Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas At The Manor -- 2010

This will be somewhat shorter than my usual. At the moment, total confusion reigns. My brats make it a point to assemble for Christmas every year, but so far only Mark, my 'designer' son, is just in from New York, and Victoria was in Toronto anyway, giving a series of lectures entitled "Warren G. Harding. Why?" She also had a bit part in the TV series "Rookie Blue" where she was tied up and dropped from a building. That girl does march to the tune of a different drummer.

My other son Mark had got some leave from his physics stint at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and hooked up with Isolde in Vienna, where she is first violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic. Unfortunately, snowstorms ruled that part of Europe, and they had not yet managed to get a flight. Those two can be persuasive, however, and I have hopes.

I am glad to report that the Compte de Rienville was here in good time. The weather was also a factor that was causing Air France any number of problems, but the Compte managed to get himself to Ramstein in Germany, where he managed to hitch a ride with American troops returning to Andrew A.F.B. in the U.S. Two cases of Veuve Clicquot helped his request along, and soon he had reached the Manor after a short hop from Washington. Thus happiness reigns. Christmas without the Compte? Unthinkable.

An unexpected visitor was Bohdan, who supervises my sugar beet holdings in Ukraine. He was on his way to visit some relatives in Saskatchewan (which is 90% Ukrainian anyway) so he should feel right at home. He had dropped in with some disturbing news. The new government apparently saw fit to request a sizeable "gift", without which certain taxes would rise to horrific levels. Now I had straightened out this corruption thing with the previous government in the person of Yuliya Tymoshenko (she of the nonsensical braid) but the new government in the person of Viktor Yanukovych was unaware of any agreements, and wanted his cut.

I told Bohdan not to worry. I had some considerable leverage with Vladimir Putin, who has even more considerable leverage with Yanukovych. Things would be attended to, even if it meant a trip to Moscow. Come to think of it, my colleague in The Trade, Svetlana Marinskaya, had promised a whopper of an evening, and perhaps it was time to call in that particular marker.

Now I have to leave you. My gardener/housekeeper Consuela, with no sense of timing at all, decided to give birth on the spot. Her husband Ahmad was frantic, realizing that things were happening so fast that a trip to the hospital was out of the question. I immediately began drawing on certain skills, gave necessary orders to Bohdan, Victoria and Mark, and renewed my acquaintance with midwifery.

How this all turned out, and the adventure that Isolde and Mark experienced, will have to wait for next week's missive. So for now, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Possible and the Improbable

First, the possible.

As the Christmas holiday looms -- I use the verb advisedly -- my minder Irving and his girlfriend Rachel informed me that they were taking a small vacation to an undisclosed location. Undisclosed, because Rachel's development of the Wraith software had the world looking hard for her, and if she were found, things could get, well, unpleasant. Since I was staying at the Manor with the CIA's Matilda Hatt and welcoming my brats home, Irving thought I would be safe.

Rachel also informed me that while attempts to get at Wraith were getting better, it still remained unlocated. The attempts, she added, had increased, probably because she had ramped up the Stuxnet virus, and the Iranian nuclear installations at Natanz and Bushehr were now a good two years behind schedule. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in a state of fury, and no end of resources were being applied to trace down the perpetrator. Rachel went on to say that she had created something she termed a 'deflector buffer' that re-routed any hacker-like probings directly to Mecca. "That", she said, "should keep everyone busy for a goodly time."

Now to the improbable.

Tilly wasn't expected for several days . She was, in fact, in Venezuela and involved in something that, whatever it was, would annoy the hell out of Hugo Chavez. Suck it up, Hugo, I thought. Anyway, what Tilly requested was my response to a series of questions. These were relayed over a public telephone line, an action which told me two things: either she didn't give a damn if the conversation were intercepted, or she wanted it intercepted.

The questions concerned all centred on Americans obtaining Canadian citizenship, and went as follows, along with my response.

What changes are involved? [Canada being a constitutional monarchy, the applicant for citizenship must swear allegiance to the Queen] Not a problem, said Tilly. They like Liz, and while some doubts were expressed about Charles, William and Kate were boffo.

What about the system of Government? [The intricacies of parliamentary government must be mastered.] Nonsense, stated Tilly. What Canadian has mastered the intricacies of parliamentary government? Good point.

Anything that has to be given up? [Guns] Hmmm, said Tilly. That could be a deal breaker. To which I replied that Americans never had the right to bear arms in the first place. Just the militia, as detailed in the Second Amendment. Read Strunk's Elements of Style on the proper use of the comma and do some research on the Latin ablative absolute.

Let's move on, said Tilly.

What taxes are there? [Lots]. But you get single payer health care, and no rapacious insurance company acting as middleman and adding no value whatsoever to the process. This, I said to Tilly, is a no brainer.

What about Quebec? Don't they want to secede? [In a pig's eye. Too much money would be lost, to say nothing of the Bloc Quebecois in the House of Commons who would lose their salaries, and quite possibly their pensions. Not going to happen.]

What of the Senate? In America, it's very powerful. [ This is a non-issue, the Canadian Senate being a taxpayer-funded patronage-stuffed old age home. Canadians wait for the day it can be abolished.]

Tilly's last question was a real zinger.

How could an entire state join Canada? [Just ask]. Actually, this would be a very complicated thing indeed, and highly improbable. But I think I was beginning to grasp what was behind all this. America's fiscal situation was horrific, and the only way out was through raising taxes and judicious entitlement cutting. But all legislators, Republican or Democrat, refuse to face up to this in spite of the need, and any number of Americans are beginning to look for an escape hatch. That is, Canada

Now a severe consumption tax, VAT, or whatever you want to call it, is the solution, along with a hefty gasoline levy at the pumps. Oh, The Horror! The Horror! shout the Sarah Palins of the world, who see the solution in lowering taxes and dispensing with large chunks of government. But not Medicaid. And not Medicare. And certainly not the Military. And don't you dare gore my ox!

So we have what I term 'The Two Doctors Syndrome'

A financial paradox.

Sorry. I won't do that again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Politicians Behaving Well

I was glad to see Sir Harry acted upon my advice, and the "hero" of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, was arrested in the UK, and is now awaiting an extradition hearing. Sweden wants him badly; they take rape seriously there, at least since Stieg Larsson published his Millenium Trilogy, and that should be the end of all the leaky stuff.

Not that there was much to it. I mean, anyone with an ounce of brains knew most of it anyway, and the real effect seems more a matter of bruised egos rather than treasonous transgression. For my part, I can tell you that the real NODIS stuff [*] never saw the light of day. Yes, I have such material, but there I must stop. Anything further would be telling.

Now to some political matters. It is not often that these pages have saluted the politicians for their efforts, but this is the exception that proves the rule. Toronto's new mayor, one Rob Ford, has taken power and acted -- wait for it -- swiftly, honestly, and with a degree of compassion that few knew he possessed. Ford has brought forward for resolution the issues he campaigned upon, has begun to cut unnecessary expenditure, and corrected a grievous wrong. His latter action involved an elderly female constituent in city ward (not his previous one) who had a tree on her front lawn. It was an old one, but she had faithfully got a yearly arborist's report indicating that the tree was in good health.

The city said it must come down. It was on The List, you see.

The woman, thinking she had homeowners' rights, refused to cut it down.

When she returned home the next day, the tree was gone. What was left was a $5000.00 bill for the cutting of the tree. Outraged, she called her city councillor (who never returned the call), and protestations to the city bureaucracy got nowhere. "The tree was," they stated, "on The List."

In Rob Ford's first day in office, he contacted the woman to apologize, and stated that a cheque for the $5000.00 was already in the mail. Well, well, well. I will definitely tender a dinner invitation to the Manor.

Then the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who along with a fine Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty have kept Canada well away from sub-prime madness, showed another side of himself. At the Tories' annual Christmas party (Yes, Christmas party, Not a 'Holiday 'party) the good Stephen did a commendable job of singing and piano playing, drawing on The Proclaimers, Neil Diamond, and the Rolling Stones. He showed discretion as well, honouring John Lennon by playing the opening bars to his 'Imagine' without the lyrics. Since those lyrics begin with the phrase "Imagine no religion" this was circumspect. No point in enraging all the bishops, mullahs, imams, priests (or even the Pope), although part of me wished he had let fly. But it was a step.

The only sour note was struck by a Liberal MP, who lamented that Harper had not sung in French. Grits will, however, be Grits.

The there is Laureen, fair wife to the Prime Minister. She saw fit to publicly lambaste the Iranian authorities (read: thugs) for their not releasing Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani from the Evin prison, but instead, in an Iranian act of compassion, altered her fate from death by stoning to death by hanging. Her crime was adultery, with some high judges arguing for murder. This is all rubbish. My sources (which are stellar) tell me that that her husband (three decades her senior) died of a heart attack. How she committed adultery with a dead body remains unexplained by these all-knowing authorities. I suspect someone had it in for her, possibly because she had let a wisp of hair poke out of her hijab. Whatever the reason, the judicial action is a travesty, and good on Laureen for speaking out.

Oh dear, and I was concentrating on politicians behaving well. Sorry about that, but when I hear of the fate of some women crashing into Islamic fundamentalism, all I want to do is engage in some beheading myself. Either that, or head for my bedroom, assume the pre-natal position, and turn the electric blanket up to nine.

