Annual Performance Review: Col. Gaddafi

February 25, 2011

Emboldened by their victorious brethren in Cairo and Tunis, thousands of Libyans have lately taken to the streets in opposition to the dictatorial rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The Colonel came to power after a successful  coup in 1969, replacing the formerly regnant King Idris I. With the death of Omar Bongo of Gabon in 2009, Colonel Gaddafi became the longest-ruling (“longest-serving” is too charitable a term for what he does) current non-royal leader of a nation.

In the decades since he seized power, Colonel Gaddafi has proven erratic and antagonistic to western democracy: he actively courted IRA and PLO terrorists, wooed African strongman and cannibal Idi Amin, and has engaged French-speaking mercenaries in these recent weeks to crush his uprising populace.

Anybody on the job for three decades is bound to develop some bad habits. It’s the reason for annual evaluations and corporate reviews. In that regard, and in light of his late travails, your editorial staff humbly submits these notes and asides to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, on the occasion of his annual performance review after three decades of “service” to Libya:

  1. Avoid engaging foreign mercenaries to put down uprisings. If your own army and police forces are inadequate or unwilling to contain the general distaste for you, it’s likely time to jump ship.
  2. Stop bringing an authentic Bedouin tent and a camel everywhere you go. Just book a conference room.
  3. Stop dressing like a rodeo clown. When was the last time you saw the leader of any developed country wearing purple maternity dresses, Tom Wolff white suits with black cut-outs of Africa pinned to themstuck-on photographs, and military uniforms in every color of the rainbow covered with made-up awards… all in the same day?
  4. You’ve been a colonel in the Libyan army since 1969. You run the country. Go ahead… make yourself a general. Or something better, like Voltron: Defender of The Universe. Who’s going to stop you?  
  5. You’ve instructed the Libyan press to refer to you as “Leader & Guide of The Revolution” and “Guide of The First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.” If those instructions were your opening gambit in a global game of Most Ridiculous Title Ever, you’re winning. If not, you’re ridiculous. Serious titles need only one word, two at the most: President, Prime Minister, Secretary General, etc. In recognition of your wardrobe, we suggest Queen. 
  6. Wash your hair.
  7. Either grow a beard, or don’t. You can’t have it both ways.
  8. If you’re in a place that isn’t very sunny – like inside a building – don’t wear sunglasses.
  9. When you wear dazzling white military uniforms, dark sunglasses, and a surgical mask over your face, you look like Michael Jackson.
  10. You’re 68 years old. Retire.
  11. Look less like Carlos Santana.

Something To Talk About

February 16, 2011

The web log Easy & Elegant Life recently published its author’s account of breakfast at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C., a nice place across the street from the White House. Like most nice places, the Hay-Adams has abandoned – like rats jumping off a beautiful and majestically sinking ship – the idea of a dress code, opting instead for self-correction among patrons at the behest of public shaming.

Breakfast at the Hay-Adams.

(With regard to patrons immune to, or ignorant of, public shaming – i.e., The Real Housewives of New Jersey – the hotel seems without recourse.)

Still, most people dress appropriately for breakfast at the Hay-Adams (if for no other reason than the cost of rooms encourages a clientage partial to materialism). The author reports blazers, sweaters, trousers, and shined shoes in evidence.

He reports also a man in a gun-check plaid jacket, yellow tie, blue-and-white blucher-striped shirt, and bespoke gray slacks, with a willowy lady in red. They sat in silence by a window while she had grapefruit juice and he had nothing. He stood up and left, she followed, and shortly thereafter a uniformed driver came in to retrieve the man’s briefcase, which he’d left at the table. The room was quickly rife with speculation. A visiting diplomat and his secretary? Ambassador and wife? Foreign businessman and consort?

On the opposite side of the room as the mysterious couple had been, a group of friends was eating breakfast too. They wore shorts, sweatpants, sneakers, and short-sleeved shirts. Nobody paid any attention to them.

The moral is, you can eat breakfast dressed however you like. The days when you might be turned back for appearing under-dressed exist now only in nostalgia. Bespoke gun-check plaid jacket or sweatpants, the choice is yours and the waiters will serve you either way.

But a striking figure still generates interest. The well-turned out man carries with him an idea of intrigue and derring-do the slob in sweatpants never will, though they both may eat the same breakfast. The lesson is, what matters is not just that you live (or, eat breakfast)… but also how you do it. We all know how James Bond prefered his martinis. Do any of us care how Bobby down the street prefers his wine in a box?

