Thursday, February 25, 2010

Settling A Son

To Geneva with my son Mark and a look at the Large Hadron Collider where I hoped Mark could continue his work in theoretical physics, and lower downhill skiing on his priority list. At an earlier meeting in Davos, I had struck up an acquaintance with Dr. Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known by its French acronym, CERN. We had had an interesting conversation, with my point being that smashing things into smaller and smaller pieces would only result in, well, smaller and smaller pieces.

"Ah, but Dr. Strunsky, you forget the importance of the Higgs bosun."

Now a Higgs bosun to me is a likely character in a Patrick O'Brien novel. In physics, however, I admitted its presence is critical but its presence is also theoretical. It was this emphasis on the theoretical that I now stressed to Dr. Heuer, and showed some of Mark's work in that regard, particularly his speculations regarding Bell's Theorem, the work of Alain Aspect, and Einstein's comment: "Spooky action at a distance." (Look all this up -- these missives are not academic monographs.

Dr. Heuer took Mark's papers with him, and later that day stated that, should some extra research dollars be found, he was willing to act as Mark's thesis supervisor. "Perhaps", he said, "a small contribution from your rather impressive sugar beet holdings....?"

Does his homework, does Dr. Heuer.

I agreed, and when I informed Mark he had been accepted into the CERN team, I was glad to see some excitement cross his face. The last time he had expressed excitement was in the starting gate at Kitzbuhl. The work at CERN would be much less dangerous. Of course, this view is not shared by certain evangelicals in the American mid west, where they think that CERN is an embodiment of the Anti-Christ, and would create a black hole that would swallow the entire Earth. Not so much The Rapture as The Rupture. Again I turn to Schiller: "With stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain."

I had trouble booking a flight back to Toronto. My own pilot, Hank Grimsby, would normally handle this chore in his Lear, but Hank, damn him, was in Afghanistan flying in supplies to American military outposts. He had, however, let me know,through e-mail, that he had uncovered a very interesting sidelight to the whole mess. Apparently the Afghan National Army and the Taliban share the same (outdated) radio communications and have, as well, a few i-phones. They chatter incessantly to each other, arguing their viewpoints, but also share the odd picture. Hank stated that the Olympics were huge, with the Taliban apoplectic about women's figure skating. Apoplectic they may be, Hank continued, but the demand for these photos by the Taliban was huge: a picture of Joannie Frechette in mid-air was worth two AK 47's.

Don't these clowns realize that if they joined the human race they could actually attend the events in person? As for me, I will know that all is well with the world when skaters from Saudi Arabia win gold in the pairs competition. But as Piet Hein says,"T.T.T."

Things take time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Out To The Olympics

To Vancouver, and the (almost non) Winter Olympics. I was travelling with my daughter Isolde, the violinist, who had been asked to give a concert for the Ukrainian athletes, and had accepted. Isolde would also have a chance to hook up with her lover Lolulu, or Luke as she was known. Luke was in The Trade as well, and was charged by me to keep Isolde safe. As for the Ukrainian thingy,I suspected my supervisor at my sugar beet plantation in Ukraine, Bohdan, had a hand in this. He is on good terms with the fair Yulia, she of the damnable braid, and might have swayed things a bit.

Once in Vancouver, I found rain gear, not parkas, to be the order of the day. This would undoubtedly please the global warming fanatics, save for the fact that the rest of the continent is freezing, along with much of Asia and all of Europe. This, however, is not what is on my mind at the moment.

My son Mark, the skier, was in need of consolation. He was an alternate on the Canadian ski team. At least, he was, until he sprained his ankle. Apparently, this occurred after some apres-ski event with some colleagues from Spain. They had been singing oldies and goldies from the Spanish Civil War, and things had gotten a little out of hand. Mark had lurched out the door, and gone over on his ankle. This caused me to be of two minds. As a mother, I had never really encouraged him to fly downhill at breakneck speed on two sticks, and was grateful that this possibility was now ruled out. Yet I felt his disappointment.

Seeking to alleviate his mood, I suggested that he re-consider the path that he had left behind. Mark had been half-way through his Ph.D in theoretical physics when the ski bug had taken hold, and left to pursue the sport full time. (He had always been a good recreational skier). I had some success here, as I managed to pique his interest in what was going on at CERN; that is, the Large Hadron Collider. More about this, and what happened when we got there, is fodder for a future missive.

Now to the Olympics. I had been asked (never mind by whom) to check out security arrangements, focussing on likely sniper locations. I thought this was a bit excessive. The opposition, particularly in its Al Qaeda form, prefers the mass slaughter of innocents rather than concentrating upon a pertinent and particular target. Still, one has obligations. They were honoured, and at the same time, this task provided an opportunity.

The opportunity was the chance to compare notes with a number of colleagues in The Trade. I and Luke would gather with others at a secure location, very upscale, and one that had escaped the notice of IOC Officials, who were no slouches at getting the best and most expensive digs available. But we have our ways...