* NODIS. No distribution. Ever.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wiki Whatever

Until recently, I had thought 'Wikileaks' an obscure term having to do with incontinence. I was disabused of this by Sir Harry, who wanted an analysis of the whole Wikileaks mess. He also complimented me -- a strange departure of form -- saying that absolutely none of our messages had surfaced. Of course not; I had taken to heart Marshall McLuhan's insight that modern media had resulted in a 'global village', with all that that entails, both good and bad. The Good Thing about a village is that everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing. That is also the Bad Thing, and therefore one must take measures.

Apparently, as I delved into the subject, I was somewhat astounded to learn that very few members of The Powers That Be had absorbed Dr. McLuhan's insight, and had taken few such measures. Hence all kinds of private communication were now flooding the world, to the chagrin of many and the delight of many more.

What was even more surprising -- the person involved. One might have expected that Lisbeth Salander had somehow escaped from The Millenium Trilogy (as could happen in a Jasper Fforde novel) and was now crying havoc and letting loose the dogs of cyber space. But this was not the case at all.

Step forward one Julian Assange, who is about as far away from a Lisbeth Salander as it is possible to get. (Sweden is after him for rape, and Interpol has issued an arrest warrant.) A closer look gives the following:

1) His parents were travelling entertainers in Australia. When young Julian was eight his mother remarried into 'The Family', a cult whose predilection was to abuse children with psychiatric medication. The marriage soon went to ratshit, and Julian's mother took him into hiding for the next five years, moving the kid 37 times before he was 14. (I am not making this up).

2) Julian somehow discovered an ability with computers, and started a career -- if you can call it that -- in computer hacking. His nickname was 'Mendax', which is I believe 'liar' in Latin, and at least shows a glimmer of self-awareness on Julian's part. He was once convicted for hacking into Nortel, an event that might explain....well, no it won't.

3) His obsession is to embarrass the world's freest countries, and his anti-Americanism is virulent.

Case in point. Julian made known the names of Afghan human rights activists and other personnel who have cooperated with the U.S. and giving out GPS coordinates to help the process along. The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was delighted, saying that the information would be "beneficial" and that "We know how to punish them." (I don't doubt that for a minute.)

A second case in point. Julian published details of the technology used to stop improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from being detonated. He called such IEDs "rebel investments" and noted with glee that for every dollar spent by the terrorists, the U.S. has to spend thousands to defend against them.

As I informed Sir Harry, it is the above stuff that should be concentrated upon. The gossipy stuff should simply be ignored. After all, who didn't know that the Karzai brothers were sleazy and corrupt, or that Hillary Clinton was one tough cookie, or that Vladimir Putin was skimming the profits of Gazprom, or that Angela Merkel could be blunt, or....well, the list could go on. In effect, much ado about nothing, save for the two cases in point mentioned above. All of which prompts a question -- why is this man still alive?

But I refrained from suggesting what we in The Trade call an 'executive sanction'. Why make the guy a martyr? Given that my sources indicate that Julian is presently in the UK, I urged Sir Harry to link up with his colleagues in MI5, grab him, and extradite him to Sweden. A rapist gets little world sympathy, save perhaps in the Congo, where rape is fast becoming a ghastly national sport. Certainly the whole Wikileaks thing would come to a sudden, abrupt halt.

All very depressing, and I felt in need of some soothing, some calm. So I entered the study, poured myself a serious martini, and put on a DVD that always relaxes me. Its title? Why Animals Attack.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Of Art and Airport Security

Every so often, schedules permitting, it is my custom to host a dinner party for my colleagues in The Trade. This is appreciated, the wines being well-chosen, the food wonderful, and no bugs whatsoever in the room. Six were in attendance this time: Svetlana Marinskaya of the Russian FSB; Matilda Hatt of the CIA: Code Barry of CSIS, and of course the Compte de Rienville of the French D.G.S.E. The Compte and I are also -- well, no need to go into that. We were joined by my minder Irving and his companion, Rachel, both recently turfed from Mossad.

Rachel was indeed the focus of attention at the dinner. All had some idea of her contribution to the WRAITH software, but only Irving and Tilly Hatt knew all the details. Rachel was adept in deflecting all queries -- good on her.

We took port and some fine Stilton in the study.

"An excellent repast, Simone," said Code Barry. "A new cook on the premises?"

"No, Henri is still with us. But as you have seen, this has been a catered affair. Henri was giving some support to a new outfit. 'Licious Delight' it's called. Interesting story, though. The former title of the firm was 'Licentious Delight', a restaurant with a small dining room and a much larger set of rooms on the second floor for, er --"

"Licentious delight." This from Tilly Hatt.

"So to speak. But then they had to let their cook go. Apparently he had difficulty keeping his hands off the merchandise. The new cook they hired was a former sous-chef at the Georges Cinq in Paris. Didn't take long after that for customers to realize that the food was the best they had ever encountered, and the news spread quickly through, very appropriately, word of mouth. The owners, not being dolts, made the problem the solution. Licentious Delight became Licious Delight. The restaurant took over the second floor, the girls became servers, and a small catering service was started, the results of which you have just experienced.

"Ah," said Svetlana darkly, "once again the glories of adaptable capitalism. And you, Simone, are a prime example. The pictures in this room must have cost a fortune. Isn't that Klimt's 'The Kiss'?

"And on the far wall," noted Code Barry, "isn't that Vermeer's 'Girl With The Pearl Earring?."

"It is," I responded, "although one of my nieces thinks it's a portrait of Scarlet Johansson, an observation that tells me my niece's education is far from complete. But both the Vermeer and the Klimt, as well as some others you would recognize, are forgeries."

"Appropriate, given what you do," put in Tilly brightly.

"Possibly," I continued. "But I would rather have first rate forgeries than prints. The effort put in and all. Mind you, I once had originals, courtesy of Lord Strunsky's estate. Donated them all to various galleries, and applied the tax receipts to my sugar beet business. Which was nice, but not the real reason I did it."

"And that is?" encouraged the Compte. (A treasure he is.)

"A masterpiece should never be the property of a single person. It belongs to the world. To hide it away is simply the characteristic of a monstrous ego. Don't you think?"

This resulted in a extended silence, finally broken Irving.

"Artists," he said, "spend their whole lives learning to see."

"So do police officers," Tilly added.

"And Israeli airport security officials." This from Rachel.

"Yeah," said Tilly. "The U.S hasn't been doing too well there. Good Lord, I was even requested for a pat down coming into San Antonio the other day. I showed the woman my security clearance, but this didn't register. I asked for her supervisor, but she wasn't having any of this so off we went to the private room, where she fainted. Used Blossoms After Midnight".

"Pressure on the carotid artery. Stops the blood flow to the brain," said Svetlana rather unnecessarily.

"Well," Tilly continued, "this did bring the supervisor, and all got straightened out. But what poor training. Only eight hours! Can you believe it? In my opinion, Israel does it right. Care to comment? Irving? Rachel?"

Irving said, "The training is much more comprehensive, and remember, all security officers have undergone two years of military service. Then comes rigorous training in psychology, pattern recognition and profiling. There's an American saying that sums all this up nicely. Something about observation and seeing, but it escapes me."

I said, "Probably one of Yogi Berra's. He remarked once that you could observe a lot just by watching. But there is another statement that comes to mind, and one that should never be forgotten. Benjamin Franklin was firm in his belief that 'those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.' So there. Now discuss among yourselves.

You too.

"In truth," I said, "they're forgeries. Brilliant, but forgeries. I collect them. I would collect an original masterpiece

Friday, November 19, 2010

Snappish Snapshots [1]

Occasionally, I find it useful and therapeutic to give voice to certain things which are bothersome and very annoying. This involves lancing sundry boils, which, if left unattended, could fester, grow, and warp one's psyche. At an extreme, one might even, dare I say it, become a Republican. Herewith, then, the first series of snapshots.

(1) I note that the Powers That Be have junked the term "global warming" and now talk only of "climate change". Interesting, and no doubt the change occurred when it became obvious that at any given time, half the world was freezing its' ass off. It would be nice if somewhere someone admitted to this.

(2) Vladimir Putin looks and sounds bored. Time for a change, Vlad. Forget ruling Russia, under the rubric 'been there, done that'. How about coming to the U.S. and entering the TV show, "Dancing With The Stars?" As for a partner, I got in touch with Madonna, and she is willing. Ratings would soar, and the money wouldn't be bad, either. Go for it!

(3) Barack Obama has got to stop being all conciliatory and accommodating, and become more forthright. To bring this about, I have sent him my copy of I Love To Lead by Genghis Khan.

(4) Silvio Berlusconi. Enough said.

(5) I see that a number of publications, The Economist and The Financial Times among them, have delighted in the release of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, and have suggested that she is seeking an accommodation with General Than Shwe and his thuggish colleagues. Wrong! It is the other way round, and the chances of that happening are, well, seen any flying pigs lately?

(6) And finally, an item bordering on the bizarre -- Sarah Palin is giving serious consideration to running for President in 2012. When this news appeared, the reaction of the Democrats was one of ecstasy, their thinking being that such a candidacy gives them the White House for another four years. Not so fast, boys and girls. American voters elected George W. Bush. Twice.

"No they didn't": Al Gore.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Calming -- A Good Thing

It is not my habit to rabbit on about the doings and achievements of my children, save when their activities impinge a bit on my own. I had just finished confirming the delivery of some 1000 sugar beet seeds to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the north of Norway, thereby calming my psyche by ensuring that sugar beets would survive any horrific catastrophe, when my eldest daughter Isolde sailed into the Manor, Stradivarius in tow. Also in tow were three rather scruffy guys, along with a cello, a clarinet, and a viola.

