Friday, November 27, 2009

Analysis, Interrupted

The following message came in from Sir Harry on the secure line: "The Russians are herding whales off the coast of Vladivostok. Why? And no, you're not going there. Analysis only. Usual rate."

I felt like hurling back Alford Korzybski's observation that the map is not the territory, but since my little promotion to the Analysis Department, I felt I better not push things. Anyway, I had some contacts in the area that would at least get me a picture of just what was afoot.

After some back and fill, and calling in some markers, I learned that the Russian navy had indeed corralled some whales. Five Minkes and four Humpbacks, to be specific. Further investigation indicated that the research was tied into their submarine program. This did not surprise -- Russia and submarines was a romance that too often ended in tears. Remember the Kursk? Obviously they were attempting to learn from pros just how to submerge and float with ease.

As I wrote Sir Harry, this would not work, and he needn't worry. It is always unwise to copy nature exactly. For instance, early attempts at emulating bird flight went nowhere. We only learned to fly by bolting a 400 horsepower engine onto the equivalent of a barn door. Nature never went in this direction. I mean, how would such a creature feed itself? What was important was to suss out the underlying principles, and work from there.

Just as I was to expand on this aspect, Irving, my butler and minder, entered, all apologetic. He knows I hate being interrupted when I'm on a Sir Harry assignment, so whatever it was would be of some importance.

"There is a woman," he began, "who claims to be your cousin."

"I don't have any cousins...wait. There is one. But she is deep in some godforsaken town in Iowa, if she's still alive. We never got along. Are you telling me --"

"Her name is Prudence Smith," Irving continued. "I put her in the drawing room."

"Well, needs must," I sighed, and we trotted downstairs, there to meet a very ruffled Prudence, her face flushed, and glaring at Irving. "That man," she said icily, "touched me!"

"Quick search for a weapon," Irving said dispassionately.

Oh, my, I thought. Prudence, I began to recall, was modest. I mean, so much so that she would eat a banana sideways. And her outfit! Ill-fitting jacket, and a dress that was more a tent than an item of apparel. On the other hand, I was in my comfy but very unstylish sweatsuit, so I was not in a position to comment.

"Prudence," I said. "Welcome. It's been, how many, twenty years? Twenty-five?"

"Thirty-one," she replied.

"And what prompted you --"

"I am attending a convention in the city. The World Temperance Union. And since I knew you lived nearby, I took a cab here. Something very disturbing has happened that involves one of your children. You must deal with it."

"Do go on." What the hell was she talking about?

"In the hotel, I made the mistake of turning on the television. There is a religious program on at eight that I don't like to miss. Instead, I got something called CSA --"

"CSI probably. Unless you were watching a program on the Confederate States of America."

"Anyway, there was a body. All bloody. And Simone, it was Victoria!"

"How on earth would you know that? You've never even seen her."

"I follow all the family", she said primly. "Our pastor encourages close family ties. So I keep a scrapbook, and get in touch with all family members. They send me pictures."

All this was news to me. "Well, I never sent you any pictures."

"I never asked for any. Considering what you do for a living."

"I raise sugar beets," I retorted.

"And kill. But I've always thought you were a lost cause. But you children can be saved. They can be protected. And Victoria should not be shamelessly exhibiting her body that way. Disgusting. You'll have to tell her to stop it."

"I have."


"I've already had a conversation with Vicky on the matter. She uses her little film career to supplement her income. It allows her to attend various seminars, and give papers. Right now she is in Boston, I believe, presenting a thesis on the decline of Western Christendom."

"The she is lost as well. You're probably proud of her."

"As a matter of fact, I am. I'm proud of all my children. All four. One of each."

"What does that mean?'

"Oh, you'll figure it out. In time. Anything else? Care for a cup of tea? Something stronger?"

"Nothing. You can call me a taxi."

"I can have Ahmed drive you back to your hotel."

Prudence flinched. "Ahmed? I think not. A taxi will do."

