A Surprising Parallel

Austin BaySmall Dead Animals) has a long post on the Human Relations side of al Qaeda, that is, the generous fringe benefits and not-so-generous salaries listed in a captured document. I was as surprised as everyone else to hear that terrorists have paid vacations, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been, since I’ve read Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. In one of my favorite passages, around four-fifths of the way through Chapter II, small-time terrorist and shop-owner Adolph Verloc is meeting with his contact Mr. Vladimir at what is obviously intended to be the Russian embassy in London. Mr. Vladimir is the first speaker:

“You’ll get your screw every month, and no more until something happens. And if nothing happens very soon you won’t get even that. What’s your ostensible occupation? What are you supposed to live by?”

“I keep a shop,” answered Mr. Verloc.

“A shop! What sort of shop?”

“Stationery, newspapers. My wife—”

“Your what?” interrupted Mr. Vladimir in his guttural Central Asian tones.

“My wife.” Mr. Verloc raised his husky voice slightly. “I am married.”

“That be damned for a yarn,” exclaimed the other in unfeigned astonishment. “Married! And you a professed anarchist, too! What is this confounded nonsense? But I suppose it’s merely a manner of speaking. Anarchists don’t marry. It’s well known. They can’t. It would be apostasy.”

“My wife isn’t one,” Mr. Verloc mumbled, sulkily. “Moreover, it’s no concern of yours.”

“Oh yes, it is,” snapped Mr. Vladimir. “I am beginning to be convinced that you are not at all the man for the work you’ve been employed on. Why you must have discredited yourself completely in your own world by your marriage. Couldn’t you have managed without? This is your virtuous attachment-eh? What with one sort of attachment and another you are doing away with your usefulness.”

Mr. Vladimir seems almost as surprised by the shop as by the wife, no doubt because keeping a shop is such a stereotypically bourgeois (not to mention English) occupation. Perhaps it would have helped if Verloc had told him that he sells pornography as well as stationery and newspapers.

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2 Responses to A Surprising Parallel

  1. Alfred M. Kriman says:

    A minor comment about — dread subject — fonts. The beginning of this posting has html source that looks like this (I’ve escaped the html so when interpreted it looks like the html source we want to look at):

    <p><a href="http://austinbay.net/blog/?p=929">Austin Bay</a>


    <a href="http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/archives/003578.html">Small Dead Animals</a>) has a long post

    Notice that the first character in the parenthesis is a thorn — a rune that continued to be used in Old and even Middle English, and that continues to be used in Icelandic. (Who knows, that might explain all those hits.)

    It may be that this character was intentionally inserted in the text by Michael Hendry, but another possibility is that he wrote the text on a Macintoch computer. Apple uses a very slightly different mapping of the “upper ascii” part of ISO Latin-1, and what is thorn in the PC and Unix world is something else, I forget what, in the Macintosh world. I recommend avoiding that character, whatever it is.

  2. Alfred M. Kriman says:

    Regarding al Qaeda Human *Resources* (I think you mean), there is a parallel in the 60′s TV comedy “Get
    Smart.” Maxwell Smart (played by Don Adams) was not
    just Agent 86 for CONTROL but also negotiator for the
    The Guild of Surviving CONTROL Agents. There’s a scene
    in some episode where a KAOS agent is dying, and in his
    final agonies reveals that he has no worries for his
    widow, because of the excellent death benefits that
    KAOS has. Chief is there, and he and 86 immediately
    switch to bargaining mode.

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