Seeing the viola recalled Victor Borge's observation that the only difference between a viola and a violin was that a viola takes longer to burn, a statement that when she first heard it, appalled Isolde. (This occurred when I was in the process of teaching my brats that it could be a cruel world out there. Therefore one must learn to face life with the serene confidence that a Christian feels in four aces, as Mark Twain so well put it.)

What Isolde and her companions wanted was the use of the Manor's sound studio, an area normally off-limits. The studio was very much a factor in The Trade, linked as it is to MI 6, Mossad and the NSA, and where certain recordings and broadcasts were made in the name of mis-information. (The latest broadcast was rather neat, and involved inserting a rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir into Iranian State Radio. I am told that old Ahmadinejad went apoplectic. Too bad.)

Isolde and her companions weren't after anything so dramatic, but did want to make a series of recordings for some outfit called the American Mall Association. I was hesitant about allowing the three lads into the studio -- they really needed a good clothing advisor, and Isolde sensed this reluctance. She explained that her friends were the Jess Trio, one of the best chamber trios in the world, and had come right from the airport, and had to get back to Vienna the next day. Not much time for sartorial elegance.

Well, I always found time for sartorial elegance, but nevertheless relented. I did demand, however, what this type of talent was doing in cahoots with something as banal as the American Mall Association.

"New Zealand, Mum." said Isolde.

This was not helpful.

"New Zealand what?" I asked.

Well, long story short, apparently the Christchurch City Mall had taken to playing classical chamber music over their mall speakers. Prior to this, theft and robbery had been rampant.

"Eighty-six incidents a week in 2008, Mum," stated Isolde. "After the music began to be played, the incidents fell to two a week. Things got calmer. Much calmer. And the musicians weren't even that good. The Mall Association took note the and the Jess Trio was contacted and they wanted me as violinist and I knew about this studio and we've decided on pieces from Vivaldi, and Bach and of course Mozart and maybe Schumann and --"

"All right, all right. Talk about a run-on sentence. But Irving and Rachel will have to supervise. A wrong button in that room could cause....difficulties."

"Who the hell is Rachel?" asked Isolde.

"Irving will explain, if he has a mind to. I trust there is money in all this.?"

"Lots of money, Mum. The cost savings for the Mall stores are significant."

"Good. Then a healthy contribution to the Little Sisters of Poverty and Pain will be in order. For the use of the studio, you understand."

And so it transpired, and no doubt things would get calmer in American malls.

At least until the Ungodly figure out how to hack into the mall sound systems and start blasting out pieces from Iron Maiden, Metallica or anything by Ozzie Osbourne. But for a short while, calmness should reign.

One can but hope.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Too Many Text Messages

Back from Paris, and that was just fine. One can only take so much of street protest, and the French (being French) simply take things too far. The day that I left, a huge protest was being planned on what I think was lowering the minimum wage for workers doing street curb replacement. Or something. In any event, it was time to go.

Back at the Manor, I was confronted with a vast number of text messages, most of which concerned elections, both in Toronto and in the U.S. The following will give the gist of their tenor.

From Hillary Clinton (safely ensconced in Kuala Lampur, and thus far from the madding crowd) a rather neat summary of the American mid-term elections. She saw them in terms of The Three Bears, calling them "Goldilocks elections." That is to say, one half the electorate thinks you've done too much; the other half thinks you've gone too far. This was exactly what happened to Bill, and didn't hurt him a bit when the next presidential election occurred. As I said, a rather neat comment.

From Michelle Obama: "Simone, I know drugs are cheaper in Canada. A good supply of Valium will come in handy right about now."

From Rob Ford, newly elected Mayor of Toronto: "My advisers advise that you would be a good advisor. Could you, er, so advise?" Hmmm. Rob's vocabulary appears a bit sparse, but his heart seems in the right place. I will offer help. For now.

From Laureen Harper: "Isn't it a Good Thing that that nice Rob Ford is the new Mayor of Toronto. But why weren't you at my pumpkin-carving party at 24 Sussex? " Because, sweetie, the Compte de Rienville lives in Paris, not Ottawa.

From Hu Jintao: "Elections? Nonsense."

From Vladimir Putin: "Elections are risky things. One has to prepare carefully to ensure that the result is what you want." Yeah, right, Vlad. Just make sure that the opposition...well... isn't.

So on it went, with any number of messages stating how wonderful it was that they got elected, and how good it would be for the electorate. All this quickly became tiresome, and I lamented the lack of modesty that should accompany any victorious outcome or deed of note. This brought to mind the following statement, an ideal in acknowledging achievement. The words are engraved in a stele near Thermopolyae:

"Go, traveller, and to Lacedaemon tell,
That here, obeying her behest, we fell."

Succinct. And true. And its like sadly missing in today's world.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Dinner in Paris

To London, where I dropped off a piece of analysis for Sir Harry (effective bribery in Yemen, if you must know). Travel now had become a dream, what with Hank Grimsby and his Lear jet at my beck and call, and Sir Harry's granting me diplomatic immunity. (He owes me more than he could ever repay.) Thus no more fussing at airports and obnoxious people waving wands up and down my person, and female officials looking with ill-concealed envy when I removed my Christian Louboutin stilettos.

Now, my assignment completed and Sir Harry pleased, I felt the need for a fine dinner. I was also hungry for something else, and thus got in touch with the Compte de Rienville, whom I knew was confined to Paris until Sarkozy straightened out certain issues related to French pensions. The way this policy change has enraged the left, you'd think that working until age 62 was a complete loss of liberty, fraternity and equality. Suck it up my freres et soeurs. Everyone else does.

The Compte was delighted to learn of my intent.

"I suggest," I said, "The Tour d'Argent tomorrow night. About 7:30 pm. I feel the need for their pressed duck."

"No chance, cherie," he replied. "The Tour makes reservations weeks ahead. Weeks."

"You let me worry about that," I replied. "See you there."

Hank Grimsby readied my plane, and once airborne, I made a certain phone call. That done, I settled back and relaxed with earphones and Debussy. In Paris, after a luxurious bubble bath and some primping at the Georges Cinq, I taxied to the Tour, and was soon ensconced at a table, with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot nearby on ice. I had just had my first sip when the Compte slid in beside me. After a kiss and a hug, he was curiosity itself.

"How on earth did you do it?

"Do what?"

"Get a reservation. It would have been impossible."

"Well," I replied, with just a soupcon of smugness, you know the U.S. Marine saying: 'The impossible we do every day. Miracles take a little longer.'"

"You are not a marine."

"Ah, but I am a woman of mystery. And mystery is a good quality in a relationship, n'est pas? Now let's to the canard."

The Compte knows when he has been stymied, and dropped the subject. At least for now. I could almost see into his brain, filing this little event under the heading, 'Things to be examined later. In depth.'

What I had done, of course, had involved my new friend and resource, the wonderful Rachel. In that I had saved her ass big time, she was delighted to help me out as occasion merited. This was one of those times. Using the program WRAITH, she had taken over the Tour's reservation software, and made a substitution: the Compte de Rienville and Lady Strunsky replaced Martine Aubry and guest, who were flung out somewhere in cyber space. I was OK with this. I mean, what is a socialist doing in the Tour d'Argent in the first place?

Dinner proceeded, with much talk of finance, currency wars, and budget cutbacks. Boring, perhaps, but not if you own a major international sugar beet enterprise. Over dessert, we got round to the American efforts at fiscal restraint, something the Compte said was almost non-existent.

"I wouldn't be too sure about that," I said. "Look at the death penalty thing."

"What the hell has that got to do with saving money?"

"A lot. Did you know that a fair number of states are seriously considering dropping the death penalty?"

"Ah," he exclaimed. "Enfin, ethics and reason show themselves."

"Er, not exactly. You see, the bean counters have discovered that it costs a horrendous amount of money to support the death penalty. Appeals can go on for years, expensive appeals. A life sentence, on the other hand, is a far cheaper alternative."

The Compte looked down glumly, then said, "So no flash of humanity?"

"No. But it still is a Good Thing, even given Eliot's lines in Murder in the Cathedral.

"You're getting away from me again. What lines?"

"Eliot wrote, dealing with Thomas Becket's concern that he may be acting out of a desire for martyrdom, 'The last temptation is the greatest treason / To do the right deed for the wrong reason.' Says it all, really.

And it does.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Exercise In Reciprocity

For once, a serene and quiet morning. Over a leisurely breakfast, I was ruminating about Toronto's mayoralty campaign, and the three main contenders. In the world of Shakespeare, this contest would be among Sir John Falstaff, Richard III, and Oberon. The Falstaffian miles gloriosus of the piece is of course Rob Ford, hell bent on saving every cent for the taxpayer (and possibly destroying the city in the process. Or not -- Lord knows the spending spree of the last eight years has been unconscionable). Then there is George Smitherman, whose past history in the provincial government cost tax payers millions (the electronic health fiasco). All one has to do is change the first "m" in his name to "l", and -- well, you get the picture. Finally, cometh Joe Pantalone, our beneficent Oberon, who will maintain things as they are, and for whom I would cast my vote in a heartbeat, given one proviso: that money grows on trees.

So I pondered, until Irving appeared.

"It's him. On the secure line."

I sighed, shoved the remnants of a cheese omelet aside, and got on the line.


Sir Harry was in no mood for pleasantries. "This Israeli software thing. Give it and that woman Rachel back."

"I think not." How the hell had Harry found out? Irving was as tight-lipped as they come, and Tilly Hatt could be tortured all the day long and never tell. (I know -- I was tied up in the adjoining cell in Mogadishu). But then, Harry had a wide circle of contacts, some of whom were no doubt in Israel itself. Doesn't matter, he'd found out.

