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Afghanistan Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake photograph

The photo shown below was placed on a WordPress blog by one of the most professional, most articulate and most prolific photographers among the legions of photographers on WordPress, and for that matter on any of the other blogs as well. I was intrigued by the plant and by the numerous comments generated by the photo, several of which apparently regarded the image as being other than normal and included such expressions as I have a dirty mind, and at first I thought it was slightly inappropriate. The plant also reminded me of something, not inappropriate but something I felt would be of interest to my viewers. I posted a comment on the photo and requested permission to use the photo on my blog.

This is my comment on the photo—it includes my request to the photographer:

One of the most curiously shaped denizens of the world of plants, one that perhaps Alice of Alice in Wonderland fame would label “the curiousest one of all.” At least I believe it was Alice who said that, but maybe the Queen said it. That’s an interesting photo of an interesting plant. It—the plant—seems be walking a tight tightrope, trying to maintain balance between looking dangerous and looking comical. For some reason I feel that it is driving me towards a posting of my own. May I use the photo for my post? You have my word that I will shame neither you nor the poppy plant.

This is his reply:
Of course you may use it, and I never for a moment thought you might shame my shot.

And this is the photo:
Click here for that post and click here for his latest blog post.

Judging from the numerous comments on this photo, it appears that for some of your viewers it apparently reminded them of something other than a poppy bud, and I believe I know what that something is. This plant—if it is a plant and not a snake— has an uncanny resemblance to the Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake found only in Afghanistan—that name is derived from the oblong shape of the animal’s head and the fact that the snake migrated from the Far East—the Orient—many centuries ago. Being familiar with the poppy snake, I recognized it immediately in the photo, but then I read the post and the blogger identified it as a simple poppy plant. Although I was not completely convinced, I will admit that it is probably nothing more than a look-alike of the poppy snake. One can readily see the danger posed to poppy gatherers by that resemblance. I suppose one could be smuggled into the United States because Customs inspectors of today are not nearly as effective as I when I was engaged in the profession. However, any attempt to smuggle in one of those serpents would necessarily be a dangerous act. Living always in the open among the poppy plants, the snake does not like close quarters and it would have been a life-and-death menace if smuggled as a body carry—one lick and it would mean certain death for the smuggler—and for the snake, of course, but that would be little solace for the dead smuggler.

Natives that have been stricken—licked—by this snake invariably shout Oops when it happens, possibly in an effort to warn other workers of the snake’s presence. Oops is an acronym comprised of the first letters of the four words in the snake’s name, and Oops is the last word spoken by those unlucky enough to be stricken.

This is an extremely rare animal that lives and thrives in the endless fields of poppies in Afghanistan. This snake does not bite its victims but simply licks, usually and understandably on a hand, finger or on the wrist, and one simple lick is always fatal, both to the licker and the licked. The licked one will die from the snake’s venom, and the snake will die from exposure to the licked one’s skin, regardless of the licked one’s age, skin color, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, political leaning or religion.

Yes, in answer to your question, most deaths caused by this snake occur during the poppy harvest season. Harvesting is a slow process because each plant must be visually examined closely before it is touched, because the Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake—Oops—rears its ugly head up and balances on the tip of its tail to imitate a real poppy plant.

Harvesting is so dangerous that some workers opt out of the harvest and volunteer to don a shiny new explosive vest under their outer clothing and agree to mingle among crowds of people and then explode the vest at a time most appropriate to kill the maximum number of people, a deed necessary to allow the wearer after death to mingle among seventy-two virgins in the after-life, virgins that will always remain chaste regardless of the number of times they are mingled among, and regardless of the number of minglers mingling among them.

This is the world’s most dangerous reptile. One lick by this snake would kill an African Black Mamba in two seconds, and bring a full-grown elephant to its knees in three seconds, and death would occur in the next two seconds, a total of five seconds from lick to loss of life for the pachyderm. As for humans, they barely have time to say Oops, and are dead and rigor mortis has set in even before they hit the ground. There is no anti-venom available, neither for the licker nor for the licked.

One can clearly identify the snake by its small tongue that can be seen in the photograph, slightly protruding in the ready-to-lick position, similar to the s-shape position assumed by rattlesnakes ready to strike. This animal has only one eye, but that eye can rotate and cover a full 360 degrees of vision, a field even wider than that of rabbits. The Oops’ eye can clearly be seen at the top of his head, slightly off-center to his right. Yes, this is a male Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake, readily identifiable by the overall shape of its head and its small nose, located slightly off-center to his left.

