Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Of Prizes and Politics

I had been watching television (never a good thing; the word is half Latin, half Greek) and then discussing certain aspects of politics with my friend and lover, the Compte de Rienville. In America, the whole political arena appeared to be filled with wolves.

"You mean, as in Kipling, in The Jungle Books?" said the Compte.

"Not even. Those wolves had an ethos. Akela, Raksha, Grey Brother, they all followed a moral code, and straying from that code was ill advised. Listen:

'For this is the law of the wolf pack,
As old and as true as the sky;
Those that do keep it will prosper,
But those that do break it will die.'"

The Compte said, "Sounds pretty harsh to me."

"Only if the code is broken. Now, in many places in the world, the code itself has been shattered. Look at America. Poor Obama-Akela is at his wits end trying to corral that Bandar Log known as Congress. As for Russia, well, there we are dealing with Putin-Shere Khan. And in Zimbabwe --"

"Enough, Simone. Your point is made."

I shut up, and curled up closer. We were in a suite the Compte had obtained at the Georges Cinq in Paris, courtesy of one of his D.G.S.E. contacts. Wonderful set of rooms, delicious food and drink, and that edible dress I had purchased from Sebastian in New York had really proved its worth. As the Compte had remarked, it was not often that two primal urges, to eat and make love, could be satisfied at the same time. Or, if you were very skilled, simultaneously. And the Compte was very skilled.

What had brought me to France was the fact that my Ukrainian sugar beet holding had won first prize for producing better sugar beets than anyone else. Thus, Strunsky Enterprises was the proud recipient of the Golden Sugar Beet award, a beautiful trophy featuring a healthy sugar beet balanced somehow on top of a pyramid. The ceremony was held at Versailles, for a French concern had won a subsidiary prize, for most attractive sugar beet. (Are we surprised?)

I had chartered an aircraft, and brought all the workers down from Lviv for the event. I mean, it was their award, and their work, that was being rewarded. Yes, I take my 10 per cent, for providing the original finance, but the rest belongs to them. Would that certain bankers and financiers -- but I digress.

My Ukrainian supervisor, Bohdan, accepted the award, and spoke well and graciously on behalf of the workers. It was all good.

So maybe things will turn around in this wolf-like world we live in, and a code of ethics see the light again. Not for nothing had Lord Baden-Powell turned to Kipling when seeking a moral underpinning for his Boy Scout movement. In this regard, Tom Lehrer's somewhat scabrous words flashed into my mind, and I leave you with them:

"Be prepared! That's the boy scout's marching song;
Be prepared as through life you march along.
Don't solicit for your sister, that's not nice,
(Unless you get a good percentage of her price)
Be prepared, to hide that deck of cigarettes,
Don't take book, if you cannot cover bets,
And if you're looking for adventure, of a new and different kind,
And you meet a little girl scout who's similarly inclined,
Don't be nervous, don't be flustered, don't be scared --
Be prepared!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nuance in New York

Off to New York, to see my son Sebastian's new line of Fall clothes. Somehow Sir Harry had heard of this (Harry is good at hearing things) and asked me to transport something to one Lin Po. He of Chinese Intelligence.

"You have met before, I think." Sir Harry said.

"Yes. In Nome. At the Idatrod. Where the husky was wounded." I could sense Harry shuddering.

"That was unfortunate, and best forgotten," he said abruptly. "Now a very small package should arrive within the hour. Normally I would use diplomatic channels, but this is --"

"Extremely sensitive, and probably well off the official record," I interrupted. "But since America has started its little Homeland Security adventure, this will take some ingenuity. And double the fee. Or some help in obtaining that sugar beet concession in Kent."

Sir Harry sighed, "Given the state of Her Majesty's Government right now, I'll opt for the fee. Do well."

And that was that. The package duly arrived, a small marble about a half inch in diameter, containing God knows what in microchip format. So off I went, and there was no problem at customs. Women simply have a myriad of places to hide stuff on, or in, their persons, and it would take something much more elaborate than an airport scanner to detect where that marble was secreted. Smiling sweetly at the wand-waving airport officer just helped everything along.

After a nice lunch at Sardis, it was off to Sebastian's, where I purchased a number of items, including a sheath dress that was made out of some vegetable thingy and was entirely edible. This raised a number of intriguing possibilities, something I would explore with the Comte de Rienville. And soon.

Arrangements with meeting Lin Po involved the Rockefeller Center, and I duly arrived there, or at 30 Rock as it was better known. At least since Tina Fey's TV show. I have never met the woman, although I admire her work. I have, however, met her doppelganger, Sarah Palin. ("I can see everything from my house!") In fact, it had been Palin who had wounded the husky mentioned above. Contrary to her PR, she is a terrible shot. But I digress.

A limo pulled up, and out popped the chauffeur. This was, of course, Lin Po himself, he being no slouch at being perceived as a non-entity. We chatted at the side of the limo, knowing that the diplomatic plates would keep the N.Y.P.D. at bay. At least for a short time. I have found over the years that you can push the N.Y.P.D. a bit. But only a bit. Then they push back. Hard. So Lin and I had better be quick.

I gave him the marble, for which he proffered thanks.

"And my best to Sir Harry, as well." he added. "And I have something for you. It should fit on your fourth finger, right hand."

Does his homework, does Lin Po. And the ring was beautiful, an iridescent opal centered by four tiny golden clasps.

"Might I ask --"

"You may. The information in the opal contains certain land holdings that may be favourable for sugar beet growth. You would still have to go through official channels, but this data will save you considerable time in research. And any proposal would be looked at kindly."

