Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Fish Rots From The Head

The Chief of Police called (we get along) all distraught about the way the media was portraying his actions regarding the recent G20 meeting in Toronto. I consoled him with these words from Chaucer, from the Prologue to his magnificent Canterbury Tales:

"And this figure he added eek thereto,
That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?"

Yes, it's Middle English. Deal with it.

What was disturbing the Chief was his receipt of conflicting orders from The Mayor, he of the strong socialist bent. On the first day of the G20 session, the Chief's orders were to 'facilitate' the marching of sundry protesters yelping at everything from First Nations land claims to outrage at the state of Israel having the temerity to defend itself. Thus the police were marshalled to do just that, and succeeded.

Unfortunately, this concentration provided a gap in coverage which was exploited by the vicious and mentally disturbed, who proceeded to trash and burn with gay abandon. The Mayor was horrified, and now ordered the police to stop all this. On the second day, the police did just that, retrieving many perpetrators from within the marching crowds and arresting them. No trashing was done that day, but the howls of outrage from various marchers who were swept up in the mayhem delighted the media, and the Chief was duly blamed.

I made the point to the Chief that he had fallen victim to rotten leadership, and asked him to remember such stellar examples as The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, or, during the American Civil War, the actions of any Union general prior to the advent of Grant and Sherman. (In this context it is worth noting that Robert E. Lee killed more Americans than Hitler or Hirohito combined). I also referred him to Barbara Tuchman's fine book on ridiculous leadership, 'The March of Folly'.

The Chief was lighter in mood when he rang off, and I turned to another matter that sort of fits into this area -- the Great Russian Spy Scandal erupting south of the border. This was so bizarre that I called in a marker from a Russian colleague in The Trade, Svetlana Marinskaya. We had become good friends (when we weren't trying to kill each other.)

Svetlana, having determined that the phone connection to The Manor was secure, explained what was going on.

"You see, Simone, what happened is that The Kremlin SIMPLY FORGOT THAT THE SLEEPER CELL WAS STILL OPERATIVE. Vladimir and Dmitri were furious, and heads will roll. Those running the operation were all from the old KGB, and had a nice little earner on the boil. They had a suite of offices in the Kremlin basement, liberal funds for the operation, and of course some of the monies were diverted into several well-appointed dachas on the Black Sea. Stalin and Beria live again, as it were."

"So," I said, "now would not be a good time to call and offer sympathy?"

"Nyet. Definitely nyet. In fact, things are so bad here that a small vacation is in order. Perhaps you could join me? Paris? The Georges Cinq? In three days? And maybe that nice Compte de Rienville --"

"Svetlana, don't even think about it. Besides, he's in Beijing helping me win a sugar beet contract. But a French fling sounds just the ticket. See you there."

And so it transpired. I mean, Mark Twain was never more accurate when he recounted some dialog between a man and his wife, with the man saying, "And note dear, when one of us dies, I shall move to Paris.".

Would have worked better had the woman made the statement, but you can't have everything.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Little Outing

These days, with a title like that, one might expect some unexpected revelation about the nature of one's sexuality. Not that this matters anymore -- we have come a long way from worrying about the love that dares not speak its name. Indeed, rather the opposite: now it won't shut up.

No, as diligent readers (and which of you are not) will recall, this outing has to do with a commitment made to the good Robert Gates to block a suspected attack on certain delegates to the G20 in Toronto. Actually, not in Toronto, but Niagara Falls.

Apparently several key delegates from a number of countries had expressed a wish to see the Falls. Canada was pleased to acquiesce to the request, and suggested a trip on The Maid of the Mist. From a security viewpoint, this was ill-advised -- a helicopter would have been just fine -- but a number of delegates were insistent, so there the argument ended.

Now for readers not familiar with the various attractions at the Falls, of which the Maid of the Mist is one, let me assure you that this is not Janet Leigh in a shower at the Bates Motel, or a documentary on gorillas and Dian Fossey, but a boat. Two of them, to be precise, with the descriptors VI and VII. (Canadians are nothing if not imaginative).