Sir Harry continued. "Then you'd better fix it some other way. They are really, really angry, and are liable to commit some very untoward actions."

"I had better fix things then."

"Just get it done, Simone. Get it done." And he rang off. Terse. That was the word for Sir Harry. Terse.

A wee bit of background. Rachel, a stunning brunette, computer wizard and Israeli friend of my minder Irving (himself ex-Mossad) had arrived the other day at the Manor. She had fled from Israel, and had brought with her a piece of software she had developed. The software was entitled WRAITH, and it allowed access into computers without the users ever knowing that such access had occurred. I thought this rather neat.

Turned out that Rachel was dead set against the Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 borders. She had used WRAITH to misguide and frustrate those settlers, mainly by sending necessary building materials to all the wrong places, usually deep into the West Bank, although not Gaza -- Rachel had no use for Hamas. The Palestinians were delighted. The Israelis were not.

I saw some other uses for such a piece of software, but also knew the Israelis would persist until they got that software, and hopefully Rachel, back in Israel. Things could get nasty, and, my serene breakfast now ruined, I was forced to give the matter a great deal of thought. And then inspiration came.

I rambled through the Manor, and finally found Rachel and Irving in the gym, fencing. Of course. What else would you do on a gorgeous morning but hack at each other with pieces of metal? The two were so intent at their craft that it was a shame to interrupt, but needs must, so I simply turned off the lights. Nothing brings swordplay to a sudden halt faster than darkness -- think about it.

They were upset, but then I explained to them what I wanted.

"I don't know if it's possible," said Rachel.

"It had better be, sweetie," I stated. "It's either that prison in Tel Aviv. Oh, and Irving, you're riposte needs work. Now off you go."

The reference to Tel Aviv seemed to work, and the two disappeared into the computer room. Five hours later, success was reported.

The next day, after contacting my pilot Hank Grimsby, Irving and I were winging our way to Ottawa, where Canadians' tax dollars go to die. We were heading to the Israeli Embassy on O'Conner Street. Irving had a contact there, whom he referred to as Levi. The chances, I thought, of that being his real name were doubtful in the extreme.

We landed, got a cab. and soon were at O'Conner Street. I made for the entrance, but Irving stopped me.

"We're to use another entrance. Behind the building. No point in involving the Ambassador in this. Public figure and all."

This made sense, and after a rather extensive but, dare I say, somewhat enjoyable body search, Levi being rather good-looking, we were ushered into a plain room and got down to business.

The gist of the whole thing was as follows. We would keep a copy of WRAITH, but also give the Israelis software that would detect WRAITH when it was being used.

"We want the woman," said Levi.

"No you don't. She's far more valuable to you where she is. Throwing her into prison solves nothing, and you also lose a significant asset."

"We've already lost that asset," Levi said flatly.

"Actually, not so," I replied. "Here's why." I opened my compact, carefully lifted the powder tray, and withdrew three memory sticks. "Some body search. You, Levi, have to get more familiar with women. Now listen. The first stick contains WRAITH. The second contains the software that will detect its use. The third," and here I paused for effect, "contains the complete schematics for ALL of Iran's nuclear facilities. And from time to time, more stuff will be sent. Rachel believes in Israel. She just doesn't believe in the sort of irredentist behaviour that the settlement program represents, and wishes dearly that Bibi would get off his ass and do something about it. Now do we have a deal?"

Levi sat back, his eyes riveted on the memory sticks. Finally he said, "I'll have to clear it with my superiors, but yes, we have a deal."

Ain't reciprocity wonderful?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Of Deflections and Reflections

A loud screech of brakes on an otherwise quiet afternoon heralded the arrival of Matilda Hatt at the Manor. I peered out the conservatory window, and shuddered as I saw her rented Camry, the model with stoppage problems, just centimeters behind my Bentley. The door banged, and soon Tilly flounced in, trailed by an upset Irving, slowly replacing his Glock into his side holster. Well, you never know.

Tilly was wearing a clingy cashmere dress -- Armani, I thought -- and looked stunning.

I invited her to sit down, and complimented her on her outfit, adding "Bit unusual for you, isn't it?" (Tilly usually dresses as a poster child for punk rock groups.)

"I'm meeting someone tonight. Contacts in North Korea. We're trying to get a handle on the latest 'Dear Leader' known as Kim Jong Un. This person --"

"Is going to fall into a honey trap."

"Duty calls, my dear. And he's rather good-looking."

"Always helps the scenario along."

Irving was standing in the conservatory entrance, taking this all in, but then left after hearing a voice calling him.

"Who's that calling?" asked Tilly.

"Uh, that would be Rachel, his new found friend."

"Really! Hadn't realized that your minder has a little social life. Good to know. Now to business, but first, is your Grey Goose stock, ah yes, still on the sideboard. Want one?"

I acquiesced. "Over ice."

Tilly nodded, made the drinks, then curled up on the sofa and got down to what was concerning her. It was, of course, the whole business of the WRAITH software recently obtained by yours truly courtesy of Rachel and Irving, although Tilly was unaware of the source.

"First,Simone," she began, "you owe me big time. I managed to deflect the interest of the Powers That Be from wondering how those Predator drones went so badly astray, and got them focussed on something called Stuxnet, and now everyone is fussing about in Belarus, examining the Siemens Corporation, de-constructing servers in Denmark and Malaysia, and, no surprise here, appealing to Microsoft for help. So you are off the hook. And for all this help, I only ask one little thing."

What Tilly wanted was access from time to time to WRAITH.

"I'll talk to Rachel --"

"Hah!" exclaimed Tilly. "I thought as much. The woman appears, the software also appears, and--

"And I'll talk to Rachel," I continued. "She would have to be dead certain that any use could not be traced back to here."

"Lifted it, did she? But your condition is not unreasonable. Like to meet this woman. It's always exciting to discuss something with a person who's committed high treason. I wouldn't," she added, "need access very often. Just when I have to enter a red zone. It would be rather neat to quietly deflect the ungodly away from what might be at issue. And I will have another Grey Goose. If only to stop thinking about the current mess."

"What mess?"

This led to a long diatribe on the current political scene, a Congress deadlocked, an indecisive president, the growth of the Tea Party, a witch running for the Senate, and topping it all, Sarah Palin. I tried to explain the impasse in historical terms, mentioning that when the American Founders first borrowed the separation of powers doctrine from Montesquieu, they couldn't conceive of an age where allegiance to a party could be put before allegiance to country.

"Be that as it may," said Tilly, "it's sad. Although....there's always...Hillary. Let's say that Obama has had enough, and wants to fend for Michelle and the kids rather than fend for the country. So he doesn't run in 2012. Then Sarah P. gets the Republican nomination, and Hillary wins for the Democrats. What a cat fight that would be!"

"That's the Grey Goose talking."

"Yeah, I guess. And I've whined a bit, haven't I? Departed a bit from your little credo. One. Don't whine. Two. Make the world a better place. Three. Get as much happiness as possible. Did I get them right?"

"Missed one."


"When travelling in the southern U.S., never, ever, crush the mint in a julep."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Yes, I know, very late with this one, but there was not a lot I could do about it. That's what happens when you have a new computer installed and programmed. That's what happens when Rachel appears.


To cut right to the chase, Rachel is a colleague of my minder and butler, Irving, and at his request was staying at the manor "for an interim period" as Irving put it. Now I am well aware that nothing is so permanent as the interim, but this was OK. Turns out that Rachel could do almost anything with a computer, given one that was well-equipped. Hence the upgrade, a kind of tit for tat arrangement. A room for her, a state-of-the-art machine for me. As for Irving, he was grateful.

Turns out that Rachel knew Irving in his Mossad days, and I suspected that he knew her not only as a colleague, but in the Biblical sense as well. This attraction appeared not to have diminished over the years; the number of dewy-eyed glances between them that I noticed would suggest that the attraction remained a strong one. This did not surprise. Irving was a handsome devil, physically adept, and very, very smart. Rachel almost matched his six feet, was drop dead gorgeous, and as mentioned could make a computer sing.

And this was where the trouble started. Rachel had re-vamped my computer room, putting in God knows what devices and peripherals, so much so that the room now resembled a NORAD control centre. I was OK with this -- Rachel assured me that the information she managed to garner from the world's cyber systems would be of enormous use. What she was less forthcoming about was how she and Irving were using the system.

Bit of background now. Rachel had left Israel under a bit of a cloud. She was dead against further settlements into Palestine, and had disrupted computer-ordered construction supplies meant for the outlying settlers. These were sent instead to the West Bank, Ramallah to be exact, where they were gratefully received. The uproar this caused when it came to light was such that Rachel decided to get the hell out, even given strong support from a goodly portion of Israeli citizenry. Others, particularly in the Knesset, were not so forgiving, so Rachel took off. At least, that was the story I was given.

This should have tipped me off that Rachel was a bit of a loose cannon, but Sir Harry had me hard at work analyzing the North Korean succession -- one insane idiot preparing to transfer power to another insane idiot. So it was that for a time I was unaware of the following, all of which emerged after a frantic calls from Matilda Hatt of the CIA, and Sir Harry.

Rachel was indeed brilliant, and had developed a piece of software she termed WRAITH. This little piece of programming allowed her to surreptitiously take over another computer system, with the organization or person being totally unaware that such a thing had occurred. Rachel, had worked in Unit 8200, the signals intelligence arm of the Israeli defence forces, and had used WRAITH to send a virus that crippled Iran's computer systems, bringing work at Iran's newest nuclear power station at Bushehr to a crashing halt. This was looked upon as a Good Thing by her employers, particularly since Ahmadinejad had refused to believe such a thing was possible by the Allah-forsaken Israelis and ordered the arrest of four engineers working at the power station. They were now languishing in the pleasant confines of Evin prison in Tehran, and totally baffled at why they were there.

