Monday, April 26, 2010

It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's....

To London, the Icelandic volcano having subsided. (It's amazing how a 'piece of ash' can sometimes cause havoc -- think about it.) But Sir Harry really wanted my input on something so toxic that he didn't want to use the phone line, no matter how secure. I wouldn't have made the trip save for two things: he offered diplomatic immunity, allowing me to bypass all those customs people afflicted with office, and the Compte de Rienville had agreed to meet me there. The former was nice, the latter was nicer.

I got together with Sir Harry at his headquarters (undisclosed location) and quickly learned what this was all about. Sir Harry had no use for small talk.

"The Americans have launched something into space. What is it?"

"I haven't a clue."

"Rubbish. There's you're CIA contact. What does that Hatt woman have to say?"

"Tilly," I said, "is not in the loop on that one."

Sir Harry shifted his rather rotund bulk in his chair, and stated, "But she has her suspicions. Knowing you, you would also have suspicions. What are they?"

"Well, Sir Harry, I think Tilly is a little off base on this one. She thinks it's a guidance system for the Falcon."

Sir Harry's eyes widened. "You know about the Falcon program?"

"Not difficult to winkle out," I replied. "The Americans are shifting resources from big, fixed armies to smart missiles. In fact, I suspect we may have seen the last of large, pitched battles. That said, the current missiles, those drones so beloved by the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Waziristan, are too slow by half. The Falcon won't be."

Sir Harry settled back. "My thinking exactly."

"Yes", I said, "it's a good theory. But it's wrong."

"Oh. And how so?"

"Because the Falcon isn't even a prototype yet. Why on earth would you test a guidance system for something that hasn't even reached the drawing board? No, in my opinion, that piece of hardware is doing something different entirely."

Sir Harry shifted again, then growled, "I don't think I want to hear this, but I'd guess I'd better. What precisely is your opinion."

"There's nothing up there other than an over-sized tin can."

"Bollocks," sniffed Sir Harry. "The Americans spend God knows how much to put a big tin can into space. Really, Simone."

"Oh, I daresay there are some things being done. From what I hear, Google put up a goodly portion of the finance, and will now have a capability of blasting through any electronic jamming created by the Chinese, North Koreans and who knows who else. But that's about it. Now think for a bit. At the moment, a number of countries are setting aside considerable resources and busting a gut trying to determine just what that thing does. Of course, it doesn't do anything, and that's the beauty of the whole thing. Unlike his predecessor, this President is smart, and can create a diversion that will keep everyone occupied for some time. This will leave the world open for America to bustle in."

"Bustle indeed," said Sir Harry. "That's Shakespeare. Richard III."

"Oh, good on you, Sir Harry. Now I really must be off. I have an appointment for tea at Brown's."

"With that louche Frenchman, I suppose. I didn't think you wore that outfit for me."

"Now Sir Harry, let's not be catty. He did you a huge favour once."

Sir Harry ignored this, and waved me out of his quarters. As for the outfit, it was nothing special. A simple woolen, black dress. Mind you, it was an original Coco Chanel.

Outside, waiting for one of Sir Harry's drivers to pick me up, I pondered a bit. What I had said to Sir Harry was not exactly the truth, but there was enough to put him on the right track. There was a purpose to that mysterious launch, I knew what it was, and as for any further elaboration, well, not on.

After all, that would be telling.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sallying Forth To See Sarah

It came to my attention that Sarah Palin was speaking in Southern Ontario (I can see Hamilton from my house!) and I decided to attend. Irving, who usually doesn't want me out of his sight, raised no objections. Apparently, according to his sources, (reliable) the Palin crowd is the least likely to come under attack by Al Qaeda or other such sub-human entities. He opined that at least someone in the opposition was aware of Napoleon's dictum that you never interrupt the enemy when he's making a mistake, and they must be delighted at the way Sarah's followers, to say nothing of Fox News, are disrupting America. So off I went.

I decided to dress down for this occasion, and stuck to a serviceable Armani pant suit. Entering the hall, I caught a glimpse of Palin, and was startled to note that she wore an identical outfit. Well, at least she, or more likely her P.A., had taste, and I had to admit she looked good in it. Hillary should be so lucky.

Sarah trotted out her message of the importance of God, guns and the least government possible, to the delight of the audience. Wonderful, I thought. I could just see this crowd working together to build roads, maintain an electricity grid, and quickly fix a ruptured sewer.


