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Zulez Zu Coconutez Avec Moi, Cette Mardis Gras?


Today's counterproof: the touching story of some N'Awlins Coconuts and the Timely Intervention of a High Government Official [courtesy of Insurance Journal]:

One of the most prized traditions of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the handing of elaborately decorated coconuts to eager parade-watchers during the Zulu parade, is safe—at least this year.

Earlier this month, officers of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, heard their insurance premium was about to triple—and the coconuts were the reason because of the possibility they could hit someone.

To Gary Thornton, chairman of Zulu's governing board, parades without coconuts would have been sacrilege.

Fighting to save tradition—and money—Thornton and other Zulu leaders turned to Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley. Recently they were able to declare the crisis averted.

Not only did Wooley's intervention help the krewe catch a manageable premium increase—one-third more than last year—but coconuts will still be aboard the krewe's floats as Zulu rolls down St. Charles Avenue on Mardi Gras morning.

I am pleased particularly that not only a crisis but "sacrilege" has been averted by Louisiana's Commissioner ex machina.  Mustn't have sacrilege muddying things up during Mardi Gras, you know.  I am pleased as well to learn that the Zulus are engaging in a bit of forward-looking risk management:

"We're exploring ways to reduce the weight of all of our coconuts from about 1 to 1-1/2 pounds to about 3 to 6 ounces,'' Thornton said. "This could reduce our insurance costs next year.''

             * * *

The raw coconuts—which are sanded smooth and layered with shiny beads, glitter, feathers and other ornaments—historically have been drained by some krewe members to increase longevity.  But a universally lighter version will require further steps.

The weight would be decreased by cutting a hole, coring out the coconut meat on the walls of the shell and then plugging the hole, Thornton said.

[Note to the editor: There is an ambiguity in this passage as to whether it is the longevity of the coconuts or of the krewe members that is increased by the draining process.  Are pina coladas involved?]

For further reading

VW Bugged

Earlier, I linked to a darkly amusing advertisement for the VW Polo in which that vehicle's structural integrity and strong moral sense combine to cause a terrorist, in true Wile E. Coyote fashion, to blow up only himself, leaving the auto and other innocents unharmed.  Almost immediately, I updated that post to link to the unsurprising, if disappointing, revelation that the ad was a fake. 

[Insert obligatory self-satisfied "we webloggers correct ourselves right away so take that Dan Rather and all you other scheming minions of the old guard liberal/conservative/ossified (choose one) mainstream media establishment" remark here.]

Sadly, Volkswagen is not so easygoing as I and, as the Guardian reports, is threatening the responsible parties with a sizable lawsuit:

After a week of prevarication, the car giant has decided to go ahead and sue the people behind the advert on the grounds that it was damaging its reputation around the world and falsely linked the VW with terrorism.

        * * *

The short film is made in the style of a TV advert and shows a man hopping into the car wearing the distinctive black and white kaffiyeh scarf commonly worn in the Arab world and made famous by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In the advert, the man drives around London streets before blowing himself up outside a restaurant - apparently killing himself but leaving the car intact. Then the slogan, "Polo: small but tough", appears.

        * * *

[I]n a new development, has tracked down the director of the spoof advert, Stuart Fryer, 35.

Breaking his silence for the first time, he said he was horrified by the reaction to the ad and had only ever meant it to be used on a showreel and never seen by the public.

        * * *

"I don't want to offend people, I just want to make advertisements.I wanted to show it to the Saatchis and BBHs of this world.

"Little did I know that the advert that I made would be sent out on the internet and create such a fuss - it's shocked me."


If Volkswagen is not amused, Jeff Jarvis is unamused by Volkswagen's lack of amusement: "Sorry, guys. That VW has already left the barn. You are no longer in control of your message, advertisers. You can fight it or you can embrace it."

The kerfuffle has reminded any number of people of VW's outrage over the print ad parody created for the National Lampoon Encyclopedia of Humor in 1973.  That piece is described in the November 2002 obituary of one of its creators, Phil Socci:

Socci, along with future "Saturday Night Live" writer Anne Beatts, created a Volkswagen ad parody that produced a huge stir when it ran in the early 1970s. The copy in the satire read:

"If Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen, he'd be president today. It floats!"

The words appeared with a photo of a Volkswagen floating in a murky lake.

The ad referred to a 1969 incident in which an aide to Kennedy drowned when the senator drove a car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island.