But it was the Predator drones that did her in. Somehow Rachel had tapped into the guidance systems of these weapons, and several times had altered their targets to focus on the Number 2 in Al-Qaeda, old Ayman al-Zawahri himself. She just missed him twice, but he had been rattled enough to disappear, not only from those hunting him, but his own troops. The Americans, needless to say, were also rattled, and by concentrating mightily on where the disrupting signal was coming from, had zeroed in on Toronto.

This prompted a call from Tilly Hatt.

"Simone, just what the hell are you up to?"

"Nothing. Although there's a Mayor's race on, and --"

"Well, you'd better bring 'nothing' to a stop, she interrupted. "At least where the Predators are concerned. I can deflect the issue, but it must stop."


That's when I learned of the signal disruption, something further confirmed when Sir Harry called and inquired about some very sophisticated software that had somehow disappeared in Israel, and they wanted it back. Badly. One didn't need to be a rocket scientist to connect the dots, and I had very extended conversation with Rachel and Irving, and they agreed to down tools for the moment. For certain Rachel needed a secure place to stay for a while, and Irving was obviously smitten, but she had brought unwanted attention and would likely create more. On the other hand, this WRAITH thing....

Nothing for it, then, but to have a good think about it all, so I told them that I would give them my decision shortly, and headed for my decision-making place. I filled the Jacuzzi with hot water, bubbles, and jasmine oil, threw off my clothes, slapped Das Rheingold on the surround sound, and sank in. The only way, really to decide things.

Doesn't everyone?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Catching A Code

The secure line rang. I picked it up, annoyed.

"Yes, Sir Harry?"

"You sound bitter."

"I am bitter. I was just nicely into Gerard Manley Hopkins and 'The Windhover'. You know, the poem where his 'heart in hiding stirred for a bird, the achieve of --"

"I know the poem. Not what I wanted to talk about."

"Pity. Well, come live with me and pay my rent --"

"Will you shut up! This is important. We are changing the book codes."

"Finally," I sighed. "I was getting tired of poring through Hardy's Jude The Obscure."

"As was I. The new text will be more direct."

This was rubbish. Sir Harry was never 'direct', but rather was a kind of Galapagos turtle, given to making slow and almost imperceptible movements when he thought no one was looking. What he was on about was our mutual need for a code when it was necessary to exchange super secretive information. We had learned to our cost that electronic data, no matter how well firewalled, could always be hacked by some Lisbeth Salander or other. (cf. Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy). Hence we simply used the Royal/Canada Post.

The code is simplicity itself. Here is a representative line:

L35-16-7R44-8-6. Easy, eh?

Not bloody likely. To be sure, it's not too difficult to decipher the first part (CODE Barry of CSIS figured it out in around ten seconds -- he is not called CODE Barry for nothing) by determining that L = left, 35 is a page number, 16 is the number of lines down that page, and 7 is the actual word. So also with the R (right) series. BUT WHAT BOOK?

And therein, as Hamlet stated, "lies the rub." If you do not know the book being used by the two people involved, the encoded information remains just that -- encoded. Yes, both sender and receiver have to work from the same edition, but this is not that difficult to arrange.

What was bothering Sir Harry was that he found out that the Americans, through the NSA, had discovered the text we had been using was the Everyman edition of Jude The Obscure. Hence the need for another text.

I emphasized to Sir Harry that text selection was not his strong suit, and asked him to recall his first effort -- Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. The Israelis were on to that after a week. I mean, why would he select a book on codes in the first place?

"Well what do you suggest, then?" he asked, a note of petulance in his voice.

I thought for a bit, then proffered my selection. He agreed, and no, I cannot divulge the title (that would be telling) but I can say that our choice does call upon we Finnegans to wake.

Let us hope we wake in time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Good Morning, Baltimore!

No, the title doesn't presage a review of the musical "Hairspray", although my violinist daughter Isolde was once dragooned by a close friend into playing in the pit after the scheduled violinist herniated a disc. I took in the performance, and while we are not talking Wagner's Ring here, the vim and vitality of the cast made the event a worthwhile one. No, my reason for citing Baltimore had to do with two things that transpired.

The first thing involved a close colleague in The Trade who had taken out a very bad person indeed, but had not come out unscathed. In fact, he was recuperating at John Hopkins Medical Center, after having a bullet removed from his neck. I offered what comfort I could, and in the process learned an amazing fact. The surgeon who operated had discovered yet another bullet logged in his cranium that had gone undetected for years. This, I realized, would explain John's (not his real name) rather weird habit of quoting certain cantos of Ezra Pound at odd and invariably inconvenient times. One hopes for a full recovery.

The second thing concerned Isolde, who had an engagement with the Baltimore symphony and the playing of the Sibelius violin concerto. I knew this to be tricky stuff, given the pieces' somewhat Oriental cast, and was looking forward to hear how Isolde would deal with it all.

It was, however, in my hotel room at the Hyatt Regency (not a bad little hostelry) that I got somewhat rattled. In perusing the "What's On In Baltimore" brochure kindly provided by the hotel I noticed yet another sign that America's regard for education was not where it should be. To wit: the University of Baltimore was proudly offering a course in Zombies. I thought, not them too, for I recalled reading somewhere that Simpson College in Iowa used the entire spring semester writing a book on 'The History of the Great Zombie War'. (No wonder Sarah Palin is popular in Iowa.)

Ridiculous. I mean, it was not that long ago -- 1989 to be exact -- that a survey undertaken by the National Science Foundation discovered the following. "93% of Americans cannot distinguish between a proton and a crouton, think that DNA is a food additive, that radioactive milk can be made safe by boiling, and that Chernobyl is a ski resort." Zombies aside, surely things have changed for the better?

To test this, I went to the hotel lobby and asked several guests what they thought Chernobyl was. To a person all replied, "Easy. That's Cher's real name."

There are times I despair. But at night the stars do sparkle on Chesapeake Bay....

Good Morning, Baltimore!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Power of Superstition

I really did not want to write about this burning of the Qur'an nonsense, but Sir Harry wanted my thoughts, and even my kids called up seeking my opinion. This startled -- they are so engrossed in their own life-plays that they are often only dimly aware of the crap and corruption that is such a large part of geopolitical life. Apparently not this time, so here goes.

The root principle at work here is that as you believe, so it is -- the seeming makes it so. There is ample evidence for this. At one time, most believed the world was flat, a not untoward observation dictated by common sense. (Mind you, Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse, so at least someone was a wee bit ahead of his time.) Then came the belief (pace Galileo) that that earth was the centre of the universe, with the sun revolving around it. Then Newtonian physics, and now Einsteinian relativity, buttressed by Hawkings' "M" theory. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "so it goes".

And this is as it should be. As more evidence comes in, and better scientific instruments are perfected, the world view alters.

Not so with superstition.

To some, the world was created in seven days, because this is written down in the Bible. The Rock of Ages usurps the ages of rocks. A second book, the Qur'an, is held to be the literal word of God, and hence, unlike scientific exploration, cannot be altered in any way.

Now if all this were confined to temples, churches and mosques, all would be well. But it is not, and the tenets in these books seep out into society where they clash, not only with science, but with each other. And for followers to deviate...well, doubting Christians risked burning at a stake at one time, and in the present age, it is death to leave Islam.

Which brings us to Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who, along with his 30 odd followers, ignited a world-wide firestorm when he threatened to burn copies of the Qur'an because a mosque location was, in his (and God's) opinion, in the wrong place. This suggests three things.

The first is that burning books of any description is a Bad Idea. The reader here is directed towards Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451; Mr. Bradbury deals with this issue far more capably than I.

The second raises the question of why Pastor Jones is allowed in society at all. At one time, state and provincial governments ran mental institutions where the likes of Terry Jones could get the help they so obviously need. No longer -- politicians saw an opportunity to fund causes nearer to their hearts, and therefore enacted a policy of inclusion and social integration, sending all manner of mental delinquents on to the street. (In America, the NRA arms them.)

The third concerns Islam directly. Leaving aside the issue that jihadist thugs were delighted to use Pastor Jones' idiocy as propaganda suited to their purpose, the fact remains that Islam, even as a superstition with a long track record, exhibits incredible insecurity. That 30 mentally unbalanced people could produce the outrage that it did beggars belief.

But belief is what it's all about, as I mentioned when I began this missive. And until those beliefs change....

Yet there is a glimmer of hope, best put by H. L. Mencken: "Every time the scientists take another fort from the theologians and the politicians, there is genuine human progress."

Enough. Or too much.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sugar Beets Rule!

I scheduled the Annual Board meeting of Strunsky Sugarbeets Inc. in Paris this year, an act which enabled a neat weekend with the Comte DeRienville at his chateau near Versailles. All went well, and at the pool, my Cardin bikini was a hit. Still, the Compte was a wee bit distracted. His superiors had ordered that he develop some sort of ring fence around President Sarkozy, in order to shield him from the L'Oreal mess. That's a complicated affair, and not really worth the time of my treasured readers. That is, you.

I did enquire why Sarkozy couldn't do what his Italian counterpart would do in similar circumstances. I mean, Berlusconi would just enact a law making what was at issue legal, and presto, all solved! No flies on old Silvio.

"C'est non possible," the Compte sniffed. "Nous sommes... francais."

