Wednesday December 10, 2008 6:17 am
Werd: Pirate - Part Two
I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t love pirates, right?
Whether it’s their eye patches or their peg-legs, pirates are a beloved part of human history. So long as there have been valuable things moved over water and poor people with a taste for the sea, there be pirates trying to steal them some booty.
And why not? Thievery on land is a naturally risky business. Most centers of wealth, private or otherwise, are located in densely populated areas. Banks are a good example. The feudal castle of yesteryear is another. Unfortunate for the thief, however, is that most people protect their banks and castles with thick walls and sentries, adding a layer of complication to the simple thief’s plan. And there are always the difficult problem of witnesses. Of course, you can go for petty crimes – stealing the purse or breaking the window of a some other lower/middle class citizen: but there is no great pride in that. The rule of thievery is that if you want to earn a lifetime of respect for your crimes, the crimes must be bold conquests that attain plentiful booty (e.g., Jesse James, Ocean’s 11-13, Vikings).
“Of the world’s surface area of 197 million square miles, 139.5 million square miles are covered by the oceans” [information pirated from here]. That’s 70 percent of the world, man! And so the next thought of the budding pirate is: well, how many people are living on the sea? And the answer is: not very many. (This fact is both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, there are fewer sentries protecting the wealth of the ocean; sadly, however, that means there aren’t many people hoarding wealth on the wide open sea.)
The obvious appeal lies on boats that transport wealth, for purposes of trade or colonization/exploration. Some folks in land A want to trade with folks in land B, so then send a ship to bypass the difficulties and limitations of land-based trade. But when you are out of eyesight of land and you consider the vast expanse of the open waters, the traders are floating about without the regular societal protection of the police or national armies (thus: navies were invented). The traders are, plainly: away at sea. The pirate replies to this environment: Booya! Nothing can save ya’ now!
So if you can wrangle up a ship and enough dissatisfied landlubbers, you might be able to convince them that the riches of the pirate’s life is, indeed, for them. And then, from what I hear, it’s basically like an adult summer camp. You get a few wenches along for the promise of booty, you live off the bountiful harvest of the sea and tropical islands, you play shuffleboard, and every once in a while you come across a ship filled with pasty Englishmen who couldn’t handle a scabbard if their lives depended on it. (And they will.) You only answer to your captain, who is generally seeking the same noble goals as you, but who commands without all the rules of your typical leader. The pirate captain demands hard work, not clean fingernails and going to bed on time and filling out your time sheet and, apparently, you can have as many tattoos as you want, so long as there is indigo ink available.
Sadly, nowadays if you hear the word pirate, you think of dillhole commercial pirates. If it isn’t software pirates hijacking the name, it is those soulless cowards that call themselves corporate raiders: neither would ever last a minute in the hostile company of a genuine pirate. I mean, even a professional footballer from the Raiders or Buccaneers would be a scallywag in One-Eyed Willie’s one good eye. (Although, if Ray Lewis was either, he could probably hang with a pirate. That dude is rough.) And don’t get me started on the Pittsburgh Pirates! The word pirate has been sullied by the more pedestrian applications of the term that have accrued over time. Blackbeard would roll in his watery grave if he knew that a CEO from Lehmann Brothers was admitted into his storied profession.
Thankfully, the Somalian pirates have somewhat rejuvenated the proud history and rich tradition of the pirate at sea. No more of this sissyified Talk Like A Pirate Day nonsense, we’re talking booty and ransoms and walking the plank. Of course, these pirates don’t use swords and cannons, but guns, which are, admittedly, much lamer. But at the very least they have revived the essence of piracy: which is taking booty from people that already have plenty and who also happened to get caught in the middle of nowhere without any defense.
Sigh. But then you hear that these “pirates” are using their booty to buy McMansions back in Somalia – and you realize that nothing these days is as sweet as it once was in the history books. After all, real pirates would take their booty, buy wenches and mead and greasy turkey legs, find some tools (hooks, pegs, etc.) that would substitute for the various appendages they lost in a previous battle, and be off to find the next unfortunate ships that would dare cross their paths. Never would a true pirate think of settling down on land in a house with a three-car garage. But in these times, even our best pirates come back to land and live in suburbia. It is a sad state of affairs.
We say we love pirates, but maybe, when you think about it, we just love the idea of them.
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