On the other hand, I begrudgingly had to give her credit. She connected superbly with her audience, and was fighting her own battle, not hiding behind some committee or other. She also in her remarks indicated a sense of humour, something lacking in the lackeys of Fox News. And she had in the past exhibited a certain degree of raw courage by having the guts to appear on Saturday Night Live with the brilliant Tina Fey. Which prompts a number of "if onlies" that I address to Sarah personally. I have no idea how far this little blog travels, so there is a possibility (admittedly remote) that you might just encounter the suggestions below, and (even more remote) act on them.

If only you read more. Your lack of historical knowledge, even that of your own country, is appalling, even by the standards of American public school education. So Sarah, instead of reciting the mantra of "Drill, baby, drill!" I would urge "Read, girl, read!"

If only you could grasp the fact that there are two sides to an issue. This is a grievous fault, and, like Caesar, grievously you must answer it. Constantly hammering only one point of view becomes self-defeating in a very short time. Consistent, yes, but that, as Emerson pointed out, in his essay Self-Reliance, (your credo, no less!) , "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

If only you would travel. Worthwhile travel, that is, not just flitting among various hotels that are the same everywhere. Some time spent in the slums of Mumbai, or in a Doctors Without Borders outpost in the Congo, would do wonders for your zeitgeist, (look the term up -- it is a useful one) which right now is narrow to the extreme.

If only you could bridge the 'them' vs. 'us' gap. Sarah, we are all on the same planet, and stressing a split between 'we' and 'they' is akin to saying, "Your end of the boat is sinking." So stop it.

And finally, if only you would actually read the U. S. Constitution. I mean, stop trying to wrench this document into Christian dogma. There is nothing in the Constitution that even hints at organized religion, let alone argues for it. The founders were all too aware of the grim effects of organized religion upon a society, knowing in great detail the horror story of the Catholic / Protestant schism and its effect upon England, and would have none of it. Moreover, spend a moment -- actually several moments -- considering the nature of those countries where organized religion dominates: step forward, Saudi Arabia. Step forward, Iran. Sarah, is this what you really want for America?

Now if it should come about that you actually implement these suggestions, I can assure you that your followers would expand considerably, and might even bring about a favourable portrait in the New York Times. At which point all becomes possible. Just takes some willpower.

Might you succeed?

You betcha!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Britain Elects To Elect

To London, where my son Sebastian was opening a new clothing emporium on Bond Street. I was delighted to attend and support his endeavour, and drew his flair for skirts, dresses and blouses to the attention of appropriate people -- Kate, Sophie, Beatrice among others -- which would then obviate the need for Sebastian to spend any money on marketing. (Hello Hello!).

I was less delighted to hear from Sir Harry, with a request for some analysis of the upcoming British election, or in his terms, 'The running of the reptiles'. He was worried about the likelihood of what he termed 'a hung parliament'. The term bothered me for a bit until I realized that what he was referring to was a minority government. I explained that Canada was presently in that state, and that his worry was groundless. Canada was enjoying the best government it had had in years. Admittedly, the previous government headed by Jean Chretien set the bar exceedingly low, if not right out of existence. But still.

But what, he asked, of the contenders?

Nothing would do, I realized, but to sit down with each of them individually. Not difficult, when you are prepared to make a hefty campaign contribution. (I had hedged some sugar beet futures, and was, as they say, in funds.) Sir Harry, aided and abetted by my minder Irving, set up the arrangements. This involved posing as a British policewoman, and I was appalled when I got the uniform. I immediately shot over to Sebastian's and had it altered. The skirt hung like a drooping sail on some misbegotten sloop, and the buttons on the top were way too tight. And that bloody hat! An hour with Sebastian, however, and all was OK. Not Dior or Donna Karan, but it would do.

The two policewomen who accompanied me on this little side trip were impressed. Hah! I thought. This clothing upgrade might well surface as a bargaining chip as the next police union position was being formulated, and Sebastian might do really well. We will see.

The policewoman disguise worked like a charm, and avoided the tabloid exposure that would have resulted if I had met the contenders as myself. The headlines would have been grim, along the lines of 'Brown Sees Mistress?' 'Cameron's Love Interest?' or "Does Clegg Have A Concubine?' Believe me, the British tabloid press makes North American gossip look pale and wan in comparison, although TMZ does try.

The contenders were to be interviewed just prior to a campaign rally at various locations, and went off without tabloid mishap.