Each of the Maids are 80 feet long, and can carry up to 600 passengers. Also, a nice touch this, free raincoats are provided. The boats leave every 15 minutes from the Maid of the Mist Plaza (that Canadian imagination again) and go to the base of the American Falls, then into the basin of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. And that's where trouble could be expected.

Matilda Hatt had been assigned by Gates to work with me on this, a very Good Thing. The night previous to the planned excursion Tilly joined me at The Manor. This provided the time to review the whole situation, and to agree on a strategy.

"There," said Tilly, pointing to a spot on a map of the Falls. "That's the only likely place."

"In the Basin?"

"Has to be. The currents are too powerful at the base of the American Falls. As it is, it's going to be tricky."

"Well," I stated, "you're the one that trained with the Navy Seals. And I agree -- there is no other possibility. Still, how good is the intel on all this?"

"I'm told it is first rate."

"Right. Let's do this thing."

We left early the next morning, and arrived at the Plaza in good time. I was introduced to the officials involved by my CSIS friend, CODE Barry, and after that explained just what the plan was.

"Really?" he said.


I changed into a short-skirted waitress uniform, (to irritate the two Saudi delegates who would be coming) and began serving coffee, tea and sandwiches to those who had arrived early. Tilly had gone elsewhere, and, I assumed, had changed into a wet suit and equipping herself with some very nasty hand weapons. Soon all was ready, and we boarded Number VI, which had been commandeered for this particular occasion. My presence was explained as a reward for acting as hostess.

The trip was, in the words of some delegates afterwards, spectacular. I wouldn't know, because my eyes were focussed entirely on the delegates and crew. I was confident that both had been carefully vetted, but you never know in these situations. As we entered the Horseshoe Basin, I grew particularly tense. If we had guessed wrong....

Then I saw it, roiling up at the stern of the boat. A large and growing blood-red stain on the water. One of the delegates from China also noticed, and turned to me with a surprised expression on his face.

"Ah," I said authoritatively, "that's from the Canadian Red Inkfish. Our passage must have disturbed it. Happens all the time."

"I see," he said. "Interesting." He then turned away, but with the Chinese, you are never completely sure just what they are thinking.

We docked, and CODE Barry greeted me. "She's some distance away. One of our helicopters spotted her -- that current is probably vicious. I've arranged -- ah, here it is."

A patrol launch curved into where we were at the Plaza, and soon we were slowly going down the Niagara River, scanning the shore anxiously. Then I saw her, sitting complacently on a rock near the shoreline. "Bloody well took you're time," she shouted as we edged toward her. The she plunged in, and surfaced next to the boat where CODE Barry hauled her in. Her arm was gashed severely, and her wet suit had a big rip down the left leg.

"You look a mess," I said helpfully.

"You should see the other guy. And it wasn't Al Qaeda at all. It was a North Korean. I mean, really. They sink one boat, and then think they own everything maritime. Well, that's one who won't be owning anything Evermore. So the intel was both foul and fair, and I will have a little chat with Robert about that. Now you two can attend to me."

So we did.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Dilemma Of Horns

The G8 and G20 meetings loom ever closer, and one result is that a number of colleagues in The Trade are in Toronto, fussing about security arrangements for various political masters. I took the opportunity to provide a haven for a selected few at The Manor, and the offer was well received.

A number were entranced by the South African World Cup of Soccer, and there tended to be a daily congregation in my home theatre room, complete with 70" HD television. I don't really follow The Beautiful Game, although I was quite taken by the German side in its 4 -- 0 trouncing of Australia. One of their competent midfield generals goes by the magnificent name of Bastian Schweinsteiger. How could they lose with a name like that? (Serbia knew how -- but that's getting more involved in the matches than I care to.)

I could not avoid, however, the Compte de Rienville's comments on the French team, who are playing like they don't belong. Turns out they don't -- something about an illegal hand ball that sunk Ireland, who should really be attending. The Compte proffered the opinion that the French players were all too conscious of this, and had expected the head of FIFA, Sett Blather -- sorry -- Blatter -- to overrule a terrible call by the referee. He didn't, and consciously or unconsciously they were going to stress the stupidity of that decision. Then he couldn't resist stating that England's play was no hell either, and they didn't even have France's excuse.

But I was far more interested in two controversies that had occurred.

