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."