First, the PM, Gordon Brown. I found him to be quite nice, and found it hard to believe the stories of him as a quick-tempered bully. This demeanour began to break, however, when I was persistent in trying to find out his specific strategies for getting Britain out of its current fiscal mess (which he to some extent was responsible for). His eyes flashed, and I suddenly thought of defenestration, where I became an aide bearing bad news and was immediately tossed out the window. Things went somewhat downhill from there, and he began to resemble not so much a deer caught in the headlights as a woolly mammoth. My advice to him? LIGHTEN UP!

William Cameron was another thing entirely. Suave, urbane, with facts and figures at his fingertips. His philosophy, he stated, was grounded in Edmund Burke, to wit, 'Never exchange a certain good for a problematical perfect'. "And what we have now" he stated, "was not a certain good. Hence the need for change, for judicious belt-tightening, and a gradual decline in the national deficit." I questioned him at length on the how of all this, recalling Margaret Thatcher's remark to her Cabinet: "Don't tell me why. I know why. Tell me how!" Of course, I got nowhere with respect to specifics. But then, we are dealing with a politician.

Most impressive of all was Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats. He seemed to have a handle on all the issues, and had backed away from many of the earlier Lib-Dem shibboleths such as spending for good causes that were simply not affordable. If Britain was heading for Sir Harry's hung parliament, the "hung" part would be in good hands with Clegg.

Whether this helped Sir Harry or not is unknown -- feedback is not his strong suit -- but it will be the electorate, not myself or Sir Harry, that will determine the outcome. Although, in this regard, the words of Will Rogers bear repeating: "No matter who you vote for, the government gets in."

Too true.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Westward Ho

To Vancouver, there to cement a certain land purchase that had come to my attention in the Okanagon valley. Put simply, a winery had gone bust, but after some research I discovered that the terroir in question, while unsuitable for growing any grapes that would result in a potable wine, could support sugar beets perfectly. A sum of money was made available, and the acreage was mine.

This was of great relief to the previous owners, a nice couple who had high hopes of becoming world famous vintners only to have those hopes crushed by an unforgiving soil. Now, I was informed, they were going to take the money from the sale and invest in -- ginseng. I tried to explain that ginseng was a difficult thing to grow (it aims to commit suicide from the very moment the seed sprouts) but to no avail. Off they went, and Blake's words surfaced in my mind: "If the fool persists in his folly, he will become wise." One can but hope.

I got in touch with Bohdan, who supervises my largest sugar beet holding in Ukraine, and he agreed to take some time away and set up the Okanagon enterprise. "Besides," he said, "now that Yuliya was no longer in power, things are in the process of sorting themselves out with Victor, and this is slowing things down a bit. So a little break would be timely."

Hmm. I guess a trip to Ukraine will be necessary, and he was right about the fair Yuliya. My information had it that she had taken up with Vladimir Putin. Well, if anyone can get her to lose that silly braid, it will be him.

Then the Premier of British Columbia called.

Apparently news of this just-formed sugar beet holding was very well received, and the Premier would like to offer his congratulations. This did not surprise. The enterprise would employ a goodly number of people, and politicians are always attracted to good news that can possibly impress the electorate. Transparent government and all that. Unless the news is not so good, in which case transparency tends to be non-existent.

I found the Premier, Gordon Campbell, to be warm and accommodating. We got along well, and I complimented him, and also his province, for handling the Olympics so well.

"I particularly liked the closing ceremony," I said. "Took guts, that did."

His curiosity piqued, he asked, "What do you mean?"

"Those idiotic beavers. The insane Canada geese. The lumberjacks. The whole thing was a hoot, and made me proud to be a Canadian. Not every country has the ability, or the will, to laugh at itself."

"Yes, although the RCMP were not exactly delighted. Those uniformed girls in mini-skirts, you know. Got a communication from the brass that this portrayal hurt the image of the force, as well as demeaned Canadian womanhood."

"Really. Bloody nonsense in my opinion." And I immediately made a mental note to send a blistering letter to the RCMP Commissioner. I'll give him Canadian womanhood in spades.

After a small toast to the wonders of the sugar beet, we parted good friends. As I left his office, I thought again of the closing ceremony, and recalled the words of a wise rabbi I had once known when stationed in Tel Aviv: "It may be to laugh in the face of death is courageous, but to laugh in the face of life is absolutely heroic."

Got that right.