First, the incident of the Dutch orange mini-dresses. What riveted me was that one of the girls was an extremely competent secret agent, (also a friend) and I had to give her full marks for venue access. And no, you can't have her name. The dresses apparently annoyed the hell out of FIFA, not because they were sexually alluring (which would have been understandable given the sheer hopelessness of any aged FIFA official ever effecting a liaison) but that they had a small tag near the hem promoting a brewery that had not been blessed by the FIFA gods. The horror! The horror!

Utter nonsense.

The second controversy brings me to the vuvuzela, that weird horn that is ubiquitous in the stadiums and on the streets. Vuvuzelas are longish in shape, being modelled on the horn of the Kudo antelope, and when blown in unison, create a deafening sound. Indeed, the various stadiums become giant bee hives. Yet I rather like the sound. The bee community is one of the few examples of a command economy that actually works, and besides, they produce honey.

FIFA's answer to the complaints of media broadcasters who felt that the dulcet tones of their commentators were being drowned out was slow in coming (that lot does blather a lot) but was not a bad one. They simply told the broadcasters to use their filters.

Stadium attendees, however, don't have filters. Or do they?

Now when I was on assignment in Western Africa, one often heard the saying 'WAWA' -- West Africa Wins Again. Well, we are a bit further south, but the adage holds. If a noise is bothersome, their are, lo and behold, ear plugs! These usually retail about $1.35, but Africans are no slouches at spotting an arbitrage opportunity, and the price jumped quickly to around $30.00. (I have converted Rands to Canadian dollars -- always helpful, I am). This did wonders for the local economy, something rather neglected in all the "big" projects.

Put another way, the problem of the vuvuzela was overcome by making the point that when on the horns of a dilemma, one can always throw sand in the bull's face.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Sanity and Summits

The Compte de Rienville was staying at the Manor for a time, so life is good. Very good. We were enjoying coffee, fruit and croissants at the pool, and the croissants were unbelievable. This deserves some explanation.

The Compte, at my request, had come with his cook, Marcel, along with the proviso that I not make Marcel an offer of employment, one that he couldn't refuse. I agreed, but after sampling the croissants, realized that I had been too hasty. My own cook, a Mongolian who went by the name of Gul, had been quite satisfactory until there the unfortunate incident involving a propane tank and a yak rump roast. Since this was the third tank Gul had blown up, and given the outright terror he induced in the other staff members, I had to let Gul go.

Oh, well. Shit happens.

At the pool, the Compte and I were having a lively discussion on the approaching G8 and G20 summits to take place in Huntsville and Toronto respectively. Indeed, that is why the Compte was here in the first place. He headed up the security team for the French, and wanted to review arrangements and be able to assure Nicolas Sarkozy that all would be well. This began a long discussion on summits, broken up at the half-way point when I introduced the Compte to a wonderful albeit somewhat acrobatic way to eat sliced peaches. But I digress.

We agreed wholeheartedly on an approach, and the gist of our conversation is as follows.

The gatherings were way too large. Both the Compte and I recalled the scene from the BBC's magnificent Yes, Minister series where the Minister, on a trip to the Middle east and being conscious of costs, asks Sir Humphrey that he hoped the delegation would be a small one. They were having this chat in an aircraft while awaiting takeoff.

"The delegation? Oh, pared to the bone, Minister. Pared to the bone!"

The Minister could not see from his viewpoint on the aircraft the impossibly long line of suits stretching from the plane across the tarmac to a terminal in the distance. Small, indeed.

And that's the problem. Too many people not germane to the purpose at hand. Yes, it is important for the leaders of the world's most influential countries to meet face to face, and come to know one another. Anyone who has played poker knows that. But all the hangers-on, the sycophants, the public relation types, et cetera and so on, well, in our opinion, NOT NEEDED. Better to have just three representatives from each country. The leader, plus a person whom that leader knows is smarter than he or she is, (in the men's case, usually his wife) and a minder who is adept at all things where security is an issue. Add this up: twenty countries, three from each, and you have a maximum of sixty people.

The host countries will therefore only be left with expenses for interpreters, plus safety measures. Moreover, those measures are far easier and a damn sight less expensive to provide for sixty than for six hundred.

