The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

THE PERSECUTED FLEA: There are sillier hobbies than making shoes for fleas, of course, although I can’t think of what they might be right off the top of my head. Nor am I entirely convinced of the case for fleas wearing shoes in the first place; fleas have managed these past few eons to get on quite nicely without shoes and no one, except for the occasional troublemaker, has complained of their discalced status, so there doesn’t seem to be any cause for complaint there. The drive to shoe fleas is, I think, a result of our overly litigious society. No pet owner wants to be at the wrong end of a class action suit alleging that their favorite cat or dog is a living, breathing bundle of workplace safety regulation violations. The question of shoes is only part of the equation at this point. Not only are fleas unshod, they do not wear hard hats or any other form of safety device detectable with the naked eye. In addition, cats and dogs feel an intense antipathy towards fleas and routinely indulge this loathing by trying to kill fleas wherever they can. Given their basic motivation, i.e. extreme prejudice towards fleas for no other reason than fleas are who and what they are, the question of civil rights violations and hate crimes are sure to arise.

In any case, it is a good thing, I believe, that someone has finally taken an interest in clothing the naked flea. For far too long, the scandalous nudity of fleas has prevented them from moving on to fulfill their full potential as a species. Clothes make the man, as Mark Twain once famously put it, and what is true for humans is equally true for fleas. So the movement to provide fleas with shoes is a good sign that after so many centuries of neglect, someone is finally taking notice of the intractable problem of nude and shoeless fleas and trying to do something about it.

What kind of person dedicates their life to solving such a deeply rooted problem? In Russia the flea’s main benefactor is Yuri Nikodemonovich Grobkin, a former computer systems analyst from Saint Petersburg, who dedicated his life to the cause after seeing the widespread persecution of fleas by cats and dogs in the former Soviet Union. “It was terrible,” he said in a recent interview, “watching them rip into the fleas like that, acting like mindless animals.” His determination to help the fleas began with the basics, he went on: he saw the fleas’ need for snowshoes to brave the cruel Russian winters and decided to start there.

By the end of that first winter, Mr. Grobkin managed to shoe just three fleas, but the lessons he learned proved invaluable in terms of manufacturing and marketing. Today, Mr. Grobkin’s passion for doing good mixed with tremendous commercial appeal has made the Russian flea shoe market the largest in the world, something that had not gone unnoticed in the rest of the world. Rumors abound in Moscow and Saint Petersburg these days that an Italian consortium headed by Gucci may try to enter the Russian market with a luxury model shoe. Mr. Grobkin hopes that this is not the case. “I was just trying to help poor fleas make it through the winter,” he says, “not become fashion models. I think it would be terribly inappropriate for foreigners to profit from a charitable effort. I don’t think it’s right.”

Mr. Grobkin’s hopes for the nascent Russian flea shoe industry may well come to pass if the Russian parliament, the Duma, has its way. A recent bill proposes an absolute ban on the importation of foreign made flea shoes into the Russian market and provides money for the aggressive promotion of Russian flea shoes throughout the world. Italy and the People’s Republic of China have already filed complaints with the World Trade Organization about the bill, saying that it is grossly protectionist. The bill’s backers in the Duma did not comment on the Italo/Chinese action. Mr. Grobkin, on the other hand, has moved on. He is now trying to improve the lives and working conditions of acrobats in Russian flea circuses by requiring all such circuses to use nets for their most dangerous aerial acts. “It’s the only work many of them can get,” he says, “and they need help now before any more of them are needlessly hurt. As for the shoes, what can I say? Charity starts at home, that’s what my mother used to say.”


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