Thursday, March 26, 2009

Plumping For Paranoia

I did not escape entirely unscathed from my fine dinner with Warren Buffett. I, along with my chauffeur Ahmed, had returned him to his hotel. At the entrance, the paparazzi thronged; apparently Britney was giving a concert at a hockey arena, a not entirely inappropriate venue for La Spears, and they were awaiting her return. Ahmed and I managed a quick escape, but Warren was recognized, and immediately besieged with questions. Not on finance, mind you, but on just who was the lady he had been with. (They had glimpsed me briefly in the back of the limousine). He replied as he made his way through the crush, "Oh, that was the Sibyl of Cumae."

Oh, good on you, I thought, as he let me know in a later telephone call, and both of us wondered just how the tabloid media would handle that little bit of classical information. We were not long in finding out.

A week later, my butler Irving brought one of the tabloids to my attention. The headline screamed "Daring Buffett Dines with Reclusive Soap Heiress!" What on earth?

I read further. Apparently the reporter, lacking a sound education, thought Sibyl of Cumae was someone with the surname Camay, "the soap of beautiful women" (if memory serves). A long, long way from a Greek oracle at Cumae, near Naples. I could only recall Cicero: "O tempora! O mores!"

But yes, I am frightened by the paparazzi, or indeed any unwanted publicity, something I share with the English Royals. It's too bad all this happens in the current age. In an earlier time, paparazzi would have found themselves in the Tower, where the perpetrators could have been properly re-educated. One way or the other.

But why this fear? Well, if you were the subject of four fatwas, all asking for a beheading, you might be a little antsy too. Not that I couldn't cope with these louts on an even playing field (such as a dark alley) but there really is no defence other than obscurity against the long gun. A trained sniper on a rooftop presents problems with which I'd rather not contend. So the less publicity, the better.

Yet one must continue to act, to take chances, if you will, and I keep in my mind the following. There is a mountain located on the Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Banff, called The Three Sisters. Legend has it that a Blackfoot chief placed each of his daughters on a separate peak to keep them away from unworthy suitors. The strategy succeeded so well that the three daughters died up there.

Hell, even old Wotan gave Brunnhilde a better chance than that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Risky Business

Said goodbye to Tilly Hatt, having arranged a flight for her from Toronto to Denver, from where she could return to Washington. The broken arm could then be from a skiing accident at Vail, rather than an unwanted outcome from that craziness in Saudi Arabia. The escapade did not escape entirely unnoticed -- Al Jazeera featured a photograph of the head of a woman that looked remarkably like Andrea Dworkin, along with furious comments by the Saudi Religious Police. Such is life in the Ninth Century.

At this point Warren Buffett called. He was in Toronto on business, and wanted a meeting. He suggested one or two places, but too often celebrities dined there, and this meant the paparazzi as well, something not conducive to my health. I suggested dinner at a somewhat out of the way place, known by those who appreciate good food, but not known otherwise -- Noce at Queen and Walnut.

I had chosen to wear one of my son's hemp outfits -- a beige sheath. The only bow to current fashion was a cool leather belt by Versace, which complemented things nicely.

"You look smashing" he said, as he ushered me into my seat. "Dolce and Gabbana?"

"No, Sebastian's of New York." and over Manhattans I related the nonsense of the hemp charge, and the subsequent outcome.

Buffett laughed. "I must have a word with Bloomberg about this."

"You will do no such thing," I replied. "Michael wants that episode kept very quiet. But you might have your researchers do some due diligence on hemp's market potential. My son is doing very well, and the thing is politically correct as hell. Ah, here's the minestrone."

We attended to our soup, but shortly after, Buffett asked, "How did you escape?"

For a minute I thought he was referring to the Sudan and old Al Bashir, but he couldn't possibly have known about that little adventure. "Escape from what?" I asked.

"This financial fiasco. Sub-primes. Madoff. Collateralized debt options. The whole shooting match. Dropped a significant amount myself. You, my sources tell me , did not lose a penny."

"First things first. Take Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme. I avoided that like the plague. Why on earth would you invest in a fund run by a man with the surname Madoff? As to the other issues, I simply read the VaR correctly."

"You know about VaR?"

"Value at Risk. Really, Warren." I shot him a withering glance.

"Sorry. Of course you do. Ah, but here's our wine. I must say, I didn't expect a cellar this good. Lafitte Rothschild indeed."

"You'd be surprised what you can find in this town." I tried a sip. Magnificent. "Now as to VaR--"

"I'm all ears," he said. "Hell, Nobel prizes were awarded for that algorithm. But it didn't alert the risk factors soon enough."

"It was soon enough for Goldman Sachs, after the Long Term Capital Management screw-up. That's when they began to draw in their horns. So did I. But they didn't go far enough, nor did anyone else. Because --"

"Because?" He was giving me total attention now.