Shortly after, she flounced out.

I looked at Irving.

He looked at me.

"Lord protect us from protectors," I said.

"Amen," he replied.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Moll At The Mall

I had a spot of trouble recently. Not entirely my fault, but it might have been avoided. Just can't see how -- you be the judge.

I was on the way back from an excellent lunch with some colleagues in The Trade, during which we had evolved a solution for Iran. Can't relate the details, other than to mention that the cost would be minimal, and the results spectacular. The proposed action, involving a sound cleric's discussion of where Islam had gone off the rails, would certainly "kindle" a highly revolutionary flame. Further deduction of the precise technique I leave to you; enough information is given.

Anyway, as I reclined in the back seat of the Bentley, I thought the proposal had a chance, particularly given the low cost aspect. Suddenly, I felt a twinge, cursed, and spoke to my driver.

"Ahmed, I need something at a pharmacy. Soon." The Gucci purse I had was tamponless.

"My lady, we're not far from a major mall. Should be one there. But Irving said not to let you out in a public place. I will get the item for you."

"Not this item you won't, and Irving occasionally takes his protectiveness too far. I will be fine."

Shortly after, Ahmed dropped me at the mall entrance. I quickly made my way to a drug mart, obtained what I wanted, and headed for the nearest washroom. Even in my haste, I couldn't help noticing that, at least at two in the afternoon, the mall had been taken over by the senior set. Everywhere one looked were rickety individuals trundling about with canes, walkers, Zimmers, and various kinds of electronic conveyances. I assume as the day wore on they would be replaced by hordes of teenagers, but for now, the difference between the mall and a seniors home would be difficult to tell. Who knew?

The washroom was at the end of narrow, extended corridor. I entered, unzipped my skirt, and, well, that's enough about that. Suffice it to say that God was back in His "undisclosed location", and all was right with the world.

Not entirely.

As I emerged, I was confronted with three of the brothers, one brandishing a Smith and Wesson. Oh dear, I thought, reaching quickly into my purse and grasping my own Glock 9mm. This was going to get messy. Must have been my outfit -- the Armani skirt, Burberry jacket, the Gucci purse already referred to -- here would be easy and profitable pickings.

I looked up, and saw the gunman's eyes widen. I had seen that look before, too many times, and dove, rolling to one side as far as I could. Gunfire erupted, and the gunman fell writhing to the ground. Some distance away, but directly behind where I had been standing, another person was stretched out, but he was not moving at all. Good shot, bro' I thought. That second person I realized had been aiming for me.

The sound of gunfire was still ringing in my ears. Before anyone realized just what had happened, I decided to get out of there as quickly as I could. I calmly walked into a nearby store, Champagne and Ice, I think, and hid among the party frocks until things subsided a bit. I had no desire to be interviewed by a mall cop, let alone a real one. Too many awkward explanations.

I managed to leave by a side entrance, walked around to the Bentley, and ordered Ahmed to get moving. As we left, four police cruisers were entering, along with a vehicle marked RCMP.

Later, back at the Manor, I duly received a tongue lashing from Irving. I also learned that the person behind me had been shot dead (not really a surprise to me) and that the gunman who had shot him, though wounded, was now being considered some kind of hero. (Wonder how he explained the Smith and Wesson?) Apparently the guy who had me briefly in his sights turned out to be an Al Qaeda assassin. Alleged, of course, although Irving said that he was the real thing.

Does go to show, however, that malls can be interesting places. And a further thought. I recalled that after the gunfire, all the seniors had suddenly disappeared. Speedily and effectively. So I guess there is truth to the adage, as you head downhill, you pick up speed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Prince Pops By

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall were in town recently, and the Prince had requested a meeting. He had been to visit the UK program where my sugar beets were being studied as a future bio-fuel, and wanted to learn more.

