Friday, November 28, 2008

Global Warming -- It Happens

I humoured a good but somewhat misguided friend the other day and accompanied her to a mini-conference on the global warming issue, entitled "A Planet In Dire Peril." I listened to speaker after speaker bemoan the state of things, the common leitmotif to all this being that the very survival of the planet was in doubt. Making a superhuman effort -- no point in embarrassing my friend -- I held my tongue in check, but when we joined a group later at the bar, my resolve collapsed when one of the attendees, close to tears (or too many martinis) complained bitterly that the earth was done for.

Now I well realized that the points I wished to make would fall on deaf ears, in that if you argue with a reformer, you are always wrong, but really, this was getting completely out of hand.

"That's rubbish," I said loudly and clearly.

Silence for a moment, and then someone asked, "What's rubbish? You can't ignore global warming. Look at what Al Gore --"

"Let's conveniently forget about inconvenient truths for a moment," I interrupted, "and concentrate on the issue of the earth. It may get warmer, it may get colder, but it sure isn't in peril. Think for a moment about a planet undergoing real global warming. Think about Venus, average temperature on the surface of 500 degrees Centigrade, with an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, sulphuric acid and smaller traces of God knows what. Now that's a planet in peril, yet you know what? It gets along just fine, does Venus. As does Earth."

"So?' asked one of the enviromentalists who had given one of the more hair-raising talks.

"So, my friend" I replied, "the planet has been there, done that, and is still with us. Let's review, and yes, you can buy me another Cosmopolitan. First, the Pleistocene Ice Age, 110,000 years ago. Then the Bolling Warm Period, 14,700 years ago. Lasted for some 800 years. This gave way to the Older Dryas Cooling for 300 years, to be followed by the Allerod Warming that went on for 700 years. Most recently we had the Little Ice Age from 1500 to 1850, and since then things have been getting gradually warmer, although nowhere near the Bolling Period. Hence, as you can see, the Conference has been asking the wrong question."

This was greeted by blank stares. Too much information, I thought, too soon.

"The real question" I continued, "should centre upon us. It is we, not the planet, that are in peril. And we will have to act imaginatively. Curtailing greenhouse gases will help, but not that much. The planetary forces at work are far beyond our ability to rein them in, at least outside of an Iain Banks novel, and therefore as much emphasis should be placed on adaptation as on carbon capping and stashing. Oh, and thanks for the drink."

Two minutes later our little section of the bar was deserted.

"Really, Simone." my friend said.

"Yes, I replied, "really."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sometimes The Drastic Is Called For

In my last little missive, dealing with the horrific things that women are subjected to in certain cultures and countries, I indicated that a good way out of the mess lies in the kitchen. But before this way can be utilized, one great hurdle must be overcome.

I first became cognizant of this hurdle at a Man Booker reception, where my good friend Peggy Atwood was reading selections from her work. One sentence, germane to the discussion at hand, will forever resonate in my memory. It goes as follows: "This above all, to refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that, I am nothing."

This deserves some thought. First, as one believes, so it is. Or, as the poet Wallace Stephens put it, "Let be be the finale of seem." Now if the seeming makes it so, something I take to be inarguable, then it follows that if one sees oneself as a victim, well, doors just shut all over the place, and it all continues. The abusive relationship. The adherence to a male code of behaviour (calling it ethics is not on) rooted in the 9th century. The stoning to death for adultery, proven or not. And so on, for ever and ever, world without end.

To stop this idiocy, the seeing yourself as a victim has to stop as well. Not easy, but it can be done. Only then do various options present themselves, and this brings me back to the kitchen.

Girls, think about it. No other room in the house, hut or hovel contains such weaponry. Knives (for vegetables must be cut) spices (some dangerous if applied too liberally) foodstuffs (which can be added to in certain ways) -- the list goes on. And you don't have to kill the tyrant immediately (which would call for suspicion) , just debilitate, and tend with not so loving care. Of course, in extreme cases, where speed becomes a necessity, "spices" such as arsenic, belladonna and strychnine come to mind. And stash what monies you can in the flour bowl. Or wherever.

Along with the above, a good deal of thought should be given to developing a sound exit strategy after your "beloved" has shuffled off his mortal coil. This is not overly difficult in most cases. The 9th century doesn't have much time for widows, and they will be glad to see the backside of you.

And your flour bowl will not be missed.

Good luck, and should you manage to make it to Canada, you will always have a welcome at Strunsky Manor.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Are We Really That Frightening?

A news item came to my attention the other day -- I believe from the Manchester Guardian -- that described a mad dash to a hospital in Saudi Arabia. When the car arrived at the emergency entrance, various Saudi medical personnel were stunned to note that it had been driven by a woman. Turned out that it was the sick man's daughter, and had it not been for her quick transport, her father faced almost certain death. To the religious authorities, who were horrified to learn that not only could this young girl drive a car, but drive it with some expertise, there could only be one result -- a goodly number of lashes and a lengthy prison term. Women do not drive in Saudi Arabia. Her dire fate was averted, however, when it was learned that the father was a man with powerful connections in The Kingdom, and these said "authorities" could go fly a kite. Indeed, he wanted to reward her, and when he had recovered somewhat, asked her what she might like. "A Ferrari," she replied.

This is a girl I would like to meet.

