward sale to other scammers.  Or maybe it’s all merely research for a Stanford University PhD thesis.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  Until Lunghu begins seeing these solicitations updated to include a reference to the passenger manifest of MH370, he’s not going to begin planning construction of his palatial vacation home on Kerguelen Island.

Kerguelen_carte

The Book of Numbers

March 12, 2014

So; 1644 Park Avenue in Spanish Harlem.   Lunghu’s first thought was “where is ConradoLiloPons?”  According to the New York State Department of Corrections, the easy answer is … “Sullivan Correctional Facility,” where he’s serving a life-plus-one-year sentence.  So he’s not a likely suspect in this particular case.  But in his time Lilo performed a specific and necessary market function that other enterprising individuals will have undoubtedly inherited.

Post-blast_aftermath

Back in the day, Lilo and his crew were the collection/enforcement team for La Corporacion‘s Cubano bolita operators in New York City and the contiguous environs.  If a numbers spot wasn’t following market rules and had the temerity (cojones) to engage in actual competitive behavior like offering higher-than-customary payout on winning bets in the 3-digit bolita game, the Pons crew would pour a jug of gasoline under the door and set the place on fire.  Later on, they upgraded their technology by visiting the basements of offending bodegas and pumping three or four 9mm holes through the plastic casing of Con Edison’s gas meters.   Slow gas leak … time lapse … small spark from a light switch … KABOOM!

1644 Park_Avenue

Pure-minded skeptics might perhaps object that 1644 Park Avenue was home to a house of worship –the “Spanish Christian Church”– rather than a gambling den: there’s no bodega here, officer!  These are people who need to read the novels of Chester Himes, where praying and preying are not necessarily mutually exclusive forms of human behavior.   The pastors of a struggling congregation might need a secondary source of income when the collection plate comes back a little bit too light too many Sundays in a row.   Or the landlord may have made an offer that would have been unwise to refuse.  Or the storefront church might have been a sham from its inception.  Many possible paths can lead to the same road.

So, just as we probably shouldn’t fixate on putative Iranian asylum-seekers as primary suspects in an aviation disaster, we probably shouldn’t reflexively assume a terrorist bomb blew up two brick buildings in Spanish Harlem.  Alternative hypotheses are available. They may even be more likely.  Like construction/ renovation in the neighborhood … performed by careless workmen.  Ya nevah know.

Remants

Crimea nd Punishment

March 10, 2014

Lunghu has not been spending a great deal of time pondering the deep geopolitical significance of recent events in Ukraine.   Nor has he been reviewing that 19th C. English literature warhorse “The Charge of the Light Brigade” to glean any insights into the likely outcome … “cannons to the right of them, cannons to the left of them” is just about all you really have to know.   Instead, Lunghu was inspired to reflect upon the possible influence of 19th c. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky on 2014’s unfolding tragedy.

Dostoyevsky used the characters, dialogue and narrative in Crime and Punishment to articulate an argument against westernizing ideas in general.  The original title (“Преступление и наказание“) is not directly equivalent to the English “Crime and Punishment“.  “Преступление” is literally translated as a stepping across.  The [visual] image of crime as a crossing over a barrier or a boundary is [thus] lost in translation.

Raskolnikov

The novel’s principal protagonist is named Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov:

  • the root word raskol means a schism, or split;
  • raskolnik is “one who splits”;
  • the verb raskalyvat’ means “to cleave”, “to split” or “to break”.

And in case you’ve forgotten, the events of the novel are set in St. Petersburg, the ancestral home of … Comrade Bear.  It is therefore likely that Dostoyevsky’s emphasis on the importance of social cohesion, religious faith, and Slavic culture resonated strongly with the young bear cub when he first encountered this work, and perhaps remain a significant aspect of his worldview even today.  For whatever that’s worth.

To sum up:  Putin‘s imagination appears guided by Dostoyevsky, Medvedev‘s perhaps by Gogol.

gratuitous partial nudity

gratuitous partial nudity

Been Here, Done Hat

March 2, 2014

Somehow, Lunghu gets the feeling that a major focus of discussion in this weekend’s NSC Ukraine crisis cell has been whether or not to openly deploy space-based laser weapons against Russia’s munitions depots and military mobilization network nodes in the Don River basin.   Naturally, the naysayers are voicing concerns that Comrade Bear would go all-out cyber –or even partially nuclear– in response.   In addition, there are undoubtedly some longer-term thinkers in our nation’s military who are loath to disclose this particular capability prematurely: better to save it for an existential threat to the heimat itself.   What does Lungu think?  Time to party like there’s no tomorrow:  it’s carnival season.

bloco-da-lama_2013

Thousands of revelers, their bikinis and shorts invisible beneath thick, head-to-toe layers of black mud and their hair frozen into mud Mohawks, danced, drank and flung mud balls as sound trucks blasted bone-jarring rhythms at the “Bloco da Lama” Carnival street party in the Brazilian town of Paraty. The “Bloco da Lama” was founded in 1986 by two local teens who became Carnival sensations after they appeared in the city’s historic downtown covered in mud following a crab hunting expedition in a nearby mangrove swamp.

Bloco_da_Lama_201x

“You don’t need to buy anything, you don’t need to spend any money, your costume is here for the taking,” said 28-year-old actress Diana Rodrigues, as she pointed to the naturally occurring mudbanks along the Jabaquara beach in Paraty. “The whole point of Carnival is to transform into someone else for a few days to do things you would never do in real life. And being covered in mud transforms you in just that way.”

Paraty_20140301

For those of you planning next year’s excursion, Paraty is located halfway between Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo on the western shore of Bahia da Ilha Grande.  Make mud, not war.   Now the bad news:  it’s not yet mud season in the United States … except in southern California.