"Because the time frame it measured was too short. VaR generally relied on a two year data history. This worked for a while, and everyone made a lot of money. It was 98% accurate -- AIG thought 99% -- and that was considered adequate risk. And it is, under those terms. But the time span was roughly 1997 to the present. If, on the other hand, you begin in 1900, then the risk factor doesn't begin to whimper at a 1% or 5% level, it begins to shriek at about a 25% level. In other words, time to jump ship, realizing that you've hit those dreaded initials, T.B.D."

"To be determined?"

"No. THERE BE DRAGONS. Now let's talk about sugar beets."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Bit Over The Top

Back from the Big Apple and the hemp wars, along with two nice skirt and blouse ensembles and leaving one relieved son. Some relaxation was in order, and I was happily ensconced in a bubble bath, re-reading Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, when Irving poked his head in.

"There's been a spot of trouble."

"Well, deal with it." I was at an interesting part of the novel.

"It's Miss Hatt," Irving continued, ignoring me completely. "She needs a place to stay for a few days. To recover from Saudi Arabia."

Now my curiosity was piqued. "She told me she was going to the West Indies for a vacation. What the hell was she doing in The Kingdom?"

"That Miss Hatt can tell you herself. She's downstairs in the kitchen. She,... er... needed some patching up. And a shower. But I did get the bullet out."

"Oh bloody hell," I said, rising, I hoped, like some Venus from the foam. Irving handed me a large towel, oblivious to any of my charms, such as they were. We have known each other for a long time. "Right. let's see just what kind of mess Tilly Hatt has gotten herself into this time."

A few minutes later, in jeans and T shirt, (the one that reads "My England Includes Calais") I headed for the kitchen. There I beheld a rather bedraggled Matilda Hatt, pride of the CIA, clutching a formidable Laphroaig in one hand. The other was bandaged up to the arm. Irving had also taken some liberties with my wardrobe, to wit, a pair of shorts and my German T shirt, the one that reads "Der Tage ende; Johhny Walker Kommt."

I seized the bottle, and poured myself a good dollop. Nothing like drinking an peat-ridden anchor to bring perspective on things.

"Well?" I said, seating myself opposite her. "This was your vacation? In Saudi Arabia?"

"It was something I wanted to do," she replied, a tinge of defiance in her voice. "I thought it would be a great idea to do a little information dissemination."

"Information dissemination."

"Yes," she replied, pushing a strand of blond hair away from her eye. "I brought some samples back. Look in that knapsack in the corner.

I did so, and withdrew several texts, all the same. In Arabic.

"Simone, you read and speak Arabic, don't you?"

"Well, I'm not Ibn Khuldun, but let me see -- Good God! You were swanning around The Kingdom distributing these? You're bloody lucky you've still got your head on."

The text I held was entitled Life and Death. By Andrea Dworkin. Andrea Dworkin! The ultimate, no holds barred feminist. Irving once told me that any man reading this would feel he was eating barbed wire. A Saudi male would go ballistic.

"Why on earth --"

"Actually," Tilly said, "there's no place better on earth to do this. And I got a lot of the texts out. It's amazing what you can do in a full body naqib. Bloody invisible, you are."

"But then it all went south."

"Yeah. And so did I. In a hurry. To Yemen. Hooked up with one of the clans that we've done some business with in the past. But then we ran across another clan that we didn't do business with, and there was a wee tussle. That's where I picked up this." She pointed to her bandaged arm. "Couldn't really attend to it there, and things moved very fast after that. Long story short, I need to hang out for a few days.

"And Langley?"

"As far as they're concerned, I'm still in the West Indies."

Well, Tilly, mi casa su casa. But you really have to stop all this Don Quixote stuff, even if you're doing it on your own time. Let's keep things sane. I mean it."

"I know you do, but Simone, since you brought up Quixote, there's something else that's worth remembering."

"What's that?"

"It was, as I recall, Cervantes who wrote, "Too much sanity may be madness, and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be."

And I found myself schooled.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Bite of the Big Apple

So there I was, off to New York to settle this ridiculous hemp charge. Headed right for Fifth Avenue and 59th, and my suite at the Plaza. I had earlier called Sebastian, and told him on no account was he to discuss the marijuana charge with the press. At least not yet -- this was fruit that had yet to be picked.

My next move was to get in touch with the Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Michael had been an earlier investor in my sugar beet enterprise, and his firm had done well. It was, therefore, not that difficult to get through the various officials, terribly afflicted with office, by simply stating, "Just tell him, 'sugar beets'".

I outlined what had occurred, the confusion between clothing made from hemp, and its relationship to marijuana (non-existent to all intents and purposes). I could literally hear him blanch, for he immediately saw the problem: the media would have a field day with the story, with New York becoming a global laughing stock.

"Now not to worry, Michael," I said. "I will make it all go away. But I do need to know the name of the Assistant District Attorney who would be prosecuting the case, and your assistance in arranging a meeting as soon as possible. And forget notifying the District Attorney, whoever that might be. He or she wouldn't know a damn thing about the matter, and would get all hot and bothered trying to figure out how this would play in terms of electoral prospects."

Michael agreed wholeheartedly, and an hour later I had a name and an appointment for 10:00 am the next day. I then caught a cab and spent some time at Sebastian's store, where I made a few purchases; he really does have a sense of style. After that, a fine dinner at the Plaza Room, and then, as old Sam Pepys liked to write, "and so to bed."