Carnival – 1, F. Scott Fitzgerald – 0

February 15, 2011

Yesterday’s Boston Globe published this history of the Dartmouth College Winter Carnival, re-printed below with as minimal abridgement as possible: 

Of all the winter traditions in New England — inaccurate forecasts; broken shovels; gaping potholes — this one might be the most fun: the Dartmouth College Winter Carnival, celebrating its 100th year this weekend.

Once known nationally as “the Mardi Gras of the north,’’ and famously used to lure women to Dartmouth before the school went coed, Winter Carnival inspired a Hollywood film, and proved too much for no less a party pro than F. Scott Fitzgerald. He attended in 1939, ostensibly to collect material for the movie’s screenplay, but was so done in by heavy drinking he left early.

The carnival was invented in 1911 as a series of athletic competitions to help dispel the doldrums of the long New Hampshire winter. But the weekend soon took on a vital social function — attracting young women to the all-male Dartmouth in the dead of winter. In time, the picturesque campus, dotted with snow sculptures and sweater-clad couples, was adopted far beyond New England as a kitschy symbol of winter fun, and the college, 120 miles from Boston, became a destination for would-be carnival queens.

But in the beginning, when the future was uncertain, Dartmouth men were called to duty.

Winter Carnival “will not succeed without girls,’’ warned the college newspaper, The Dartmouth, in 1912, according to a history the paper published last week. “It is up to every man with a purse or a heart or a bit of enthusiasm . . . to make haste to procure that most necessary item.’’

To mark this year’s centennial, organizers brought back lost traditions, including the Carnival Ball, a formal dance that was held from 1913 to 1932; a snow sculpture contest; and snowshoe races on the Green.

They did not revive the “Queen of the Snows’’ pageant, the wildly popular competition that began in 1923 and ended in 1972, the year the school went coed. The pageant attracted hundreds of contestants, and even the interest of Hollywood starlets, some of whom tried to get an edge on the crown, said Jere Daniell, a Dartmouth history professor and 1955 graduate.

The real significance of the carnival, said Daniell, is the role it played in the transformation of Dartmouth from a failing regional college at the end of the 19th century to an elite institution with a national profile.

“It helped create an idea of community within the student body and the faculty — this sense of being from Dartmouth — and it put Dartmouth on the national map,’’ said Daniell, 78. “Like a lot of things that are flashy at one point, it’s less so now, but it is a celebration of winter, and an acknowledgment of the process that turned Dartmouth into an amazing place.’’

In the early years, students’ carnival “dates’’ were often women they had never met, who shipped north for the weekend from New York or Boston on Dartmouth-bound trains. By the 1930s, the town was swamped. “Hanover is set back on its collective heels as girls, girls, girls pour in,’’ blared the college newspaper in February 1939, according to a 2003 story in The New York Times.

It was 1939 when Fitzgerald visited carnival, sent by a movie producer who wanted a script. Budd Schulberg, a Dartmouth-educated writer who accompanied him on the trip, recalled in a 2003 interview with the Times how they started drinking champagne on the plane from California and never sobered up. Schulberg, who died in 2009, fictionalized the story of that weekend in his novel “The Disenchanted.’’

Nantucket Whaler’s Tale, Resurrected

February 11, 2011

Herman Melville, shortly after publishing Moby-Dick to middling reviews, travelled to the island of Nantucket to visit a man he’d never met before, a retired town watchman named George Pollard, Jr. The young writer and the old watchman struck up a warm friendship trading stories about a mutual professional interest: whaling.

Melville had worked whaling boats prior to the publication of his novel and, as whaler and writer both, had plenty of stories to trade. But Pollard had him beat: in 1820 he was given the helm of the Essex, a star-crossed Nantucket whaler, which suffered the fantastic fate of actually being attacked and sunk by an enormous sperm whale. The former Captain Pollard and his crew thereafter took to the sea in small life boats and skiffs made to chase whales, drifting and starving till rescue. Rescue, when it came, had been so delayed that Pollard, starving and mad, had already eaten his cousin.

