Sunday, September 18, 2005

Straw Boss

Who uses it: Workers, foremen, business professors
What it means: A crew member who takes over as supervisor, often -- as my brother James points out -- by self-appointment.
How to use it: When someone's taken too much on himself.

It's fun to imagine what I would do if I ran the world, or if I won a really large sum of money -- not some measly million dollars, but a serious Powerball amount, like $80 million or $100 million. I had this conversation at Bouchercon -- in a bar, of course -- with the author Simon Kernick (read his books), and he scoffed at the idea of it. "Thirty million, forty million" -- he thinks in pounds -- "that's just silly money. What is anyone going to do with that much money?"

"Buy a radio station," I said. "I'd have my own radio station that would only play music I like, and I'd hire all my friends." Simon seemed suitably impressed with this, and asked whether he could have his own show to play really bad songs he liked anyway. That sounded like a good idea to me; I'll be in touch as soon as I have the $100 million.

But then my friend Tara pointed me to this article, and I realized that I just don't have the imagination necessary for true world domination:

(AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, Sept. 7) Turkmenistan's President-for-life, Saparmurat Niyazov, has ordered a zoo be built for 300 species of birds and animals, including penguins, in the Central Asian republic's Kara Kum desert, state television announced on Tuesday.

The decision comes a year after the 65-year-old strongman announced construction of an ice palace capable of holding 1 000 people.

A Turkish firm is expected to complete construction of the 40ha park within a year, the TV report said.

"The zoo will be situated north of Ashkhabad where the Kara Kum desert begins. The animals will live there in conditions close to those of their natural habitat and the zoo will cost several million dollars," said an official at the Turkmen environment ministry, which will select the animals.

"We are examining the possibility of acquiring animals from the four corners of the planet, such as penguins from the north," the source said.

The zoo is the latest in a series of grandiose projects ordered by the man who styles himself "Turkmenbashi", the leader of all Turkmen, whose gas-rich country of five million is dotted with statues of himself and his mother.

In August last year, he ordered that a giant ice palace be built in mountains north of the capital, but doubts were raised about whether it could be sustained in a desert country that receives just 100mm to 250mm of precipitation a year.

Temperatures average minus one degree Celsius in winter and range up to 30 degrees Celsius in summer.

Leaving aside the existential futility of trying to obtain penguins from the north, I can't help but admire the scope of the man's vision. It would be funny if it weren't true.

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