Note to burstmode: I intended to post this as a comment on your blog, but because of its length WordPress would probably consider it spam and throw it in the trash pile, and people would not learn about the Oriental Oblong Poppy Snake and potentially lives could be lost, particularly among tourists traveling to Afghanistan during poppy harvest time. Thanks, and a tip of the kingly crown for posting the photo and allowing me to use it on my blog. It gave me the opportunity to discuss one of the rarest animals on earth, found only in Afghanistan and only in the poppy fields. Should those fields be eradicated, the species will quickly join the ranks of extinct animals and mankind will be the worse for its absence.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to  it.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Reflections of a former Customs inspector…

I wrote this article soon after I began a three-year assignment, 1983-1986, at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was published in the 1984 fall issue of Customs Today, the official magazine of the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service has changed dramatically since that time. The number of ports on the southern border may have changed, some added and some deleted, and staffing has been increased and titles have changed, but the mission of Customs inspectors has not changed—I made no effort to reflect the changes in the article for this posting. It is reproduced here exactly as it appeared in the 1984 winter issue of Customs Today. Click here for an article published in the winter of 1986.

Reflections of a former inspector

This year some 300 million people will enter the United states. Whether they enter by air, land or sea each will be greeted by a uniformed Customs inspector. There are 5,000 of us covering the international airports and scattered along 96,000 miles of land and sea borders. Each year we clear for entry travelers whose numbers far surpass the total population of the United States. Expediting the entry of so many people leaves little time to visit, and everything must be strictly business. In this article I want to say some things that the lack of time usually prohibits, things that I hope will promote a better understanding of the Customs Service—its mission, its people and its history.

Our mission is to protect the revenue, industries, economy and environment of the United States, a large order by any standard. In addition to Customs statutes and state and local laws, we enforce more than 400 provisions of laws from 40 other federal agencies. We realize that very few travelers are lawbreakers, and of those few only a minute fraction break the law intentionally. Unfortunately, whether the law is broken intentionally or inadvertently, the lawbreaker cannot be identified by appearance, occupation or position in the community.

Since we cannot visually single out the offenders, completely innocent persons are often caused some degree of inconvenience on their entry into the United States. Such people sometimes feel that they are being checked because we suspect them of smuggling, that we are accusing them of dealing in illicit drugs and narcotics. In most cases we are simply trying to protect them. Our questions and our inspections may reveal something they have overlooked in their declarations or something they may have felt it unnecessary to declare, something that could adversely affect their health, their business interests or their environment.

Our job requires us to be able to meet and deal effectively with persons of widely divergent backgrounds. That divergence  includes the well known and the unknown, the rich and the poor and the in-between. It includes kings and consorts, consuls, clergy, congressmen and cabinet members. It includes priests, popes, premiers, presidents, pimps, prostitutes and fugitives from justice, and thieves, rapists and murderers. It includes drug dealers and pushers, addicts, derelicts and drunks. We are required to meet and deal effectively with people of every conceivable occupation, education level and age, race, religion, creed, color, nationality, ethnicity, ideological bent and political affiliation.

In each of these contacts our employer demands that we be professional, firm, fair and courteous. Courtesy is defined as being “pleasant, polite, respectful, considerate, helpful and patient, and the mandate for courtesy insists on strict adherence under difficult conditions and personal stress, and in the face of extreme provocation. In its efforts to inculcate such moral excellence The Customs Service continually stresses professionalism, courtesy and objectivity.

There are undoubtedly times that we lose our objectivity in conducting an inspection. We bring to the job our private problems, fears, frustrations, aspirations and prejudices, and these sometimes surface unbidden. However, we face the same characteristics in the people with whom we deal. The difference, of course, is that our conduct is officially mandated and proscribed, while they are free to vent their feelings and express their opinions with virtually no restrictions on attitude or language. We cannot respond in kind. They complain to our superiors and their complaints are heard. Investigations are conducted and if warranted, corrective and sometimes disciplinary actions are taken. We have no such recourse available to us.

We consider complaints, to a certain degree, to be an inevitable part of our job. People complain in order to correct a wrong, either real or imagined, and sometimes they complain in an effort to impress or to intimidate. We realize that most complaints are neither vindictive nor malicious, and simply require assurance that the situation is being investigated to determine if a problem exists and if so, assurance that corrective action will be taken to correct the problem.

Most of us have also accepted the fact that verbal abuse is part of the job, a hazard of the occupation. We usually manage to maintain at least a thin veneer of courtesy and patience through frequent and extreme instances of name-calling and suggestions, very explicit, on what we should do with our badge, and in some instances offers are made to do it for us.

That badge, our Service tells us, is best worn with some degree of humility, a dictate noble in concept but not easily followed. It is difficult to feel humble when so much pride is present—pride in being allowed to represent our nation t its borders, pride in being the first line of defense against the flow of illegal drugs and narcotics, and pride in the traditions and rich heritage of the United States Customs Service.