Arrangements were duly made, and we took tea at the British Consulate, far from the madding crowd of paparazzi and rabid republican protesters. (These republicans are idiots: the monarchy gives enormous stability, with the nasty stuff all confined to the prime minister level, where it rightly belongs. As you know, I tried to tell Hamid Karzai this, but no, he couldn't see that by giving up power for ceremony he could become a much beloved statesman. Vanitas, vanitas, omnes vanitas.

The Prince was in good spirits, and we had a good chat. Camilla was off learning about long-horned beetles, or some other insect, I've forgotten which, so Charles and I could get right at it. He had done his homework, and complimented me on the management of my various sugar beet holdings.

"No union problems?" he inquired.

"Goodness no," I replied. "All the workers own shares, so there's no division between management and labour. After all, they are just as important as the sugar beets they grow. Should you have occasion to go to Ukraine, do have a discussion with Bohdan, my manager there. Nothing like seeing at first hand."

We then discussed the bio-fuel project, which was coming along nicely, and he was impressed with the environmental aspects of the initiative. This, I gathered, was Charles' Big Thing, along with some opinionated views on modern architecture. Soon, however, his princely duties called, and we parted. His last words, however, disturbed somewhat.

"Lovely to meet you, Lady Simone, and Sir Harry sends his regards."

Bloody hell. Sir Harry mucking about with royalty. On the other hand, Charles was the future King, so I guess keeping him somewhat in a very nasty loop was necessary.

Back at the Manor, I reflected a bit on Charles. His first marriage was, of course, a disaster; a more mis-matched couple I found hard to imagine, short of Stephen Hawking suddenly proposing to Paris Hilton. The marriage lasted a lot longer than I thought it would, given the serious gap between how Diana saw the world and Charles saw the world, and both perhaps were blameless, yet both also responsible for a number of acts better not committed. And certainly no one foresaw the tragic ending of it all.

Bah. Getting morose. I made a serious martini, and thought of my own marriage to Lord Strunsky. This heartened. We were in all things equal, and delighted in each other's perceptions. That's the way it should be. Even if he wore that silly ring on his left ear. Then I recalled an observation made by my good friend, Rita Rudner: "I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They've experienced pain and bought jewellery."

Says it all, really.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Atrocious Act

The other day, while scanning a number of news sources, I came across the following: "My opinion is the very nature of the country begets speculation, extravagance, failures and rascality. Everything is chance, everything is gambling."

Wow! Who the hell wrote that? Well, it turned out that the writer was a general involved in that wee tussle known as the American Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman, taking issue with life in the USA.

I thought he was talking about the Indian Act of Canada.

This was on my mind in that one S. Harper had asked for a brief analysis of this particular piece of legislation, and what might be done. I won't bore you with the long version of what I fired off to him, but can give you the highlights.

The Indian Act came into being in 1856, signed by Canada and approved by Britain, or, as the Indians of the day said, "The Great White Mother Across The Sea." (Victoria should have known better. Albert certainly would have raised more than a few issues). The Act was overhauled in 1951, and amended since from time to time, but it still remains a horror story.

There are, in my opinion, two root causes for the Act's dysfunction. It isolates the First Nations peoples (the term Indian is not on, correcting a mistake made by Christopher Columbus) from the rest of the populace, and it gives government largesse without requiring anything in return.

The first cause results in a classic we/they dichotomy to no ones' benefit, and the concept of containing the tribes on alcohol and drug-ridden reservations really has no place in the 21st century. The second cause is soul destroying in its bias towards life-long dependency. Worse, the largesse is handled abysmally. Every First Nation man, woman or child gets something in the order of $30,000 per year, but damn few women or children get that -- the Band Chiefs see to that.

What to do?

I advised Mr. Harper to scrap the thing in its entirety, giving all First Nations People a one off payment. To accomplish this, he would need a majority in the House of Commons --the howls of outrage from the Chiefs, aided and abetted by the NDP, would be stupendous -- and hence his goal should be to get that majority when he can. His area of expertise, not mine.

The analysis was well-received, but no promises were made. Sherman would have understood that.