At which point I was going to shout "J'accuse!" but thought better of it. No point in engaging in a discussion that would intrude on, shall we say, other activities of a pleasurable nature. As the Irish adage goes, 'Many a man's tongue broke his nose.'

So off to the Paris Board meeting at the Georges Cinq. My Ukrainian manager Bohdan greeted me, and in the meeting room, I renewed acquaintance with the other representatives of the enterprise. Soon I was immersed in various and sundry items of a sugar beet nature.

I will not bore the reader in detailing all that occurred, but one or two things are worthy of mention. Beet sugar has moved from being 25% of the world's sugar to 30% -- a considerable gain. The East Anglia fuel project involving the production of biobutanol was coming along nicely, and German Zuckerruben-Sirup was becoming ever more popular. All in all, profits were up roughly 35%, no small feat in the current world economy. Thus I argued for, and got, healthy raises for the workers who actually tended the beets themselves.

No bonuses for the managers, though -- they receive handsome wages as well as stock options.

As the meeting broke up, Bohdan leaned over and said, "There's a military guy outside who wishes a word."

"Well, let's see what it's all about."

I left the room, and encountered two people. One was of Oriental persuasion, short in stature, and sporting a uniform festooned with various medals and medallions. The other was a slender female, also Oriental, poured into a leather mini-skirt and cashmere top and wearing what looked to be Louboutin stilettos.

"I am General Phan," the man said, ignoring the woman by his side. "My government would be interested in a sugar beet enterprise, a joint venture, if you will."

"And which government would that be?' I asked, although the penny was beginning to drop.

"Myanmar," he replied.

"I smiled sweetly at him. "You mean, of course, Burma. And I would be happy to begin a negotiation. When might I meet with Miss Aung San Suu Kyi?"

"She is not the government," he said tersely.

"Oh, but she is," I said. "Very definitely. Won the election handily, and has the support of most of the Burmese populace. Were it not for a vicious group of thugs headed up by that creep Than Shwe --"

He abruptly turned and left, dragging the hapless girl with him.

Well, you can't win them all. Particularly when the shit hits the Phan.

(Sorry about that).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Listening

Just returned from the Scilly Isles, where the puffins go to breed. I was part of an international team tasked with the assignment to establish a super sensitive listening post. The software involved was keyed to pick up linked references involving words such as Al Qaeda, Taliban, Yemen, jihad, Saudi Arabia -- well, you get the point. What was unusual was the algorithm being used in the linkage, an advanced thing indeed, and as the saying goes, if I told you its nature, I would have to kill you. Moreover, the geography was such that the Scillies were perfect for the areas concerned.

Yet all this high tech stuff can, at times, be superseded by the common rough and tumble of daily existence. A case in point.

A few weeks ago, I was in the study re-reading in Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, when a shriek erupted from the den. I rushed over, and found my gardener, Consuela, regarding the television set with a look of pure fury. It was from this incident that a rather important result emerged affecting national security. Only this time for real, not the Bush-Cheney use of the term for purposes that can only be called self-serving.

Consuela had been watching something called Canadian Idol. Given Canada's hockey-mad ethos, I thought this would be a program featuring Wayne Gretzky, or Bobby Orr, or perhaps even Don Cherry. But no. Apparently it is an 'adult' (the term is used with misgiving) version of the children's Tiny Talent show popular years ago.

What had irritated Consuela was a performance that used a song by her favourite pop artist, Avril Lavigne, the pride of Napanee. Also, the fact that Consuela was seven months pregnant, and tended to be irritated about just about anything, didn't help.

By this time her husband Ahmed, my driver and handyman, had joined us, along with Irving, my butler and minder. Consuela had taped the offending piece, and we all watched an absolutely terrible version of La Lavigne's Complicated.

"Wait," said Ahmed. "Play that again." Consuela did so, and Ahmed stared closely at the screen. "I thought so. I know this person. It's Khuram Sher, and he's lying. He wasn't born in Pakistan, and I doubt he's ever been there. I wonder what's going on?"

Long story short, Ahmed peeled the onion a bit, and soon had some pertinent information. This I passed on to CODE Barry of CSIS, who then got in touch with the R.C.M.P. Irving also had contacted a colleague in Mossad, and I, of course, kept Tilly Hatt of the CIA in the loop. And as you now know, three arrests were made in Ontario, and a rather vicious little plot nipped in the bud. So while high tech has its uses, normal alertness and careful listening for the unusual still can play a significant role.

Of course, that's not all that can result from careful listening. I recall a certain fund-raising dinner in Washington to which I had been glad to make a contribution and attend. It was hosted by President Bush (the sane one, not George W.) and was in support of National Public Radio. I was seated between the Kissinger brothers, Henry and Walter. When Henry got up to greet Someone Of Importance I turned to Walter and said, "I note that you have almost no accent, while your brother...."

"Oh," said Walter, "that's easily explained. I listen."

Discuss among yourselves.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Mosque at Ground Zero

I dearly wanted to avoid this issue, but Sir Harry would have none of it.

"Are they going to build that Cordoba mosque or not?" he barked over the secure line. "And what are the ramifications?"

"As to your first question," I replied, "it could go either way. Depends, as these things usually do, on the money. And more importantly, where the money is coming from. As to the ramifications, which also will bear on the possible construction, how you interpret the symbolism will be the deal breaker."

"What do you mean?"

"It's a bit complicated, but it will be in my report. Along with the invoice."

"Send it by tomorrow. Use encryption code D."

"That's rather elaborate. Something in London gone awry?"

"Fruit not yet ripe for the plucking," Sir Harry stated brusquely. "Now mind. By tomorrow." At which point the line went dead.

Now the real reason I was shying away from the New York mosque issue is that one must wrestle with symbolism and, with symbolism, things can get very complicated in a hurry. Let me give you an example drawn from Northrup Frye's magnificent The Anatomy of Criticism. Frye notes that when a critic of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene encounters St. George, the Redcross Knight, bearing a red cross on a white ground, he has some grasp of the figure. Frye then goes on to state that "when the critic meets a female in Henry James' The Other House called Rose Arminger with a white dress and a red parasol, he is, in the current slang, clueless."

They are symbols, you see, but where one is easily discerned, the other is not.

Which brings us to the proposed Cordoba mosque.

First, let us dispense with the Cordoba aspect. In any symbolic interpretation, one must have at least an idea of what the symbol means. I put out a call to Tilly Hatt, who was currently in New York having a romantic interlude with some Romanian she had met in the Bronx. At my request, she asked a number of New Yorkers -- fifteen to be exact -- what they thought 'Cordoba' meant. Seven simply stared at her blankly, while eight said it was a 1975 Chrysler. (Americans may be no hell on Spanish history, but they know their cars.) So away goes Cordoba, the Moorish capital of Al-Andalus, along with the the Mezquita, (the Great Mosque) and the taking of the city by Christians in 1236. No symbol there.

With 'mosque', however, we are in entirely different territory.

I did some research here, and discovered that prior to the attack on the World Trade Center, Americans held little animus against mosques. Indeed, they thought them quaint, and of course no rivals to those palatial Pentecostal palaces that were springing up everywhere. In short, any symbolism simply escaped them, much like Frye's critic in the Henry James example. After the attack, however, Edmund Spenser's example leaped to the fore. Mosques became to a slew of Americans a symbol of aggression and the slaughtering of innocents, a Redcross Knight gone berserk.

And Muslims wish to erect one near Ground Zero? Madness.


1) The funding is entirely by American Muslims, as an act of atonement and an expression of the regard in which they hold America, their pride in being American citizens, and their deep belief in the separation of church and state. (Shut up, Sarah.)

2) No foreign capital to be sought, particularly from Saudi Arabia, whose interpretation of the Qur'an is, to put it bluntly, nonsensical and from time to time, vicious. (The Saudis are not alone in this.)

3) A number of 'meditation' rooms to be available to people of other faiths; that is, a small chapel, a little temple, and perhaps a small shul. I mean, if you're going to atone, do it right.

If these conditions fly, then, as I wrote Sir Harry, the building should go ahead. I am afraid, however, that when it comes to something flying, it will be pigs.

Then there is Newt Gingrich's condition, and I hate to admit it, but part of me (and not the best part) agrees with the old Republican curmudgeon. Newt simply stated that permission to build the mosque be conditional upon Saudi Arabia permitting a cathedral to be built near the Kaaba in Mecca.

Works for me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Famial Frippery

From time to time readers ask for more information about my kids. I try to keep such information at a minimum, lest this descend into some kind of weird soap opera along the lines of As The Stomach Turns or The Edge of Blight. But perhaps I have been too stringent.

It so happens that time will permit a quick update. Sir Harry and MI6 are pleased with some information I forwarded, and it will take some time to digest. Nothing dramatic, but a well-thought out response to the rain and mud catastrophe in Pakistan. I just called in some markers, and was able to fire off data on certain organizations that would ensure that monetary aid would actually get to those who needed it, rather than see it funnelled into ISI pockets, Islamic idiots or the Taliban. (The organizations are not necessarily mutually exclusive). Better to procure tents, blankets and fresh water than AK 47's, IED's or RPG's.

So...the kids.

Well, Victoria, the historian/actress and youngest daughter, has just left for London to present a paper on the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the gathering that gave credence to the nation state. Her take on this is that another such meeting is desperately needed -- the nation state has become, in her opinion, a dubious entity. (Discuss among yourselves). After that she returns to New York, and some appearances in Law and Order, SVU, a TV show that employs her almost as much as her favourite, True Blood. I am rather partial to True Blood as well, a kind of Coronation Street on crack cocaine.

