Friday, January 29, 2010

Death Wishes In Toronto

Curled up in the library, getting the memory of wretched Somalia out of my system as I sipped from a Margaux given by the Compt de Rienville (a little coming home present, much appreciated) I read the following in the local paper.

Apparently in the last 15 days, 14 pedestrians had been killed on Toronto's streets. An aside: the missing day must have been a Sunday, when The Lord rested. (He's been resting ever since). In Montreal, to contrast this a bit, 19 pedestrian fatalities in the past entire year. Of course, Montreal pedestrians are well used to drivers teetering along the edge of insanity, and take the necessary precautions. But what on earth was going on in Toronto? Had someone taken literally the saying, "so many pedestrians, so little time"?

I got on the phone to an old friend in the Toronto Police Department, Superintendent Max Smith. Max and his operational team were charged with coping with the odd or the unusual, and I recall something about a pizza delivery person, name of Percival, who had a very strange ability. Forgotten just what it was, but it had taken Max some time to sort it all out. In any event, neither here nor there. What was here was an unusual death count on Toronto's streets.

When I finally got through to Max, I discovered he was at his wits end in figuring it out. He then asked me to brood on the situation for a while, and get back to him with my thoughts. I had done this before, when the penguins in the zoo began to attack any keeper who came near, and only ceased when I had determined that an employee who had had his pension reduced had been spiking the penguin's food with Viagra. I doubted that the present case would prove that simple to resolve.

After examining each pedestrian death, one common denominator stood out -- total lack of attention to where one was or what one was doing. This rubric applied both to drivers and pedestrians, and recalls Schiller: "With stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain." Modern accoutrement's such as i-pods and cell phones simply exacerbate the situation. There really was only one solution.

I informed Max that while cuff and kiss is a good combination to encourage proper behaviour, this was definitely a "cuff" scenario. I suggested that every so often, on a random basis, send the uniforms into the streets, and raise the fine for jaywalking to $100 a pop, while at the same time really bear down on cars running reds. Moreover, forget the nice warnings that had hitherto been in place. Word of this approach would spread like wildfire, and things should improve. Save for teen-agers, who think they're immortal.

Max thanked me, stating that he had been having thoughts along similar lines.

Nevertheless, all this was somewhat depressing, but I was cheered up by watching Robin Williams on television (and another glass of the Margaux). Williams was at his bi-polar best, and I leave you with one of his more unusual observations:

"I see that American gays and lesbians, losing court battle after court battle, are getting fed up and moving to Canada in droves. Bloody hell. Canadians are already the nicest people on the planet. Do they have to be the best dressed too?"

Friday, January 22, 2010

Slagging About In Somalia

I did not expect to be away for so long, but, as the saying goes, shit happens. While I am not in a position to tell the whole story -- certain government officials would be furious -- I can, however, relate the gist.

At the request of Irving, my Mossad-trained butler, and Matilda Hatt of the CIA, I was asked to accompany them and some colleagues to Mogadishu in Somalia. Apparently some U235 had gone astray from Russia, and had surfaced in Somalia waiting for the right price. This uranium was weapons grade, and the buyer at the head of the line was Iran. Needless to say, the Israelis took a dim view of such a transaction, as did the Americans. My role in all this was to watch from a vantage point with my Erma SR100 and ensure that the extraction went smoothly.

How we entered the city I cannot relate, but once in, I, Tilly, Irving and a colleague of his named simply Bak adopted a rather neat disguise. We aged ourselves, and slowly made our way along one of the main streets, avoiding the various pot holes, barricades and what have you that make Mogadishu such a charming place.

The armed patrols that careened along from time to time didn't give us a second glance. Four poor, elderly Somalis tottering along, the men in front, Tilly and I behind in our naquibs, were non-existent to the clans that run Mogadishu. When we reached the half-wrecked building where the uranium was guarded (Israeli intelligence doesn't make errors in this regard) we waited for the show to begin.

It was evening, and suddenly, down by the waterfront, an explosion. This got the attention of everyone, but the guards at the building were well-trained (or terrified of breaking orders) and stayed put. No matter -- more was in store, for we knew what was coming.

After the explosion, a wide beam of white light appeared from the sky, and out of it, a white-clothed figure of a bearded man emerged, stating in flawless Somali that he was The Prophet returned, and that he was mightily displeased. One of the clan leaders, not taken aback as were others, raised his AK47 and fired a burst at the figure. The bullets went right through, and the figure began quoting various suras from the Qu'ran on the futility of mindless violence. The growing crowd, hearing this, fell to their knees. Of course The Prophet would be beyond earthly attack!

Word was also spreading throughout the city that The Prophet had arrived, and people were flocking to the site. To such news, the guards at the building were not immune. What was uranium when put against hearing the words of The Prophet? They left, Tilly, Irving and Bak entered, and before long emerged with a heavy lead canister. One armed patrol, oblivious at this point to The Prophet's appearance, happened round the corner,saw this and made to investigate. My Erma came into action, and the investigation came to a sudden and abrupt halt.