According to Socci's sister, Volkswagen was so incensed by the ad that it unsuccessfully sued National Lampoon for $33 million.

Socci was 17 when the ad appeared, and was paid $75, she said.

While VW did not obtain a money judgment against the Lampoon, a settlement was reached in which the faked ad was excised from all future copies of the Encyclopedia, thus making the originals (including my own which I somehow lost track of over the years, dagnabbit) valuable collectors' items. 

Gawker, reporting on the latest legal threat mentions the Lampoon parody and adds, wistfully:

We'd link to a scan of this ad, but, well, it's been redacted from the face of the earth.

A Google Image search proves them almost right . . . . 

While no one seems to have reproduced a scan of the parody itself -- it was in style, typeface and tone, a pitch-perfect replica of similar VW ads then running regularly in magazines such as Time and Life and picked up a theme (water-tightness) that was also being featured in VW broadcast ads -- some enterprising right-wing zealot saw fit to reproduce the photo and its accompanying text last March in a comment appended to a post at Free Republic.*

*  Link does not constitute endorsement, express or implied.

One Layne Blacktop

By way of introduction, a tale of synchronicity:

In early December, during the first cold spell of the season but before the rain and snow descended upon us here in southern California, I made a drive up to the Ridgecrest branch of the Kern County Superior Court.  This involved a drive of some 150 miles each way, most of it along California Highway 14, which works its way up through the high desert and eventually north along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada.  I took along a collection of CDs for company, including Ken Layne & the Corvids' Fought Down, which I have been listening to regularly and with pleasure for over a year now.  As I approached the town of Mojave around 8:00 that morning, desert temperatures hovering at or below freezing, the Corvids were working through "Glitter On," and Ken Layne was singing mysteriously,

Silver Queen on the 14
And you can't escape me . . .

and there before my eyes was this sign.  I still have no idea what this forlorn spot means to him (enough for him to name his music publishing company for it, too), but at least I now know what he's singing about in that lyric.

Here ends the introduction, which brings us to the latest Ken Layne project,

Highways West,

a weblog-like site devoted to exactly that: the roads, backroads, roadsides and roadhouses of the West.  Anyone who lives out here, or plans or desires to visit the big vasties of this side of the country, will likely find something interesting.  In the early going, Ken has reported on towns such as Bishop, California, and Moab, Utah (which I'll be passing through with the family in June), and on western phenomena such as roadrunners, bristlecones and Wyoming's Official Critter: The Jackalope.  Today, he links a terrific collection of panoramic photos that should make you all want to hop in your cars and explore. 

Ken Layne writes at least as well as he sings -- or better, depending on your tastes -- and we should all click through frequently to encourage him.

There Goes The Neighborhood, Sideways

And now a few words from Myself As Curmudgeon:

I have not seen Alexander Payne's much-lauded film, Sideways.  Many, many reputable people swear that it is one of the cinematic wonders of the year.  My mother has recommended it to me, enthusiastically, and she is not one to steer me wrong. 

There seem to be obvious reasons why I would enjoy it.  The film is largely set in the wine country of Santa Barbara County and much attention is paid to the fine pinot noir wines of that region.  I have a longstanding fondness for Santa Barbara County pinot noir (as mentioned in this post way back in September '03, and again here this past July) and the area is reportedly shown off in the film to be exactly as it is in reality: as lovely and pleasurable a place to spend your time as you could ask for. 

And yet, I am reluctant. 

My one prior brush with Payne's work was surprisingly unpleasant: Despite all the good will in the world -- I  wanted and fully expected to enjoy it -- I turned off his earlier Election in under 30 minutes, finding the quantities of sex and profanity that piled up in the early going of that film to be too coarse and too gratuitous to give me any incentive to spend additional time with it, the pleasures of Ms. Witherspoon and Mr. Broderick notwithstanding.  The reviews for that film were at least as enthusiastic as they have been for Sideways, human folly (ave Moria) is my stock in trade, I've no objection to taking my comedy as I take my coffee -- dark -- and yet . . . , the film struck me as simply Wrong in some underlying way for which I had no patience.  Commentary from people who have actively disliked Sideways (as opposed to those who simply think it has been overhyped) makes me leery in much the same way.  See, for example,  Charles Taylor's complaints about Payne's misanthropy in this year's edition of Slate's Movie Club, or the report from Helen [Mrs. Professor] Bainbridge.  (The good Professor found his wife's review so compelling that he, sight unseen, declared Sideways The Worst Film of 2004, which is almost certainly an overstatement.)