Next morning Sebastian and I were ushered in to the office of one Hedy Catskill, the A.D.A. in charge of the case. Pleasant looking face, but the glasses didn't help, nor did her hair, tightly back in a bun. Her pant suit was all wrong -- she didn't have the height -- and she really should stay away from that outfit. Probably an undue influence from Hillary. The woman looked harassed, and had to fumble through a series of files before retrieving the hemp issue.

"Yes," she began. "A serious charge. Trafficking. Serious that."

"Trafficking what?" I asked.

"A restricted drug. Marijuana, to be exact."

"Rubbish." I stood up, approached her desk. I was wearing a black pencil skirt and magenta blouse. "Here, Hedy," I said, holding the hem of the skirt. "Feel."

For a moment I thought the woman, wide-eyed, was going to flee, but a tentative hand stretched out.

"That's hemp," I said. "My blouse is made of the same material. That's what is being sold. Clothing, not a narcotic. Now can you imagine what the media might do with this story? Just visualize the headline -- A.D.A. HOT FOR HEMP! Or how about this -- NUMB SKULL NARCS! Or --"

"All right! All right! Just give me a minute to find out how this whole thing started."

Hedy flipped through the file, and then looked up, a peculiar expression on her face. "Well, the N.Y.P.D. were following up on a complaint. It seems that a group had a strong disliking for drugs being used as clothing."

Sebastian spoke up at this point. "What group could possibly object? I mean really, my dear."

Hedy replied, " says here, 'Clothing For Christ.'

A short silence ensued after this, the usual reaction when the bizarre occurs.

"So perhaps," I suggested, "this whole thing could be dismissed. You might consider writing to this group explaining the difference between a drug and a dress. Sebastian and I of course will say nothing. Particularly to the media. No point in embarrassing you, or the D.A. Or, for that matter, Mayor Bloomberg. You agree?"

She nodded silently. Then she looked up and said, "What you're wearing. Must have cost a fortune."

Sebastian said, "Skirt, $45.00. Blouse, $33.00." He looked at her closely. "You know, we have some really cool A-lines and jumpers in now. Would suit you perfectly. $40.00, two for $60.00. Here's my card. You're welcome anytime."

"I...I might just take you up on that. And yes, this will be dismissed. Nonsense, all of it."

"Hedy," I said, you will go far."

So that was that. Occasionally, government gets it right, and gives the lie to that frightening saying, "Hi. I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you." But as my good friend Bill Maher once stated, that frightening saying has now been replaced with a far more fearsome one: "Hi. I'm Sarah Palin, and by golly, I have access to the launch codes."

See you soon.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Designer Drugs

After my last note, admittedly a bit out of control, I was glad to see The Economist is reading my stuff, and referenced the news item that so enraged me. (cf. The Economist, February 21, 2009, p. 6). That ghastly decapitation certainly deserved wider exposure, although I was a bit disappointed that the magazine didn't zero in on the ludicrous second degree murder charge. Still, the focus of The Economist is,, and given the current gloom and despair in the financial world, I can understand where its priority lies. Hell, even Warren Buffet is being buffeted these days. (Thought I'd get that in before it appears in The Wall Street Journal.)

But right now I have another worry.

My eldest son (not my younger one, Mark, who careens down snow hills on two sticks) has found himself in a spot of trouble. He is called Sebastian --Lord Strunsky was much enamoured of Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited -- and is a very successful designer of women's clothes. His emporium in New York is always a hub of activity, mainly because he rather upsets the designer apple cart, and makes clothes that women actually will wear. He also exclusively uses natural fibres -- cotton, wool, linen -- and this apparently makes him a mini-hero to the ecological sensitive. Apparently, however, he went too far, and began putting out dresses, pants and skirts made of hemp.

These outfits were enormously successful, but then the whole thing went south. A frantic phone call from Sebastian brought me into the picture.

A woman had purchased several hemp jumpers. Then, and this is where things went off the rails, the silly thing proceeded to cut them to pieces, roll up the fibres, and sell them as marijuana. She was arrested about a week later, something that doesn't surprise. Hemp fibre is not the psychoactive drug cannabis, something she could have learned in Grade Ten biology if she had actually gone to Grade Ten. (Do they even teach biology these days in America?) So we are dealing with a person here who is not particularly swift, but canny enough to say that she purchased her supplies at Aloysius' store, Real Clothing For Women. Bitch.

Aly had been arrested and charged in turn, with drug trafficking. He had no trouble posting bail, but was clueless when it came to how he was going to answer the charge, and was worried about the possible sentence -- ten years at Rikers.

I made a phone call to a first rate criminal lawyer in New York that I had once saved in a white water rapids incident, and who owed me one. He leapt at the case -- this was drug enforcement gone mad -- and assured me that all would be OK. I was not so sure. Americans have this insane War On Drugs, and strange things can happen. So I am off to New York, and will let you know how all this turns out.