This made sense to the Compte and me anyway.

Of course, meeting face to face might not be all it's cracked up to be. In this context, it is wise to remember Macbeth, and King Duncan's words on learning of his betrayal by the Thane of Cawder: "There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face. He was a gentleman on whom I placed an absolute trust."

Happens far too often these days.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Muddle in the Middle East

Curled up in the Study, I was totally engrossed in Stieg Larsson's magnificent Millenium trilogy and the adventures of Lisbeth Salander when I noticed my butler and minder Irving hovering at the door. (He knows when not to disturb me, so whatever this was, it was likely to be of some importance.) I looked up, annoyed.

"Well," I said. "This has better be --"

"Oh, it is. He's on the secure line. Asking for Ernestine. Irving handed me the phone.

"It's me," said a voice.

"Well who else would it be, Sir Harry? No one else has the number or knows the code name Ernestine. Slipping a bit, aren't you? And you are being inconvenient. Did you know that in Stieg Larsson's novels he is actually naming names? And peeling a number of dangerous Swedish onions? I am really beginning to think that his heart attack might have been --"

"Forget that. It's being looked into. Now, as per our agreement, I need an analysis of that Israeli cock-up in the Mediterranean, the Gaza Flotilla thing. Causing no end of trouble."

"I'll get on it." (I really had no choice after receiving a British diplomatic passport from Sir Harry. Just zip through airports, I do.)

"And with speed, Ernestine, with speed."

"Oh, all right." I cut the connection. and told Irving that now would be a good time for cocktails, and that I would appreciate any input he might have. He was, after all, ex-Mossad.

Later in the evening, I had done about all I could do short of interrogating all the players in a small room equipped with certain devices that 24's Jack Bauer would get all excited about. Not possible, of course, but I did the best I could.

I prefaced the report with an anecdote to illustrate the difficulty of any easy answers.

A Canadian was at a Muskoka beach one day, and spotted a weird looking bottle nestled among some rocks. Sitting down on an outcrop, he held it to the sun, and wondered what it had contained. He gave it a rub. Lo and behold a cloud emerged from the top, and a genie emerged.

"No shit!" said the Canadian. "Does this mean I get three wishes?"

"It does," replied the genie. "What is your first?"

"A beer would be nice. Dos Equos if you have it."

"I do." A bottle materialized in the Canadian's hand. "Your second wish?"

The Canadian was now giving this whole thing some deep thought. "A beautiful girl would be nice...."

Immediately a drop dead gorgeous blonde appeared beside him, looking ravishing in Dior, and murmured, "I think I can make you very happy."

The Canadian did not doubt this for a minute, but now was afflicted with a sense of guilt. (This happens a lot to Canadians.) "Well," he said to the genie, "So far I've just thought about myself. What about, say, peace in the Middle East?"

A large map of the Middle East suddenly appeared, and the genie studied it for some time. Finally he said sadly, "Your request is too difficult. But I can, however, grant you another wish."

"Oh," said the Canadian. "Very well then. How about that this year the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup?"

The genie thought for a long time, then said, "Let me see that map again."

All of which goes to show that the Middle East is a difficult nut to crack, and Israel is smack in the middle. The interrupted flotilla apparently was transporting sincere activists who were trying to better the position of Gaza citizens, but also a goodly amount of military hardware and people prepared to use it. This Israel would not allow, although the country had to be aware that in the court of world opinion, Israel is always presumed guilty and then is found guilty.

Irving and I hashed this out for some time. In his opinion, and I concurred, Israel desperately need a coalition of the Likud, Kadima and Labor parties, while marginalizing the radical, fringe groups who are only there because the Constitution says they must be. The three leaders in Irving's opinion have the competence that would enable Israel to regain its earlier, well-regarded standing in the world. As Irving put it, "When he was young, we loved him."

So my report to Sir Harry urged him (and any others he could co-opt) to pressure Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Simon Peres to, as the Nike ad goes, JUST DO IT. Go back to the 1967 borders, withdraw from those idiotic settlements, and duck under the covers with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Won't solve it all -- reasonable, non-violent solutions are not what religious fanatics want, although such solutions do terrify them -- but it is taking a sad song, and making it a little better.

Right, Jude?