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More Dogs on Main Street

Since there is nothing of interest happening locally, we will turn to international news this week. I was intrigued by the frightening news of the cruise ship attacked by pirates off the coast of East Africa. It’s a story that appeals on so many levels. The cruise ship "Seabourn Spirit" with 300 passengers was sailing through the Red Sea and down the eastern coast of Africa, visiting such garden spots as Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. It was about 100 miles off the coast of Somalia when the 300-foot luxury liner came under fire from pirates in small, 25-foot boats that sound like somebody’s water ski boat from Lake Powell. The pirates fired on the ship with automatic weapons, and launched a rocket-propelled grenade that blew one of the cruise ship’s staterooms to smithereens.

The crew of the cruise ship was apparently somewhat prepared for the event, this being the 23rd pirate attack off the Somali coast this year. They had a "sonic device" on board to drive the attackers away. The captain also managed to turn the cruise ship sharply enough to create rough water for the pirates, and ultimately was able to out run them. Passengers and crew arrived safely at another port, where their vacation was abruptly terminated.

It’s hard to imagine the cruise ship industry getting worse press. There are regular reports of whole ships being overcome with gastro-intestinal illness called the Norwalk virus. If that isn’t bad enough, there are lots of cranky old people on board, and fears of terrorist strikes at what are essentially undefended floating hotels. And now pirates.

What interests me in a story like this is the stuff that doesn’t get reported. The reported facts are troubling enough, but I keep wondering about the back story. First off, what kind of person signs on to a vacation cruise in Somalia? If possible, Somalia is even worse than Haiti. If the world was going in for a high colonic, Somalia would be ground zero. Who vacations in Somalia? Some of the passengers actually paid retail for this dream vacation cruise. But I have to assume that the majority of the passengers had won the cruise as a "gift" for listening to a timeshare sales presentation. People who bought the timeshare got the Mediterranean cruise. People who sat through the sales pitch and didn’t buy got the bargain-priced Somalia route.

Next up, while enjoying your cruise through waters both the UN and the U.S. State Department had warned against because of uncontrolled pirate attacks, I’m wondering about the whole security situation. So you’ve got Captain Stubing from the Love Boat in charge, and when the going gets rough, and the pirates are climbing up the ropes to board the ship, what do you do? Well, rest assured that your protection comes first on aboard the Seabourn Spirit (owned by Seabourn Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival). When the pirates are storming the deck, Cruise Director Julie and the indomitable Gopher will swing into action. Before the pirates can break down the doors to the first class buffet, the chorus from the on-board cast of "Hello Dolly" will swing into action. They’ll sing and dance those nasty pirates off the decks before they can say, "Arrgh!"

I had to do a little research on the "sonic device" the news reports said was used to repulse the attack. At first, I just assumed that Kathy Lee Gifford had resumed her singing career. Another option would be to play tapes of a typical National Public Radio fundraiser. Nothing would repulse a pirate attack more quickly than a re-broadcast of KUER’s recent beg-a-thon. I was ready to plunge into Jordanelle Reservoir during that. But it turns out the sonic device was something developed by the U.S. Navy after the attack on the USS Cole. It emits an ear-splitting noise in a narrow, directional beam that can be pointed at small boats approaching ships. The pain is enough to cause the crew of the small boat to turn back — or wear earplugs. The modern pirate has traded the parrot on his shoulder for Bose Noise Canceling Headphones, which are available in the gift shop aboard the Seabourn Spirit.

There is a local angle to the story. There was a couple from Salt Lake on board the Seabourn Spirit. They did not enjoy the experience, and probably won’t go back. But there is a silver lining to everything. The Utah Travel Office, which has been trying to come up with a new slogan for Utah travel, may have stumbled on to something here. Their new slogan is "Utah: We Don’t Have Pirates Here."

In other news, there have been some strange goings-on in my neighborhood. There is a new house under construction, and that has generated a lot of traffic on a street that otherwise doesn’t have any. There have been a lot of different people in and out at odd times of day. The other night a Cadillac Escalade, one of those high-end SUVs favored by rappers and other criminals, came down the lane late at night. The rear bumper was nearly dragging on the ground. The driver got out, burdened by so many gold chains that he could hardly stand. Within seconds, there was a swarm of people around him, trading cash for bags of some kind of powder. I was pretty suspicious of that, and walked down to investigate.

It turns out he had some black market cement. Apparently cement is in such short supply that it is being rationed, and projects ranging from my neighbor’s foundation to the new parking garage in Swede Alley are falling off schedule because you can’t get cement. When somebody gets a load of cement from someplace, there is a feeding frenzy of people wanting to mix concrete. The street price of cement is out of control. "Cement, the other white powder."


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