Here one could compare notes, exchange information on weaponry, mourn those who had erred (an error in The Trade has a somewhat permanent result) and bitch at the short-sightedness of our political masters. My good friend Matilda Hatt, however, could not be with us. Tilly had been left to her own (and lethal) devices somewhere in Waziristan, and word was that six had gone, there were four more to go, and that the Mullahs were scattering like leaves before a wind devil. My heart goes out to them....

Isolde, in the meantime, had struck up an acquaintance with a Finnish biathlon athlete, and, being aware of some of her mother's activities, had asked me to give them an inspirational talk.

Now normally I would have hastily declined, but Isolde is Isolde, and hence I found myself discussing shooting techniques with some very avid listeners. It quickly became evident that what I do and what they do are entirely different things. Yes, some of the techniques are the same, but the differences are stark. They ski, they stop, they shoot, then ski again. The fastest through with the best shooting record wins. As a professional, I am amazed they can actually hit anything, let alone a thousand yard target. I mean, when I am setting up a shot, I want lots of time to assess wind direction, temperature, angle, and distance (at times over a kilometre).

Most biathlon athletes use a .22 calibre Anschu Fortner; I use a .308 calibre Erma SR 100 with a Burris Scope.

When asked if I would like to try my rifle out on the course, I said I would love to, but everyone of them would immediately be disqualified. You see, what would happen is that not only would the targets be hit, they would be blown to bits, bringing any competition to a sudden and abrupt halt. The IOC would take a very dim view of this. I did, however, offer the team one action they might consider.

The biathlon follows the Olympic credo of highest, strongest and fastest. I pointed out that they could take aim at a sport that also favours the prettiest, and suggested they bring their rifles and take up position right behind.... the ice-dancing judges.

Just a thought.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Palaver With PETA

Well,well, well, I thought. Iran has finally sown some seeds of destruction. A recent news report indicated that the country had blasted into space a rocket containing various fauna -- hamsters, guinea pigs, even worms. So that should tear it.

I immediately got on the phone to the folks at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA as it is known. Indicating that I wanted to make a sizeable financial contribution, along the lines of six figures, I asked the minion answering my call to be put through to my good friend Ingrid. (She wasn't my good friend at all, but Ingrid Newkirk is the President of the organisation, and I figured the mention of a large contribution, along with suggesting that I knew her well, would speed up access).

I was not disappointed.

Ms Newkirk began by thanking me in advance for my financial help, although she was a bit concerned about just where the funds would be coming from. Hmm. I wondered who'd been laundering money via the organization. Well, an issue for another day. I explained my wealth was based on sugar beets, and Ingrid was pleased. PETA apparently has no issues with sugar beets.

Then ensued the following dialogue.

Me: "I should like, however, to direct these monies to your Iran campaign."

Ingrid: "What Iran campaign?"

Me: "The one that is surely in the works. Iran has sent into space all manner of small, furry animals. And their treatment has been horrible."

Ingrid: "What on earth are you talking about?" (Ingrid apparently is not up on current events).

Me: "Just think about it. The poor creatures are laid out on boards, tied down, punctured with various electrodes, and then shot into space. Kind of like a hamster Hostel film. Terrible stuff."

Ingrid: "I'm not sure if --"

Me: "And it gets worse. You see, Ingrid, Iran doesn't have a shuttle which can return the creatures to earth. They're toast. Gone. Kaput. We're way beyond seals here. So these not inconsiderable funds will allow you to make effective demonstrations in Tehran. You can ram the point home to the Ayatollahs that PETA will not abide such cruelty to our animal friends. This is a much better way to make your point than savaging the income of First Nation seal hunters."

Ingrid: "We would not be allowed into Iran to protest."

Me: "Oh."

Ingrid: "But we will use the funds to publicize this atrocity."

Me: "Yes. You could get Sir Paul McCartney to lambaste old Khameni right and proper. That should do the trick."

Ingrid: "Certainly bears thinking about. And your financial help will assist us in closing down the Canadian seal hunt."

Me: "No, they won't. You see, Ingrid, I also have A Cause. I am very concerned about the fate of fish. In particular, the cod."

"Ingrid: "What has that got to do with cruelty to seals?"

Me: "Everything. First of all, the seals are killed humanely, not the way Iranians treat hamsters. Secondly, the growing seal population has destroyed cod fishing in the northeast Atlantic. Moreover, the growth of the seal population has led to a concomitant growth in the polar bear population, as any Inuit can tell you. Hell, just ask Sarah Palin -- she can see polar bears from her house. Now get with the program, and get some people into Iran!"

Ingrid: "I'm afraid that's not possible."

Me: "In that case, a cheque is on the way for publicity only. About $150 should be enough."

Ingrid: "But you mentioned six figures --"

"Me: "That was to pay off various official when your protesters were thrown into Iranian prisons. I mean, Iran is not Canada. Here, a slap on the wrist. There, the entire wrist goes."

Ingrid cut the connection at that point.

Oh, well, one must try.