Apparently an optimist, Pollard accepted command of another ship, the Two Brothers, shortly after. He returned to the whaling waters off the coast of Nantucket with plans to explore the newly opened Japan Ground, but promptly sank again. Pollard then settled on Nantucket island and took the watchman job, living a landed life and enjoying the company of fellow islanders, many of them retired captains also.

Now, marine archeologists have discovered the remains of the Two Brothers and, among them, a trove of whaling treasure: harpoon tips, blubber hooks, whaling lances, and three intact anchors. “Very little material has been recovered from whale ships that foundered because they generally went down far from shore and in the deepest oceans,” Ben Simons, chief curator of the Nantucket Historical Association, recently told The New York Times. “We have a lot of logbooks and journals that record disasters at sea, but to be taken to the actual scene of the sunken vessel — that’s really what is so amazing about this.”

Corporations Turn 192

February 3, 2011

On this day in 1819 the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, in which the Court made law the notion that private corporations ought to be protected from takeover-at-will by the states in which they reside, thereby establishing the modern American corporation. Dartmouth’s own Daniel Webster argued the College’s case, concluding thus:

This, Sir, is my case! It is the case not merely of that humble institution, it is the case of every college in our Land! It is more! It is the case of every eleemosynary institution throughout our country – of all those great charities founded by the piety of our ancestors to alleviate human misery, and scatter blessings along the pathway of life! It is more! It is, in some sense, the case of every man among us who has property of which he may be stripped, for the question is simply this, ‘Shall our State Legislatures be allowed to take that which is not their own, to turn it from its original use, and apply it to such ends and purposes as they in their discretion shall see fit!’

Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak, it is in your hands! I know it is one of the lesser lights in the literary horizon of our country. You may put it out! But if you do so, you must carry through your work! You must extinguish, one after another, all those great lights of science which for more than a century have thrown their radience over our land! It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it.”

File:Daniel Webster 1969 Issue-6c.jpg

Knight Takes Castle

February 1, 2011

As degenerating mores continue eviscerating propriety the world over (sitting presidents are interrupted during States of The Union, and Jersey Shore yet airs), it is both gratifying and not unexpected that people are looking increasingly hard for a bit of dignity.

Tailored suits have recently resurged, web logs delineating the virtues of neckties abound, and fraternal orders – with their emphasis on chivalric honor – have begun to rebound, especially among young people.

Similar to that last, another vestige of chivalric honor, heretofore long dormant, is becoming again sought after: nobility. Specifically, authentic nobility… that is, titles. A host of brokerages, mainly English, now exist to facilitate trade in British, Irish, and Scottish manorial titles, broken down along lines of peerage and gentry (peerage connotes a lustier sanguinity, while gentry refers to the landed middle-class of feudal aristocracy).

Of course, buying a title and lands – or, more likely, only a title – via brokerage seems counter-intuitive, a bluntly modern way to get something the very purpose of which is to impart antiquated grace. But remember: most estates and titles were first bought rudely by feudal marauders who annually rendered goats and gold to the crown. Buying a title is likely the oldest way to get one. (Inheriting one is the second-oldest, as somebody must have bought the damn thing originally before his son could inherit it.)

Enter Sir Iain Noble, an English merchant banker who bought the Barony of MacDonald from the late – and authentic – Lord MacDonald of Scotland for a pittance some years back. The redundantly-named banker-knight recently unloaded the title, and 23,000 acres attached to it, for over one million pounds sterling. Situated rottingly in that acreage is Knock Castle, centuries-old stronghold of the Clan MacDonald. Sir Iain intends to use the proceeds of the sale to finance, among other things, a whiskey distillery on the Scottish Isle of Skye (traditional home of the MacDonalds).

Scottish Barony titles are the only legitimate feudal titles available for sale; the rest must be granted directly by the Queen and are not transferable. About 14 Baronies go on sale yearly, with sale prices averaging 50,000 pounds. Titles attached to land fetch steeper prices.

True, the idea of manorial estates and titled nobility seems thus more cheaply commoditized than was originally intended; aristocracy is no longer an institution of grace and civility (if it ever was), but of monied self-aggrandizement (was it ever not?). But in times of such fallen culture as Jersey Shore, a premium placed on an ideal of old-fashioned nobility and grace is at least something to inspire hope: an old-fashioned set of chivalric virtues which, like Knock Castle on the Isle of Skye, is decayed… yet stands.

Jack And King Arthur Clip Art