Friday, November 26, 2010

Of Art and Airport Security

Every so often, schedules permitting, it is my custom to host a dinner party for my colleagues in The Trade. This is appreciated, the wines being well-chosen, the food wonderful, and no bugs whatsoever in the room. Six were in attendance this time: Svetlana Marinskaya of the Russian FSB; Matilda Hatt of the CIA: Code Barry of CSIS, and of course the Compte de Rienville of the French D.G.S.E. The Compte and I are also -- well, no need to go into that. We were joined by my minder Irving and his companion, Rachel, both recently turfed from Mossad.

Rachel was indeed the focus of attention at the dinner. All had some idea of her contribution to the WRAITH software, but only Irving and Tilly Hatt knew all the details. Rachel was adept in deflecting all queries -- good on her.

We took port and some fine Stilton in the study.

"An excellent repast, Simone," said Code Barry. "A new cook on the premises?"

"No, Henri is still with us. But as you have seen, this has been a catered affair. Henri was giving some support to a new outfit. 'Licious Delight' it's called. Interesting story, though. The former title of the firm was 'Licentious Delight', a restaurant with a small dining room and a much larger set of rooms on the second floor for, er --"

"Licentious delight." This from Tilly Hatt.

"So to speak. But then they had to let their cook go. Apparently he had difficulty keeping his hands off the merchandise. The new cook they hired was a former sous-chef at the Georges Cinq in Paris. Didn't take long after that for customers to realize that the food was the best they had ever encountered, and the news spread quickly through, very appropriately, word of mouth. The owners, not being dolts, made the problem the solution. Licentious Delight became Licious Delight. The restaurant took over the second floor, the girls became servers, and a small catering service was started, the results of which you have just experienced.

"Ah," said Svetlana darkly, "once again the glories of adaptable capitalism. And you, Simone, are a prime example. The pictures in this room must have cost a fortune. Isn't that Klimt's 'The Kiss'?

"And on the far wall," noted Code Barry, "isn't that Vermeer's 'Girl With The Pearl Earring?."

"It is," I responded, "although one of my nieces thinks it's a portrait of Scarlet Johansson, an observation that tells me my niece's education is far from complete. But both the Vermeer and the Klimt, as well as some others you would recognize, are forgeries."

"Appropriate, given what you do," put in Tilly brightly.

"Possibly," I continued. "But I would rather have first rate forgeries than prints. The effort put in and all. Mind you, I once had originals, courtesy of Lord Strunsky's estate. Donated them all to various galleries, and applied the tax receipts to my sugar beet business. Which was nice, but not the real reason I did it."

"And that is?" encouraged the Compte. (A treasure he is.)

"A masterpiece should never be the property of a single person. It belongs to the world. To hide it away is simply the characteristic of a monstrous ego. Don't you think?"

This resulted in a extended silence, finally broken Irving.

"Artists," he said, "spend their whole lives learning to see."

"So do police officers," Tilly added.

"And Israeli airport security officials." This from Rachel.

"Yeah," said Tilly. "The U.S hasn't been doing too well there. Good Lord, I was even requested for a pat down coming into San Antonio the other day. I showed the woman my security clearance, but this didn't register. I asked for her supervisor, but she wasn't having any of this so off we went to the private room, where she fainted. Used Blossoms After Midnight".

"Pressure on the carotid artery. Stops the blood flow to the brain," said Svetlana rather unnecessarily.

"Well," Tilly continued, "this did bring the supervisor, and all got straightened out. But what poor training. Only eight hours! Can you believe it? In my opinion, Israel does it right. Care to comment? Irving? Rachel?"

Irving said, "The training is much more comprehensive, and remember, all security officers have undergone two years of military service. Then comes rigorous training in psychology, pattern recognition and profiling. There's an American saying that sums all this up nicely. Something about observation and seeing, but it escapes me."

I said, "Probably one of Yogi Berra's. He remarked once that you could observe a lot just by watching. But there is another statement that comes to mind, and one that should never be forgotten. Benjamin Franklin was firm in his belief that 'those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.' So there. Now discuss among yourselves.

You too.

"In truth," I said, "they're forgeries. Brilliant, but forgeries. I collect them. I would collect an original masterpiece

Friday, November 19, 2010

Snappish Snapshots [1]

Occasionally, I find it useful and therapeutic to give voice to certain things which are bothersome and very annoying. This involves lancing sundry boils, which, if left unattended, could fester, grow, and warp one's psyche. At an extreme, one might even, dare I say it, become a Republican. Herewith, then, the first series of snapshots.

