Ravens Imprisoned in the Tower

The Chronicle (actually the Washington Post) tells us today that Branwen, Hugine, Munin, Gwyllum, Thor, and Baldrick have been put in protective custody in a comfortable cell in the Tower of London. Obviously I am not making up those names; who could?

This is to protect them from the infamous H5N1 flu. Should the ravens at the Tower expire, the Tower will fall, and with it the kingdom. They can't be removed from the Tower, under a decree of Charles II. The master of the ravens, Derrick Coyle, puts on protective clothing, for their protection, not his, when he feeds them.

They seem to be taking well to it.
"The first day they were a little bit stressed," Coyle said. But now, he added, "They're eating very well and Thor, the one who talks, said, 'good morning' straight away" when he visited the birds on Tuesday. He said the birds are eating their normal diet of hard-boiled eggs, apples, biscuits soaked in blood, beef liver, vitamin tablets and chicken."
"Good morning", eh?
Q. After a severe storm we found this old male raven in the study of my father, the Hon. George Morton Bodwell, for may years head of the Latin Department at Tufts, sitting on a bust of Livy which was a gift to him from the class of '92. All that the old bird will say is "Grawk." Can ravens be taught to talk or was Poe merely "romancing"?

A. I am handicapped by an uncertainty as to who says "Grawk," the raven or your father. It just happens that "Arrk" is what ravens say. I have never known a raven that said anything but "arrk."

-- James Thurber, pet advice column from The Owl in the Attic
Unnecessary to add: Time for Mr. Coyle to worry, when Thor drops his "Good morning" for "Nevermore."

How could they tell?

When Dorothy Parker was told that Calvin Coolidge was dead, her response was, "How could they tell?"

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was running for the honor of being the oldest President in history, and some people raised gentle, polite, even apologetic questions about whether there might be a problem there. His campaing assured us all that he would get annual medical checkups, which would establish whether he was subject to any deterioration of brain function.

Guess what I said about that. To be sure, my response in 1980 became less funny in the 90s, when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, which is not fit material for joking, which is why there are so many jokes about it. Well, maybe not less funny, maybe just a bit too offensive.

Now, as you all know, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri has a contest going. They will now start publishing contestants for the most offensive cartoons about the Holocaust and Jews in general.

All together, now! "How can we tell?"

If you have any doubts about this radically new editorial policy, ask Deborah Lipstadt, the historian who kicked David "What Holocaust?" Irving's butt in a lawsuit that Irving brought under the extremely plaintiff-friendly English libel law. She has declared that she is entering the contest. A piece of cake, she says. She has cartoons at the ready, really nasty ones, some them already in Farsi, having been taken from Iranian papers.

But this is old news. This morning it gets more interesting. In the Chronicle there is a reference (in the printed edition, but I can't find it in their on-line sotry) to the first entry published. First it quotes the paper as to the meaning of the contest, titled "What is the Limit of Western Freedom of Expression?":
The newspaper said its contest was a test of the Western world's readiness to print cartoons about the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews in World War II.
Right, so here's the entry:

The first entry depicts a man, smoking a cigarette and wearing a blue and white striped prison uniform, with a tall wall and guard tower in the background.

The man, with a moustache, is wearing a white keffiyeh (fez) and has his right hand over his forehead and eyes.

On his chest is a red Muslim crescent with a letter "P". Below that is the number 7 256, the significance of which was not immediately clear, although Israel is said to be holding about 8 000 Palestinian prisoners.

Now we see the cluelessness to which that once-great civilization has sunk. (And not as a product of Islam; of the thousands of years of high civilization in Iran, the most recent centuries were, of course, Islamic.) I mean: Duh, the guy is comparing Isael's treatment of Palestinians to Nazi Germany's treatment of Jews. Not, obviously, "Duh, it's true", but "Duh, they've been saying this for years, what's the news here?"

This unpleasant little item is not merely part of daily political discourse in the Great Satan; it's relatively inoffensive. From the description, I can't even see a direct reference to the Holocaust; it's just somebody in jail. Now if the number were tattoed on him, that would be getting offensive. Maybe the blue and white stripes, rather than the traditional black and white prison stripes, refer to Israel? Pretty weak. Where are the interlinked swastikas and stars of David?

Nest to the stuff that you and I have seen paraded throught the streets of San Francisco (or wherever), this is so inoffensive it's pathetic.

And the Iranians think they're challenging the bounds of discourse in the civilizedWestern world.