We made our way out of the city, and were picked up by some very helpful Americans in a Blackhawk helicopter, one (this time) that went up instead of down.

At the seaside, The Prophet continued to lecture the clans on the errors of indiscriminate killing, the value of peaceful negotiation, and, where women were concerned, that Allah saw them as people rather than chattel. He urged, as well, that the Qu'ran should be read intelligently, not brandished about as a foundation for jihad.

How long all that went on I didn't know. What I did know was that the laser-driven holography being sent down from an overhead AWAK was finite, and at some point the power would give out. I will watch and listen carefully to see if this little event makes any difference on the ground. Probably not. Poor Somalia.

At home, Sir Harry was soon on the secure line, apoplectic with fury.

"You were told no more field work! Now this! I'm afraid I'll have to inform the PM."

"Oh I have already talked to Gordon. He thought it was an excellent idea. Also, he is quite interested in doing some consulting work for me. After all, my sugar beet enterprise keeps on going, the money is getting complex, and Gordon does understand finance. This, of course, after that young Billy Cameron has his day in the sun."

"I despair," moaned Sir Harry.

"Now what you need to do," I replied, , "is to relax somewhere at a place where girls in diaphanous veils bring you orange sherbet. Among other things."

There was a long silence. Then he said, in a hoarse voice, "You may very well be right."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Foray Into Religion

"Well at least, Isolde, you must admit your sister makes a good point.""

My daughter and I were in the library, discussing my youngest daughter Victoria's latest historical paper, "A New Take On The Battle Of Plataea". Isolde was complaining about the style of language --staid, precise, and in her terms, boring.

"Isolde, it's written for an historical audience. And her thesis is sound. The Spartans and Athenians couldn't believe the way the Persians set out their line of battle, and they employed a very good counter-strategy; that is, never interrupt the enemy when he's making a mistake. Napoleon picked up on this a lot. The principle works as well in other areas, such as politics and hockey games."

At this point my butler Irving interrupted. ""Er, My Lady, you have a visitor."

Irritated, I said, Good God, not Cousin Prudence again. I just can't face the whining and --"

"No," he replied. "It's Father Tom. From the Church of the Weeping Sepulchre."

"You go, Mum," said Isolde. "A little bit of Vicky goes a long way -- she should stick to playing dead bodies. And I should practice. The Sibelius is tricky, and the concert is tomorrow."

So off Isolde went, and I made my way downstairs to talk to Father Tom, whom I rather liked. I remember, when the weather was particularly fine, greeting him and stating, "You've done an excellent job in arranging things today." To which he replied, "Oh, My Lady, not me. After all, I'm in sales, not management." Good one, that.

We met, and he readily agreed to share some sherry from a fine cask of Amontillado I had received from a grateful Italian Government (such as it is). After some pleasantries were exchanged, he came to the point.

"That convent you support --"

"Ah, yes. The Little Sisters of Poverty and Pain. They do good work. And they do it for those who believe what they do not, because of the immense comfort such an act provides.Then there is the sanctuary, the soup kitchen, the outreach program --"

"The Bishop wants to shut it down," Father Tom said bluntly.

"Does he now? And just why hasn't he come to tell me himself?"

"Well apparently there was that issue with the stained glass window in his manse."

"Hah! As I recall, I recommended three fine artisans that could have done the work. But no, he had to pick one of his inept Benedictine cronies, and the result was crap. I mean, really. It depicts Salome, being nasty. I think the artist had seen what the Vancouver Opera had done with the Strauss version last May, where the soprano, I believe it was Mlada Khudoley, took the head of John the Baptist, opened her legs, and --"

"All right, My Lady, all right! Point taken. But what the Bishop objects to, and here I concur, is that all the nuns are atheists. Atheists!"

"And," I replied, "are to be doubly commended. What they do, they do for a very human reason. In effect, they feel the authority of compassion, and respond to it."

"I have no problem with their reasoning. But they are betraying the God they purport to worship."

"Rubbish. All of the sisters well realize that any God who permits innocents to come to harm, and does nothing to prevent it, is not a God worthy of worship. They have no quarrel with the free will thing, and that if you choose evil, then that's a choice that will be paid for, mostly in psychological terms, but also through the criminal justice system. But for the truly innocent to suffer --"

"There is a larger picture --"

"Perhaps. But neither they, nor I, have received the gift of faith that would encompass such a larger picture, as you term it. Now you tell the Bishop that if he acts on this, a certain matter will immediately come to light involving certain preferred shares purchased for the diocese involving an armament company that is sending weaponry to the Congo."

"How on earth --"

"Just inform the man. I think you will find that the matter will go away. In a hurry."

Father Tom looked crestfallen.

"I might add, this has absolutely nothing to do with your parish. By all accounts, it is doing its job, and your parishioners benefit, something in no small way due to yourself. More sherry?"

"No," he replied, "I must go and report back. Something I'm not looking forward to. I might, however, drop into the convent first."

"Why would you do that?"

"For comfort, My Lady. For comfort."