Monday, November 2, 2009

It is still football season

Northwestern has continued to play football with varying levels of success since the Debacle at the Dome. In a season of high expectations, Northwestern came into the season with a confidence not unlike Garey Busey's in Under Siege, during the part of the movie between when the catering crew-disguised pack of mercenaries successfully seizes an Iowa Class destroyer and the part when he realizes that the chef running rampant on the ship is actually a Navy Seal killing machine capable only of stabbing people and squinting quizzically into the distance.

Gary Busey's acting range consists of maniacal, toothily
maniacal, and exploded

With bowl hopes dwindling, Northwestern finds itself going into a vital game against unlikely undefeated #4 Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. A win in Kinnick could salvage the season by showing that Northwestern can hang with the top of the Big Ten, throw fuel onto an emerging rivalry or at least mutual disdain, and put Northwestern in a good opportunity to get to another bowl game. Beating Iowa at Iowa will, of course, remain a tall order for Fitz, who may need to go on a shamanistic vision quest across the midwest in order to inspire his banged-up team, although I must note that any Northwestern fans interested in vision quests related to football should be very careful in selecting the Wildcat serving as their spirit animal lest they be subjected to unimaginable horrors.

Sure, it has been frustrating watching the Wildcats' struggles this year, especially on defense where it looked like they had finally turned a corner last year, but after long evenings of reflection by staring out into sunswept valleys and tranquil brooks disturbed only by the graceful appearance of a duck or heron, I've decided that Northwestern's football season is better than being transported on a rickety wooden ship to a starving penal colony on the very edge of the known world as was the fate of many of British convict in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

The brutality, deprivation, and horror of Britain's transportation system is brilliantly reconstructed in Robert Hughes's 1987 The Fatal Shore. Hughes looks at the entire process of claiming an entire continent, one that was full of untold mineral riches, pastureland, and future NFL punters, and deciding that it is best utilized as a dumping ground for petty thieves, artful dodgers, and other lower-class undesirables. With no prison space, British officials were packing convicts into rotting hulks of ships anchored to into the Thames into a festive Waterworld where prisoners got to experience all of the scurvy and abuse of sea life without leaving the comfort of the festering underworld slums that nurtured them into a life of crime.

Few of those sentenced to transportation were like criminal geniuses such as as
Professor Moriarty, The Napoleon of Crime, here shown in a wax model only
slightly creepier than the stuffed version of Jeremy Bentham that is always
watching, watching

One of the best parts of the book describes the type of criminal that would get sent to Australia, borrowing from Henry Mayhew's reporting on different substrata of criminal. Under the heading of "Sneaksmen" (those who plunder by means of stealth), Mayhew includes the following: drag sneaks, snoozers, star-glazers, till friskers, sawney hunters (the wonderfully specific crime of purloining bacon from chesse-mongers' shop windows) noisy-racket men, area sneaks, dead lurkers, snow gatherers, skinners (described as women who entice children and sailors o go with them and then strip them of their clothes), bluey hunters, and cat and kitten hunters.


You know it occurs to me as I make an unprecedented second belabored joke about Jeremy Bentham's taxidermically preserved corpse sitting in a closet at University College London that it would be possibly even more effective for candidates for political office to avoid using the shopworn cliché of the inverted black and white photograph to make an opponent look like an inhuman monster capable of wreaking untold havoc on the county water board or something and instead manipulate a photo of them to look like they've been stuffed and fitted with a wax head, a jaunty straw hat, and a thousand yard stare because Jeremy Bentham looks like he might leap from his cabinet and go on a diabolical spree of doing the greatest evil to the greatest number

Although the old chestnut describes the Royal Navy as working through the holy trinity of rum, sodomy, and the lash (another possibly apocryphal Churchill quote that I cannot verify one way or the other but it's gotten to the point that if Churchill himself were to zombically rise up as part of some sort of voodoo curse against mid-century Conservative governments and led a parade of thousands of zombies towards his traditional feeding ground of Checquers, with all of them single-mindedly chanting the one thing they crave, I guarantee you that the word "brains" will be solely attributed to the zombie Churchill in the Bartleby Book of Zombie Quotations), Hughes manages to show an entire colonial society that ran under those principles. With specie at a premium, Rum basically functioned as currency, although its supply was controlled by a cartel of officers known as the "Rum Corps," which became powerful enough to depose the Governor and rule for two years.

The Rum Corps decides to continue its aggressive rum
acquisition policy into the 1809 fiscal year along with its
popular slogan "nobody here tells the coppers nothing, see"

Nothing dominated Australia more than the lash. Prisoners were chained, forced to work, and subjected to inhumanly demeaning conditions, but above all they were whipped with the cat o'nine tails. In the litany of hard and demented men who were able to rise to power in the isolated Antipodean prison, none were hated more so than John Giles Price, Commandant of Nofolk Island, and, as Hughes describes him, "one of the more durable ogres of the Australian imagination." Bedecked like a "flash gentleman" with a set of muttonchops and hairstyle that in a photo of him give the distinct impression that he was trying his utmost to pull of a look best described as "'dangerous sheep," Price beguiled prisoners by favoring vulgar accouterments such as the monocle and speaking in a distinct criminal argot. Somehow, Price increased the floggings at Norfolk Island, which functioned at the time as a next step prison for those too unrepentent or unlucky to deal with the normal vagaries of convict life in New South Wales. Eventually, Price took a job as a prison inspector looking after hulks anchored outside of Melbourne where he walked into the midst of prisoners who closed in around him and tore him asunder.

An investigation into raffish monocle-wearing reveals an eerie resemblance between
tariff reform advocate Joseph Chamberlain and suspected murderer Col. Mustard

The Wildcats face a tough test on the road at Iowa in an attempt to salvage a disappointing season. Though the Hawkeyes are heavy favorites, the recent success against Iowa and the evident enmity between the programs means that they will not be taking Northwestern lightly. Despite being 9-0, Iowa has not exactly been dominating the opposition. Let's hope that the Wildcats can pull together as a team, like the Rum Corps and their continental bootlegging scheme, or that group of prisoners that brutally murdered John Giles Price in a hail of quarry-hammers.