Thursday, March 10, 2011


While the price of arabica coffee will unfortunately shoot up due to rising temperatures in Columbia, the cost of a lambswool cardigan from LL Bean's impressive spring catalog remains competitive with last year's prices ($79.50). Sweater weather is approaching. In other words, the combined net worth of Bill Gates ($54 billion) and Warren Buffet ($45 billion) can easily provide every American child living below the federal poverty level (projections indicate this will soon be 25% of all US children) with a warm lambswool sweater to stylishly arm these starving children against the unforgiving vicissitudes of a cool spring breeze, thus enabling the extraordinary potential each of these children hold deep within their ambitious little hearts. This is giving back. This is philanthropy. Any one of these children might be tomorrow's astronauts working to terraform otherwise uninhabitable planets once we're ready to discard this one and I, like most sensible Americans, want to grow old on the moon.

These are indeed heartbreaking times when every intrepid self-styled poet-activist and cultural critic cannot have a Thule storage shell securely strapped to the roof of their fashionable but eco-friendly Subaru Outback. And while this humble blogger is shamefully ignorant of the finer points of fiscal responsibility, I do have a potentially productive proposal for state-level legislation that might effectively reboot our persistently failing economy and provide a form of renewable energy.

The legislation I propose would contractually oblige every child living just above the poverty line to physically extract fuel-rich blubber from each and every US adult above the 25% income tax bracket according to Internal Revenue Code (though this proposal is generously based on Adjusted Gross Income rather than Total Income). State governments would be responsible for providing each child with four essential tools: a head spade, a boarding knife, a blubber pike and a gaff. The child would then use these tools to extract the blubber from reasonably wealthy adults, including parents, in strips which would then be thrown into a blubber bank and processed into energy-producing fuel. Since starving, powerless children colloquially refer to this ancient but long since forgotten practice as "flensing the rich," the title of the legislation I propose here is the Tension Relief and Flensing Fuel Internecine-Cooperation (TRAFFIC) Act. This act would not only reignite the economy by literally setting fire to the otherwise inactive but rapidly accumulating blubber of the rich, it would also make of every child a productive civil servant of the demos, each an essential component of the world's most internally dynamic and globally aggressive democracy.

Children living below the poverty line are naturally too weak from malnutrition to be tasked with the labor intensive but fulfilling duty of flensing the rich. In order to raise these children to a standard of health suitable for the practice of flensing, the TRAFFIC Act also includes a clause that would require anyone who manages to survive the extraction of their blubber to spoon feed these children the same impressive range of organic groceries, truffles and foie gras that so inflated the fuel-rich flesh of the wealthy in the first place.

Aside from the desire to make flensing a household word again — because it is was, long before the second and even first generation iPhone, a hallowed and distinctly American practice — this call for a return to flensing is built on the simple, delightfully imbecilic Hoosier belief that, if America is to invest in anything in order to rekindle its flagging economy, America should invest in Americans. Flensing is no less American than baseball. And just as most any American child knows how to swing a bat, it is not unreasonable to imagine the delight American children will take in wielding a blubber pike.

Many Americans would agree Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is one of the most inspiring texts generated in an uncertain time of turmoil, difficulty and internecine strife. A similarly inspiring but widely ignored document informed by the same historically transcendental proposition is Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex. This book-length work is First Mate Owen Chase's account of the 1820 wreck of the whaling vessel that departed from Nantucket, crossed round the horn from the Atlantic to the Pacific and suffered the devastating attack of an immense but typically docile creature, a sperm whale as large as and far stronger than the vessel that so ruthlessly hunted it. What strikes me about Chase's narrative — and what Melville fails to draw on in Moby-Dick — is how the crew of the Essex behave after the wreck. Moby-Dick ends with wreckage, but Chase's narrative persists onward, toward full post-traumatic eco-political recovery. After a brief respite on a fairly barren and uninhabited island following the wreck, the crew of the Essex are for months adrift, starving on the open ocean in three small whale boats. But, by way of what I recognize as a distinctly American order of entrepreneurial ingenuity and democratic will, the intrepid crew of the Essex agree to begin eating each other in order to survive. Of course, not all of them survive the outcome of the democratic process (all must make sacrifices) but what I applaud here is the visionary strength of the crew: they knew in advance, as if inspired by God, that the only road to spiritual, emotional, fiscal and political recovery involved feasting on one another and, in the worst of times, even sucking the marrow from a comrade's bones.

But what, you ask, does any of this have to do with flensing? Well, flensing creatures far larger but far less aggressive than the crew of the Essex is what first threw the characteristically peaceful sperm whale into the uncontrollable rage that sank the Essex in the first place. And with the same strength of spirit that successfully defended the Alamo, the resilient crew survived by selflessly flensing each other. From this perspective, reimagining one of the more colorful practices responsible for setting these hard-boiled heroic Americans adrift nearly two centuries ago seems, at the very least, apropos.