My eldest daughter, Isolde, is at the Manor at the present moment. She is a concert violinist, and is preparing for an appearance with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. She is doing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, something she states is "a brute" and hence the preparation time. Isolde I have to watch closely. I know for a fact that Sir Harry sees her as ideal courier material, and being Sir Harry, will persist. I am dead set against this, but, not wishing to kill hope entirely, told Isolde that she could do this when Sir Harry gives her her very own Stradivarius.

Sir Harry didn't speak to me for two weeks.

I am glad to report that my youngest son, Mark, has finally outgrown his disturbing predilection to go down a snowy hill on two sticks. Mark was, at one time, being considered for the Canadian Olympic team until a broken leg put paid to that. (Not that I am against skiers. I once had a fantastic bar crawl with Nancy Green and Picabo Street in Salzburg, and then the guys joined us and -- but never mind.)

However, I knew Mark to be ferociously bright, and if you have a talent, then it should bloody well be used. Now Mark is at CERN and involved with the Large Hadron Collider. His last letter to me indicated that her was excited as hell. He was working on his PH.D and just had his thesis accepted, something involving non-locality and the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Effect, or EPR as the cognoscenti would have it. More than that, had had had an opportunity to run his preliminary notes by Stephen Hawking when he visited the establishment. Apparently, Hawking had indicated that Mark's approach would fail, but then added that the reason it would fail was fascinating and that he should continue. His point, Mark wrote, was that defining a dead end was immeasurably beneficial to science, for then more promising avenues could be explored. Mark had then blurted out (he always had that habit) "Too bad the same can't be said for politics."

Hawking had then given him a penetrating look, then said softly, "Do let me see your finished paper."

My eldest son, Sebastian, has taken an entirely different route in life. Mark designs and makes clothes, using hemp as his primary material. He has shops in New York, London, Paris and Toronto, and is enormously successful. That may be because he designs clothes that people will actually wear. I myself have three skirts, two jumpers and one "little black (hemp) dress". Most recently, he has had a major coup in New York. He had initially run afoul of the law, in that hemp was viewed as marijuana. That was straightened out with the aid of Mayor Bloomberg, with a little help from myself, and now it turns out that Mark has just won a contract to supply the entire NYPD with hemp-based uniforms, clothing which the officers find far more comfortable and easy to wear than their present ones. What goes around, comes around.

So there we are, and that will be enough of that.

I leave you, however, with a kind of hemp cartoon from the British Magazine Punch sent to me by Mark. Outside a window, you see a gigantic beanstalk with Jack close by. His mother, through the open window, asks, "Well, Jack, are you going to climb it?"

"Hell, no, Ma, I'm going to smoke it!"


Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Conversation on Commissions

There were three of us at the pool, Matilda Hatt, myself and my daughter Victoria. Vicky had just finished shooting a number of damsel in distress sequences for the True Blood series in Los Angeles and was now back at The Manor working on a paper commissioned by the British Historical Society entitled What Really Occurred at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Tilly was back from God knows where, and had picked up a nasty bruise on her forearm that she was not talking about. Given that the temperature was pushing 33 degrees C., the pool was the place to be.

Another reason that drove us outside was the fact that two of the Manor's fireplaces needed attention, and various workmen were at present clambering all about, and making a hell of a racket. My driver Ahmed was supervising, and for this I was glad. His wife Consuela, my gardener, was great with child, and he was continually fretting and worrying.

We were all in our bikinis, something that did not go unnoticed by the odd workman's face that would appear from time to time in the Manor's windows.

I looked up. saw one, and muttered, "Bloody better get back to parging, boyo."

"What the hell is parging?" asked Tilly.

I didn't acquire an engineering degree for nothing, and replied, "It's applying a thin coat of polymeric mortar to create a smooth surface. In a fireplace that's necessary because --"

"Now Mum," said Vicky, putting down her history notebook, "let's not get all technical. I mean, I can expound at length on this Westphalia thing as a justification for the Thirty Years War. It did, after all, establish a diplomatic principle of non-interference in another countries affairs that --"

"Enough!" said Tilly loudly. "It's too damn hot for obscure arguments. But I am curious, Victoria, about your little cinematic commissions as a way of making some money on the side.

"Actually, quite a lot of money," I said.

"Well," said Vicky, "I enjoy it, although at times you have to be a little, er, athletic."

"Like being suspended by the ankles over a pit of open fire," I added. "Just your normal cameo role."

"Now, Mum," said Vicky. "That was one of my best. It's a pity there isn't an Oscar category for that type of performance. I mean, I writhed!"

Tilly, who I knew had once been in that very position in an actual situation, just stared at her.

"And look, Mum, I got a gift from the True Blood cast. See?"

Vicky did something with her tongue, and, click, two little fangs appeared.

"Good God," I said.

"Cool," said Tilly.

I had had enough of this, and plunged into the pool. I surfaced, and was soon joined by Tilly. We swam for a bit, then perched on the far side of the pool. Vicky had gone back to her notebook.

"Lord," said Tilly out of the blue, "but Canada is a civilized country."

"And just what prompts this observation?"

"For starters," she replied, "you don't tear yourselves apart over an issue. In the USA, health care, abortion, gun control -- both Democrats and Republicans just snarl at each other. And each year the divide seems to be getting more wider, even more vicious. Yet it doesn't appear to be the same here."

"Not exactly true, Tilly. There was the FLQ in Quebec, and earlier, at the time of WW II, conscription was a big deal. Further back, there was Riel, and the Fenians, but I see what you mean. Actually, what Canada does is rather unique when a divisive issue surfaces."

"And just what is that, precisely?" Tilly was all ears now.

"We borrowed a strategy from the Brits. It's called a Royal Commission. Wonderful thing, really. When an issue looks like it's going to be problematical, the government appoints this Commission, headed up by someone who has an impeccable record, and comprising a number of the great and the good. It is staffed, and then swans about the country for a considerable time, listening to everyone and making copious notes. Later, much later, an Interim Report is issued for yet further comment, and a goodly time after that comes the Final Report. Of course, by this time everyone has forgotten all about the issue, and presto -- problem solved."

"We don't have Royal Commissions," said Tilly glumly.

"You could have, if George III and Lord North hadn't been so stupid. But, as they would say in Yorkshire, that's between summat and nowt. Yet all might not be lost."

"What do you mean?"

"Why not suggest a Presidential Congressional Commission? Get someone who both parties agree is a near saint on the issue at hand, and have equal membership from both Republicans and Democrats. It would also help if they knew something about the issue. Then off they go, listening and taking notes, with everyone saying their piece. Health care would be a natural."

I could literally see the wheels turning in Tilly's head. "You know," she said, I have this contact in Michelle's Secret Service detail. A word in his tinted ear, then to Michelle, then to Barack -- hell, it's worth a try."

"Good, but remember old W.C. Fields on this: 'If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit. There's no point being a damn fool about it.'

"I," said Tilly swimming away, "will keep that in mind."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Truth Or Consequences

Having arranged for Ahmed to drive Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the airport, I had time to reflect upon one of her statements. She had indicated that those women who had received death sentences from whatever crazed mullah or imam that had made them were all accused of denying 'The Truth of Islam'. It occurred to me that Christianity had gone through a similar phase in the Middle Ages, where a good auto de fe provided entertainment for all (except, of course, the convicted heretic).

The key word here is 'truth'.

During my Oxford days, I remember an all night, rather wild discussion with my classmates on the nature of truth. A lot was said, from the Churchillian "Truth is so precious she need to be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies" to John Stuart Mill: "It is a piece of idle sentimentality that truth, merely a truth, has any inherent power denied to error of prevailing against the dungeon or the stake." Now my classmates were bright people, and could quote relevant authorities at the drop of a hat. I had had enough, and piped up "It seems to me that Robert Browning has resolved the question once and for all."

"Robert Browning?" said someone. "Simone, you've got to be kidding. When on earth did he ever address anything to do with truth? "

"Hear me out," I said, and began to explain. The argument is a bit protracted, but what follows is the gist of the thing.

Browning had written a number of dramatic monologues that had been well received by the Victorian public. One thinks here of My Last Duchess, Pippa Passes, Andrea del Sarto and the like. Certain critics, however, had taken him to task that all this was 'made-up' stuff, not real, and above all, not true. Wounded in his self-esteem, Browning decided to fight back.

He did this in his (rather savage) extended poem, The Ring and the Book, a work that involves all manner of people and events. The thing encompasses a child bride, an older and rather nasty groom, a disguised priest, a triple murder, four hangings and a beheading. And all of this was FACTUALLY TRUE.

"Finally!" said the critics. "The man has seen the light."

Browning replied, (I paraphrase here a bit) "Idiots! Would it have been any less true if the whole thing were a fiction of my mind?"

That shut everyone up, including my classmates.

And before everyone rushes off to purchase The Collected Works of Robert Browning (a worthy purchase in any event) I leave the last word on this thorny topic to the 16th century writer and philosopher, Francis Bacon. In his essay, Of Truth, Bacon writes "'What is truth?' said jesting Pilate and would not stay for an answer."

Well he wouldn't, would he.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Employing Empowerment Part Two

" impressive Simone."

So said Ayaan Hirsi Ali on first glimpsing Camp Can Do from the air. We were circling the grounds in my Sikorsky S 76 helicopter, piloted by my good friend Hank Grimsby. Hank had just returned from a stint in Afghanistan, and I was delighted to have him back. Even when flying first class , airport security is such that the whole experience too often turns into a nightmare of poking and probing through my stuff, and I have already lost one Cartier watch and a Givenchy leather belt that somehow disappeared during the examination process. Staff at these check points appear to be all from deepest India, and any complaint immediately results in a charge of racism. A pox on them all.

