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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

International donors today pledged more than $250 million to Somalia to end attacks by armed pirates based there. Meanwhile, reports say that Underhill, Vermont, plans a weekend celebration for Richard Phillips. He's the captain of the Maersk Alabama who was held hostage in a lifeboat for five days.

All this pirate talk has commentator Andrei Codrescu thinking both about the modern-day type we don't like and about the romanticized pirates of the past.

Mr. ANDREI CODRESCU (English Professor, Lousiana State University): I live in New Orleans where there are regular pirate festivals, with all kinds of drunken tourists dressed in expensive pirate drag, wandering about before going to work on Monday or wherever they came from.

The point is that we've made a fetish out of cutthroats in our culture and we've endlessly turned murderers into romantic figures from land pirates, like Jessie James to sea pirates like the beloved Captain Hook and his comedic heir, Johnny Depp.

But the real pirates are a sad human story. The kid we have in custody is a victim of his circumstances that we haven't done anything to alleviate. It is enough to send a warship, named ironically and coincidentally the Bainbridge, to kill a few desperate outlaws armed with machine guns. But why is it so hard to do some actually helpful humanitarian work in Somalia so that young kids wouldn't have to commit suicide?

The pirates themselves are no less impressed by the romantic myth than their Western sympathizers, because they've all seen the same movies, pirated of course, and they want to be part of the legend if they don't die of hunger first.

Sure, shipping must be protected. But when Thomas Jefferson went after the pirates, it was a much simpler world. Power, no matter what its stated foundations, had to be used in defense of commerce. Today, we know that power can be used to root out the causes of evil, too. One day, we will surely romanticize terrorists too, because they are after all a few against many, and their willingness to die for something will look very entertainment appetizing.

I don't look forward to it but, meanwhile, let's drop the symmetries and coincidences with the time long passed and the identification of real bandits, with costume parties and rethink the Barbary Coast of Somalia as human-ready for our mighty resources that should include some food along with missile launchers.

SIEGEL: Andrei Codrescu is a professor of English at Louisiana State University.

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