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Dial 'M' for Moving On

I was thinking how James Meredith, of integrating Ole Miss fame, said that “Mississippi was the most powerful word in the English language,” and this triggered a succession of Mississippi-related images in my mind, including the “Mississippi Bubble,” a speculative stock market disaster that plunged France into severe economic depression in 1720 and indirectly led to the French Revolution, and “Mississippi in Africa,” the account of freed slaves from Fayette who established the colony in Africa that eventually became the country of Liberia, etc.

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon of the mind as “train of thought” or “association of ideas” and generally agree that it is caused by such things as resemblance of ideas or objects, contiguity of time and place, and cause and effect. In this particular instance, I seem to have been fixated on the letter “M,” thinking not only of the Magnolia State, and the way we learned to spell it in the first grade (M I crooked letter crooked letter I crooked letter crooked letter I hump back hump back I) but also of the actor Peter Lorre’s breakout film, “M.”

The film is probably the most popular movie ever made in the German language (1932) as well as the first movie with the leitmotif of mood music and another even more curious connection which I will explain.  

I suppose all that alliteration caused a discharge of several sympathetic synapses in my brain, because, most relevant to this column, I began to feel a need to unpack a few of the places I’ve been in my travels that begin with the letter “M,” which, all in all, makes me the happiest, friendliest psychopath you will ever meet.

Take Mauritius, for example, an island in the Indian Ocean. For the past several days, I’ve been closely following the fate of the Japanese cargo ship, Wakashio-Maru, which ran aground on a coral reef and broke up off Port Louis, the capital city, leaking more than a thousand tons of fuel oil into the sea. The ship was passing by close to land, apparently with the crew preoccupied with trying to get cell phone and internet connections, when it hit the reef (kind of like texting and driving but on a much larger scale). Many Japanese commercial ships have the word “Maru” appended to the name on the stern. It means “perfection” or a perfect circle in Japanese. Note the irony here, surrounded by such perfection, the crew’s negligence caused one of the largest oil spills in the history of the Indian Ocean.

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