But enough of that.  What I am working my way round to is actually this: my fears that the success of Sideways will somehow mess up the Santa Barbara wine country with crowds, overambitious increases in production (with declines in quality and/or undue increases in price), and other symptoms of sudden popularity. 

The Santa Barbara County tourism authorities had a publicity campaign in place in advance of the film's release.  They even produced a helpful map to permit you to visit the wineries, restaurants, ostrich farms and other locations that portray themselves.  (You can download that map, as a walloping big PDF file, here.)  The effort appears to have paid off in increasing numbers of visitors, as reported in stories around the country.  Here is a typical example, from the Arizona Republic.  And here is an MSNBC story that ran just yesterday, in which Frank Ostini of The Hitching Post Restaurant and (with partner Gray Hartley) its namesake winery talks about the effect of Sideways on his reliably fine "Highliner" pinot noir:

'I just tell everybody, "Let's just keep our feet on the ground. There's just a lot of hype around here right now,"' says Frank Ostini, the Hitching Post's owner and winemaker.

Ostini produced just 350 cases of his $48 Highliner pinot noir in 2001 and 2002, but prior to 'Sideways,' many customers opted for his less expensive single-vineyard wines.  Now the top-notch cuvée offering, which Miles orders by name in the film, is flying out of the rack. Ostini won't what his bottling run will be this year, 'but it's going to be more, way more.'

Oh dear.

Don't let me discourage you from visiting or from seeking out the fine pinots (and syrahs and viogniers and so forth) of Santa Barbara County.  There are inordinate pleasures to be found there; all you have heard to that effect is true.  But please, be gentle.

Scenes from Corporate Life - Legal Department

[A]fter that he still had a hundred and thirty million left to live on, though he would be melancholy for the rest of his life because the partners in the most lucrative IPO of his career had conspired with the lead investment bank to insert a clause, in minuscule writing that even he had not read and that his lawyers could not properly interpret for lack of factual knowledge about the business, which clause, by its effect and irrevocably, notwithstanding any other clause to the contrary, and according to the laws of the State of Delaware and the State of New York, screwed him out of seven hundred million.

-- Mark Helprin, "Vandevere's House" [from The Pacific and Other Stories]


A Lyric Lode

Online music distribution marches forward into the past:

Christopher Porter of The Suburbs Are Killing Us reproduces today's press release announcing the joinder of MSN Music and the Smithsonian Institution to make available some 35,000 tracks from the archives of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.  Christopher is right to complain about the clunky MSN interface -- the curious would do well to take his advice and to use the main Folkways site for browsing purposes -- but nearly the entire catalog appears to have been made available.

In addition to the label's well-known folk and blues holdings (Come in here, dear boy, have a Seeger . . . .), the Folkways archives encompass sounds both natural (North American Frogs) and artificial (Science Fiction Sound Effects) and an array of poetry, such as:

  • Dante Alighieri available in the original Italian, or in English (John Ciardi reading his own translation of the Inferno -- a particular treat for those who miss the lexicographilic commentaries Ciardi provided on NPR's Morning Edition in the '80s, such as f'rinstance this one).

An altogether impressive trove.

Scenes from Corporate Life

    The most difficult of the dinner parties I ruin are usually around Christmas, and always those of the younger members of the firm, who, no matter how well they have done, have yet to find their place because they have yet to fall from grace and restore themselves.  They know I have built and rebuilt, that, quite apart from my military history, I have, in corporate terms, come back from the dead.  That very thing, though I did not ask for it, is what they fear most to get and fear the most in me.

    It is why, while I sit and merely smile, they hold forth in a volume of words that would blow a tire.  You would think that because they talk as enthusiastically as talking dogs, they would win.  While they say everything, I say nothing.  I am shown the second-tier paintings, and harried children who can play Mendelssohn, and from the corner of my eye I see the ineluctable Range Rovers, the Viking stoves, and the flower boxes perfectly tended by silent Peruvians with broken hearts.

    Still, I win, they lose, and I couldn't throw the game if I tried.  They just don't know.  They're younger than my sons and daughter.  I find their claims embarrassing: I don't care where they went to college; I don't even care where I went to college.  I want only to spy the youthful graces they cannot see in themselves, and encourage them to do well and spend more time with their children than I spent with mine.  They won't.  I didn't.  They can't.  I couldn't.

-- Mark Helprin, "Reconstruction" [from The Pacific and Other Stories]