I lease a Lear jet, but don't really trust anyone other than Hank to fly it. So welcome back Hank, and goodbye to all those airport personnel overly afflicted with office. He is also, as you may have gathered, familiar with helicopters. I should mention that after Black Hawks, he considers the Sikorsky a bit of a toy, but the machine can carry 14 people and reach 200 mph. Suits my needs perfectly.

We landed, and Ms Hirsi Ali -- whom I just call Ali -- stared about her, taking in the main building, several smaller structures, the lake at the front and the oval race track running around the water's edge. The exact location must remain a mystery (for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that five of these women are, or were, Muslims, and face a death sentence for wanting to be human beings.) Allah the Merciful again. The others have fled abusive relationships, having realized that court restraining orders weren't worth the paper they're printed on. Suffice it to say that the location involves an investment in a cranberry enterprise run by a First Nations Reserve, a generous leasing price, and a first class scholarship program. The BCR (Band Council Resolution) passed with lightning speed.

At this moment the front door of the main building opened, and 10 women of various ages and sizes emerged. Two were Somalis, who immediately recognized Ali, and were soon rabbiting on in their incomprehensible (to me) language. The others clamored to show me what they had learned.

A third figure emerged from the main house -- the instructor. This was a gentleman by the name of Judd Banger. I had encountered Judd some years before, when he was a leader of the New York branch of the Hell's Angels. We had a difference of opinion. This was resolved at the expense of a broken leg (his) and a bloody nose (mine). Thus we became friends. I presented certain options, one was accepted, and here he was, guiding very timid women into controlling very powerful Harley-Davidsons and doing something useful with his life.

Ali broke free from her Somali compatriots, and as the women went off to get their machines, Ali stated that she had never seen such confidence. "And this from a culture" she continued, "that won't even let the men watch the Soccer World Cup. They have to study Qu'ran. Ridiculous."

I replied, "That's not a Somali thing, Ali, but the religious maniacs in Al Shabaab. This you know."

She nodded ruefully, and then was startled by the roar of five Harleys entering the oval, with two riders on each. The five sped up, and began to circle the track, expertly leaning against the torque of the curves.

"Took some time," said Judd gruffly. "Took some time. Especially the taking apart and re-assembling. But in the end -- well, just watch this."

The cycles, now at full bore, began to weave in an out, and incredibly began to do wheelies.

Ali just stared in amazement.

"And Ali," I said, "do you think that a woman who can control that sort of power is ever going to be put down again? I think not."

"But there are so many --"

"TTT, Ali. Things take time."

Ali was silent for a time, watching the cycles weave and swerve. Then she touched my blouse.

"Simone, do you think..."

"Do I think what?"

"Do you think I could ride one? Just for a bit."

I was caught unawares by the request. Judd wasn't, and asked Ali to come with him. Shortly after, there was Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself, helmeted, clutching Judd for dear life, yet with shining eyes and laughter that rang right round the oval.

Occasionally, you win one.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Employing Empowerment Part One

Now back at the Manor, and delighted to receive and talk to a very special visitor. This was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the courageous Somali woman who had fled Somalia, thereby freeing herself from the vicious tentacles of fundamentalist Islam. From Somalia, she had gone to the Netherlands, and shortly after, got elected to the Dutch Parliament. But her championing of liberal values resulted in numerous fatwas from the criminally insane imams and mullahs who have hijacked Islam. Bluntly put, the fatwas guarantee a life in Paradise (wherever that is) if she could be caught, tortured, and killed. Indeed, one particularly nasty fatwa aimed directly at her was pinned by a dagger to the chest of murdered filmmaking colleague Theo van Gogh.

All Merciful Allah wins again.

Things getting rather hairy at this point, Ms Hirsi Ali fled to America, where she continues to lash out at the crazed jihadists that have done so much to wreck the Islam that in saner times had made enormous contributions to science, art, health care, mathematics and philosophy. Of course, she has minders, but then, so do I. When dealing with the insane, you must perforce expect the unexpected.

In any event, when Ms Hirsi Ali got in touch, and requested a meeting, I was glad to invite her to the Manor (it is very, very secure) and to learn what she is presently involved in.

She arrived in due course, accompanied by two men who appeared to know my butler and minder, Irving, really well. Interesting that Ms Hirsi Ali winds up being protected by two Mossad agents. But if you think about it for a moment, makes sense. However, speculation here is not what we're about, for she was particularly interested in Camp Can Do located in Northern Ontario.

This startled me, and indicated that this is a woman who does her homework. The camp is not well known (for reasons that will become clear in due course) and the administrators even less so. As readers will remember, I support a number of oddball charities, one of which is a woman's shelter run by the Little Sisters of Poverty and Pain. The nuns involved are atheists, and Holy Mother Church would close the enterprise down in a heartbeat, save for certain information I possess with respect to Church finances and three missing paintings by Rubens. But I digress.

We quickly became Ali and Simone, and over tea and scones, Ali made her wishes clear. She wanted some background on the camp, and wondered if it was possible to visit. Over the next three days, both possibilities became fact.

I explained to her that the idea for the camp came from my own experience as a young girl growing up badly in the back streets of Naples. Fortunately, I encountered a mentor, of which I have only had three. This individual introduced me to the motorcycle. I was entranced, but until I could totally strip it and re-assemble the thing, riding it was prohibited. Took some time, but eventually, wow! I was in control of something that I understood. Maybe for the first time in my life I felt supremely confident.

"Who was this person?" asked Ali.

"A Canadian by the name of Ken Low. He had lost his government job after writing a Liberal Party progress report entitled 'We're Lost, But We're Making Good Time.' Bit too close to the truth, there."

Ali continued. "So this camp has motorcycles?"

"Oh, yes," I replied. Six 2009 Dyna Harley-Davidsons, V-Rods, 1250 cc and with a twin cam 88 engine. Powerful beasts."

Ali's eyes glazed over a bit at this.

"It will be better if I show you. Can you drop by tomorrow, by the helipad? And jeans and a tee shirt should serve." (A plan was forming in my mind, and the sari-like thing Ali was wearing would be rather inappropriate). I added, "Given your background, you will be intrigued."

"You really are passionate about this," Ali said.

"Certainly am. But I also remember my Benjamin Franklin, who thought driving passion was just fine provided reason held the reins. Now perhaps a short tour of the Manor?"

Ali agreed, and away we went. But stay tuned.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Price of Admission

As suggested in my last note, I took Svetlana Marinskaya up on her offer to meet in Paris, if for no other reason to escape the endless whining from all those who felt that they had been hard done by during the recent G20 meeting in Toronto.

So there we were, in a small cafe in Montmartre, sipping kir and enjoying ourselves. At least I was until Svetlana said "About that G20 thing. Really. A few cop cars burned? Some lunatics arrested? Really, Simone. You call that a protest?"

"I don't call it anything except an absolutely wrong venue for such a meeting. Or any future ones, for that matter."

"Oh," said Svetlana, "then where would you schedule such meetings?"

"Several places come to mind," I replied. "Baffin Island would do nicely. Or somewhere near Cape Horn. Or Death Valley in July. Temperature there can get up to 46 degrees Celsius. Another kir?"

Svetlana nodded, and a waiter was instantly attentive. I should mention at this point that the temperature being on the warm side, we had both dressed accordingly, in Tee shirts and very short shorts. Dolce and Gabbana of course. This had an effect upon our garcon, ensuring prompt and thoughtful service. You work with what you have.

Svetlana would not let the topic go. "But this Toronto G20 thing --"

"Svetlana, enough of this. Look, the whole mess boils down to the fact that the police followed their orders magnificently. The fact that these orders were very ill thought out by the Powers That Be -- in this case the Mayor and the Premier -- is the reason any enquiry will be doomed. Those two will never admit to error of any kind."

"Not like your Agate Christie once wrote."

"Agatha, sweetie. And what on earth are you talking about?"

"Well, I remember from English class a book of hers featuring a Miss Mapples --"


"Whatever. Anyway, all the other characters were convinced that one man was guilty because he had admitted that he had been home alone and had no alibi. Miss Marples said that she rather trusted this man, because he admitted things."

"Like your countrymen. And women."

"Now what are you talking about?"

"The Great Spy Scandal. Now The Great Spy Swap. Lord, I haven't heard so much admission since reading St. Augustine's Confessions. There was old Igor Sutyagin and three others stating that yes, they had spied for the CIA. And there was the fair Anna Chapman and the other nine saying yes, they had spied for Russia. Although in the former case, real damage was done; in the latter, any 'secrets' that got passed on came from Google. I'd say the U.S. got the better of in this particular case."

"Agreed," Svelana admitted ruefully. "But as I said, the Kremlin just forgot that cell was operative. Putin and Medvedev are still beside themselves, and the whole thing will die a very quick death. Although rumour has it that Vladimir is quite taken with the redhead, and after some slapping around, wants to turn her into a honey trap."

"From her pictures, may be a short trip. Uh oh, got to go."

"Yes, where is the faithful Irving -- ah, I see him at that brasserie."

I inquired, "And where is your minder, if you care to, uh, admit."

She replied, with a little smirk, "He's the waiter, cherie."

We rose, and I touched her arm gently. "All well and good, my friend, but I find it useful to keep the following lines in mind. From La Rochefoucauld, I believe: 'If you're prepared to admit it, it's not the worst thing you ever did.' A la prochaine."