Yet the anecdote raises some interesting questions, all of which can be summed up under the rubric, "Certain Muslim men are terrified of women." Hence I can understand the driving ban, which, if lifted, would give women a death-dealing weapon equal to those driven by men.

But this doesn't quite get at the sheer terror felt by those men inhabiting a great deal of the Middle east, to say nothing of those in the tribal areas of Pakistan or in much of Afghanistan. Educating a female, for instance, is anathema -- witness the recent courageous act of throwing acid in the faces of thirteen-year-old schoolgirls, and of course any unprotected girl's school is ripe for bombing, preferably with the inhabitants still in it. And the insanity of their rape laws, where the act must be testified to by four witnesses before any redress can be offered, well, this just beggars belief. I mean, just imagine. There you have four guys standing around, taking notes on the act (more likely a gang bang) and then trotting off to the local mullah to report. Unless of course the mullah himself -- oh, enough. The point is made.

But this is sanctioned in the Qu'ran you say. Like hell it is. All the Qu'ran states is that women should dress and act modestly. Full stop. The rest stems from some asshole "interpreting" the text.

No, the problem goes deeper. I have long held that fear and hatred stem from not understanding the person or thing being beheld. Now it is true that no man will ever understand a woman completely, but at least in civilized society men give women the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time. In the areas discussed above, where we are deep into the ninth century, no such benefit is given. Women are lesser beings, contaminated with evil, and begrudgingly necessary for procreation. Abortion is punishable by death, yet if I have it right, and if it were men giving birth, all the mullahs, imams, and not a few rabbis and priests, would make abortion a sacrament.

There is an answer to this, and it lies in an odd place -- the kitchen. More on that next time.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Great Expectations

No, this is not an analysis of the relationships among Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham (although Mr. Wemmick's stressing the benefits of 'portable property' might proffer a small contribution to the current financial mess) but rather some thoughts on the recent American election.

Good on Barack Obama, and good on the American electorate for turning a number of corners, not the least of which is the election of an African-American to the Presidency. I have lived through Selma, Dr. King's address, the saga of Rosa Parks, Brown v. Board of Education and considering all that, thought it would still take decades for such an event to occur. And never mind the carping comment (made by several grumpy analysts ) that in the U.S. it always takes a black man to clean up the white man's messes. All of which brings me to my point

The mess left by the unholy combination of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse -- Bush, Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld -- is truly gargantuan. It will not be solved speedily, and herein lies the problem. The expectations raised by the election of Obama verge on the fantastical. It as if he could wave a magic wand, and presto! the economy starts humming again, job creation soars, two wars end with resounding success, and those wee tussles in the Congo, Somalia and Darfur all get quickly resolved. (Note to Sarah -- Africa is a continent, not a country. I must have a little talk with that woman.) And as the good Barack begins to slog his way through all this, people's impatience is bound to rise; current society, aided and abetted by technology, is lousy at deferred gratification. The message that has to get through is that it took eight years of idiocy to get the U.S. where it is. It is going to take eight years to get back to where the country was.

One bright aspect, if I remember my T.S. Eliot, is as follows: "And the purpose of all our journeyings is to get back to the place where we started, and know it for the first time." So perhaps, just perhaps, that knowledge will come about. So let's all of us give it time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hallowe'en At Strunsky Manor

It had been some time since I last witnessed shelling out and tricking and treating. My last three years were spent in geographical locations really not conducive to celebrating All Hallow's Eve. Last year, for instance, I was in Vladivostock hunting down an assassin by the name of Nadia Nerevko, who had tortured and killed one of my colleagues. And it was late at night, in an alley near Nabereznaya Street that we met. I took my 9mm Glock in two hands and -- oh, never mind. It was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead. So to speak. Then on to a much needed vacation in the Caucuses, until, as you know if you have been diligent in following all this, I was summarily uprooted by the Russian army.

On that point, I can tell you that I did receive a nice apology that reads as follows: "Simone, my dearest, so sorry for the eviction. I hadn't realized you were in the area. I well remember that night in Omsk -- considering what we did, how could I forget it -- and truly regret any inconvenience the invasion might have caused you." Signed: V. Putin.

Nice of him, but still....

Anyway, it turns out that Irving my butler loves Halloween, and can discourse at length on the original Celtic festival of Samhain, and the use of frightening masks in order to not be recognized by the dead (they see October 31st as party time.) Thus Irving has kept the tradition alive at my house, and the staff spent uncounted hours decorating the front and the extended driveway. No small feat -- the driveway is about a half kilometre from the municipal road -- and trick or treaters, along with their somewhat spooked out parents, were met at the front of the driveway by a series of golf carts. These were then whipped up to the front doors, and homemade candy apples distributed. These had been marked with my address and coat of arms, to ease parental concerns and to indicate that they were not dealing with a psychopath along the lines of the aforementioned Nadia Nerevko.

I watched all this with amusement, but felt a touch of nostalgia as well; it would be nice to be a little girl again, with your biggest problem being what to wear on Hallowe'en. Some of the costumes were amazing, some were charming, and one was highly original, an outfit resembling a Crayola crayon. None however, touched on the scary or the downright evil.

Wait. I lie. One lad did plumb the depths of actual horror. He wore a Dick Cheney mask.

See you soon.