Our heritage began just fifteen years after this nation declared its independence. On July 4, 1979 George Washington signed the Tariff Act, and Customs was born. In the first year of operation our collectors raised $2 million, and by 1835 had made the nation debt free. For 125 years, until the federal income tax act was passed, Customs revenue was virtually the sole source of income for the United States.

The collection of Customs revenue has been entrusted to some illustrious Americans. John Lamb, hero of the battle of Fort Ticonderoga, was an early collector, as was the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Chester Arthur, twenty-first president of the United States, and Pat Garrett, the man that ended the career—and life—of Billy the Kid, Matthew Henson who, with Admiral Byrd, planted the U.S. flag at the North Pole in 1909—all served ably in the United States Customs Service.

Since their time we have grown with the nation. The Customs Service now has some 15,000 dedicated employees distributed among seven regions, 45 districts, 300 ports of entry at our nation’s international airports and land and sea borders, and foreign field offices in ten major world capitals. Since 1955 our total work force has doubled, but has in no way kept pace with a workload that has quadrupled and is still expanding.

With a workload of such magnitude, it is inevitable that some detentions and searches of completely innocent persons will occur. It is probably also inevitable that some of our actions will be construed as harassment. They are not. We are professional law enforcement officers and direct representatives of our government, and we do not take our responsibilities lightly. In accomplishing our mission we try to consider peoples’ feelings and gain their willing cooperation. We attempt to deal with them objectively and fairly. We are not always successful.

We are sometimes told by persons dissatisfied with their inspection that they pay our salaries, and that without them we would not have a job. We freely acknowledge those truths. American taxpayers do indeed pay our salaries, and our jobs exist because the tax payers, through their elected representatives, feel that we are needed. We are thus indebted and ask only that they cooperate fully to assist us in doing the job for which they hired us—collecting the revenue and protecting their interests.

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Hershel M. (Mike) Dyer is a Program Officer in the Office of Inspection Control, Office of Inspectional Liaison at Headquarters. He spent 12 years as an inspector and supervisory inspector on the Southwest Border.

 
 

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Cohan, A Declaration of Independence and a wild coaster ride . . .

I began this posting as a comment to a blog posting by another Word Press writer, one that promises—and delivers—a funny every day, but somewhere along the way my comment took on a different character, that of a new posting on my blog. I believe that any visitor to that funny every day blog will be entertained and enlightened.  When you have finished my posting, you’ll find a link at the end for the funny every day blogger. I believe you’ll enjoy both.

The funny ever day posting is a blistering examination and a repudiation, more or less, of everything intended by one of our founding fathers—Thomas Jefferson, the well meaning—perhaps—author of A DECLARATION by the REPRESENTATIVES of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS Assembled—our Declaration of Independence dated July 4, 1776. The posting is hilarious from start to finish, a classic work that deserves to be housed with the original document at the National Archives or perhaps with Jefferson’s original draft housed at the Library of Congress—both are repositories located in Washington, DC, that sinkhole on the east coast surrounded by the states of Virginia and Maryland.

I tender my abject apologies to James M. Cohan for my corruption of his classic song, You’re a grand old flag, but I have retained the lyrical cadence of his original work.

Note that I have replaced flag with the word document, referring to the Declaration of Independence but shortened to doc for artistic rhythm and poetical purposes. Also please note that the phrase for me and for you is not specific to, nor is it directed at, any particular person, gender, age group, profession, political party, sexual preference, nationality, race, ethnicity or religion or to any specific school of thought except for two exceptions and those are purely accidental—I refer to the terms Dems and Repubs, terms that may or may not be specific in nature, a matter left for readers to define for themselves.

Now for a title of my take on James M. Cohan’s You’re a grand old flag—there is a word that rhymes perfectly with flag, but in deference to various members of Congress, whether young or not so young, and to a significant group of citizens that dislike the term, either for personal or non-personal reasons, I choose not to use it. It’s use obviously would dramatically change the content and tone of the parody and would not suit my purpose. It could, I suppose, be useful in a personal tribute to some individual, whether in or out of public service—perhaps on retirement or resignation. My title and my version of Cohan’s immortal ditty follows:

YOU’RE A GRAND OLD DOC

You’re a grand old doc,
A well-written doc,
A doc for the home of the knaves,
A doc subject to
Some rants from the Dems
And rebuts from the Repubs that fave.

Every heart beats true
‘cept for me and for you,
‘cause we both do believe that it’s true,
That the grand old doc
Is pure poppycock
And is upheld by only a few.

For the edification of the few unaware of the meaning of poppycock—a group probably comprised of the same remaining few that uphold the grand old doc—the following definition from Wikipedia is provided:

Poppycock—anglicized form of the Dutch pappekak, which literally means soft dung or diarrhea, an interjection meaning nonsense or balderdash.

I believe that any visitor to this blog will be entertained and enlightened—click here for a wild ride that outclasses, in every way, every rollercoaster ride on the planet!

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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