"As, no doubt, would my value as a conduit."

Lin Po's expression did not change, and, not for the first time, I thought that the expression 'po-faced' had originated with him, or at least one of his ancestors. "As for future value," he said, "that's as may be. It could be that things are slowly getting out of control, and the relay of essential information will become crucial. As Louis XIV put it, "Apres moi le deluge."

"Wrong," I said with some heat. "It was not even Louis XV, as most sources relate, but his mistress, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, better known as Madame de Pompadour. And what she actually said was 'Apres nous le deluge'. This is the sort of thing that happens when men write the history books. Check it out."

Lin Po said, "I had forgotten your penchant for details."

"Details like liberty, brotherhood, and equality."

"Now Lady Simone," Lin replied as he re-entered his vehicle, "let us not carp. And as for liberty, wasn't it the American, Will Rogers as I recall, who wrote 'Liberty doesn't work as well in practice as it does in speeches?'"

Then he drove away. With Lin Po, you had to be satisfied with a draw.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Electing The Elect

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness." So wrote John Keats of autumn, but his fine ode would have unlikely be written had he been in Canada. Here, you see, autumn is celebrated by having an election, whether that election is needed or not. And the one being projected is definitely not needed, and every non-Tory candidate that hoves into view should be asked one key question: "Given the global meltdown, just what on earth would you have done differently?" This will produce silence, of course, and you should cast your ballot accordingly.

Moreover, the cost of this running of the reptiles is roughly $300,000,000, begging a further comment: "Recession? What recession?"

That said, I still have doubts that an election will occur. After all, there are some 98 MP's who, if they lose their seat, would also lose their parliamentary pensions (you need to retain your seat for six years to qualify) and many of these creatures are making the most money they ever have in their life -- or will again. This would change radically in autumn of 2010, but for now..... I also wondered why this fact is not more reported on, but then it occurred to me that any reporter who brought this into the open would lose any chance of ever being appointed to that wondrous Canadian Valhalla -- the Senate. Myself aside, few would risk that.

Now to another election. My colleague Code Barry has just returned from Afghanistan, where he was monitoring, well, something. Certainly not an open and honest election. From him I learned the following:

* Over four times the ballots were returned than had actually been issued;
*They were returned in job lots of 200, 300 and 500, numbers which defy logic (although not neatness);
* In one case, Karzai received 700 votes from a district deep in Taliban-held territory. Great, except for one small fact: the polling station never opened; and,
* There is no word in Dari or Pushtu for "scrutineer".

Given this, it really is time for NATO and the USA to get the hell out of there, given the proviso outlined in my September 1 entry.

Mind you, elections are always tricky, in that it is the counting, not the voting, that is the rub. Just look at the American debacles of 2000 and 2004. Then, if memory serves, there was 1948, where Lyndon Johnson won his Senate primary only after the state Democratic committee voted to certify the ballots of dozens of loyal supporters.

Who, as it happened, were all dead.

I wonder what Keats would have thought about all this?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Once More Into The Breach -- Not.

Sir Harry called on the secure line, with a request. Apparently he and certain international colleagues were getting together to sort out Afghanistan, and he wanted my input.

"This meeting. Can I go?"



"Directors only. And you can be very upsetting at times."

"Directors only? Goodness, something might actually happen. Oh, and tell Robert Gates that I still haven't received that case of Dom Perignon for that nonsense in Minsk."

Sir Harry broke the connection.

I didn't bother asking where the meeting was being held, (Sir Harry wouldn't have told me anyway) although it would be some five star hotel or resort somewhere. They live well, do Directors of Intelligence.

After some thought, I wrote a piece and fired it off. This is the gist of it.

Where Afghanistan is concerned, the major focus should be on getting the hell out. It is, as history tells, the place where Empires go to die. Just ask the Brits. Or the Russians. Or for that matter, ask Alexander the Great. Yes, I understood why NATO and the U.S. was in there in the first place -- the Taliban wouldn't give up Osama bin Laden, but as I (and Sir Harry) know, the bunker bombs on Tora Bora took him out on the second day of the war. And the Taliban weren't going to invade anyone. Their own internecine clan warfare is quite enough, and they simply lack the wherewithal, both in military hardware and will, to think of moving too far beyond their borders. They tried this in Pakistan, but when they got too close to Islamabad, Pakistan decided to act. Bye bye Taliban. They also want nothing to do with Western women, who terrify them. I mean, what if their own burka-clad women suddenly saw that there was another role model? No, in Afghanistan they are, and there they will stay.

Al Qaeda is an entirely different kettle of fish. They do have resources, and the will to use them. But the plotting that led to the catastrophe of the World Trade Centre had little to do with Afghanistan. Hell, most of the plot was thought out in Europe, Germany in particular. So keep up the vigilance, and as the plots stand up, knock them down. That's what intelligence agencies are all about.

As for Afghanistan, bring the NATO and American boys and girls home, but not before sending this message to the various warlords and tribal elders in both Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan: "If we have knowledge that an Al Qaeda-like training facility has been constructed, expect a satellite-guided missile right down your throat."

What, you might ask, will happen to the Afghan women? Nothing good, would be my response, but as I have noted before, it is the women themselves that must throw off their chains. This will take time, but we did it and so can they. And yes, with the departure of NATO and the Americans, tribal warfare will erupt, and things will return to normal, as it has been in Afghanistan for hundreds of years, and change will only come slowly. As an Afghanistan saying puts it, "A Pushtun waited for 100 years, then took his revenge. It was quick work."