(1) I note that the Powers That Be have junked the term "global warming" and now talk only of "climate change". Interesting, and no doubt the change occurred when it became obvious that at any given time, half the world was freezing its' ass off. It would be nice if somewhere someone admitted to this.

(2) Vladimir Putin looks and sounds bored. Time for a change, Vlad. Forget ruling Russia, under the rubric 'been there, done that'. How about coming to the U.S. and entering the TV show, "Dancing With The Stars?" As for a partner, I got in touch with Madonna, and she is willing. Ratings would soar, and the money wouldn't be bad, either. Go for it!

(3) Barack Obama has got to stop being all conciliatory and accommodating, and become more forthright. To bring this about, I have sent him my copy of I Love To Lead by Genghis Khan.

(4) Silvio Berlusconi. Enough said.

(5) I see that a number of publications, The Economist and The Financial Times among them, have delighted in the release of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, and have suggested that she is seeking an accommodation with General Than Shwe and his thuggish colleagues. Wrong! It is the other way round, and the chances of that happening are, well, seen any flying pigs lately?

(6) And finally, an item bordering on the bizarre -- Sarah Palin is giving serious consideration to running for President in 2012. When this news appeared, the reaction of the Democrats was one of ecstasy, their thinking being that such a candidacy gives them the White House for another four years. Not so fast, boys and girls. American voters elected George W. Bush. Twice.

"No they didn't": Al Gore.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Calming -- A Good Thing

It is not my habit to rabbit on about the doings and achievements of my children, save when their activities impinge a bit on my own. I had just finished confirming the delivery of some 1000 sugar beet seeds to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the north of Norway, thereby calming my psyche by ensuring that sugar beets would survive any horrific catastrophe, when my eldest daughter Isolde sailed into the Manor, Stradivarius in tow. Also in tow were three rather scruffy guys, along with a cello, a clarinet, and a viola.

Seeing the viola recalled Victor Borge's observation that the only difference between a viola and a violin was that a viola takes longer to burn, a statement that when she first heard it, appalled Isolde. (This occurred when I was in the process of teaching my brats that it could be a cruel world out there. Therefore one must learn to face life with the serene confidence that a Christian feels in four aces, as Mark Twain so well put it.)

What Isolde and her companions wanted was the use of the Manor's sound studio, an area normally off-limits. The studio was very much a factor in The Trade, linked as it is to MI 6, Mossad and the NSA, and where certain recordings and broadcasts were made in the name of mis-information. (The latest broadcast was rather neat, and involved inserting a rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir into Iranian State Radio. I am told that old Ahmadinejad went apoplectic. Too bad.)

Isolde and her companions weren't after anything so dramatic, but did want to make a series of recordings for some outfit called the American Mall Association. I was hesitant about allowing the three lads into the studio -- they really needed a good clothing advisor, and Isolde sensed this reluctance. She explained that her friends were the Jess Trio, one of the best chamber trios in the world, and had come right from the airport, and had to get back to Vienna the next day. Not much time for sartorial elegance.

Well, I always found time for sartorial elegance, but nevertheless relented. I did demand, however, what this type of talent was doing in cahoots with something as banal as the American Mall Association.

"New Zealand, Mum." said Isolde.

This was not helpful.

"New Zealand what?" I asked.

Well, long story short, apparently the Christchurch City Mall had taken to playing classical chamber music over their mall speakers. Prior to this, theft and robbery had been rampant.

"Eighty-six incidents a week in 2008, Mum," stated Isolde. "After the music began to be played, the incidents fell to two a week. Things got calmer. Much calmer. And the musicians weren't even that good. The Mall Association took note the and the Jess Trio was contacted and they wanted me as violinist and I knew about this studio and we've decided on pieces from Vivaldi, and Bach and of course Mozart and maybe Schumann and --"

"All right, all right. Talk about a run-on sentence. But Irving and Rachel will have to supervise. A wrong button in that room could cause....difficulties."

"Who the hell is Rachel?" asked Isolde.

"Irving will explain, if he has a mind to. I trust there is money in all this.?"

"Lots of money, Mum. The cost savings for the Mall stores are significant."

"Good. Then a healthy contribution to the Little Sisters of Poverty and Pain will be in order. For the use of the studio, you understand."

And so it transpired, and no doubt things would get calmer in American malls.

At least until the Ungodly figure out how to hack into the mall sound systems and start blasting out pieces from Iron Maiden, Metallica or anything by Ozzie Osbourne. But for a short while, calmness should reign.

One can but hope.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Too Many Text Messages

Back from Paris, and that was just fine. One can only take so much of street protest, and the French (being French) simply take things too far. The day that I left, a huge protest was being planned on what I think was lowering the minimum wage for workers doing street curb replacement. Or something. In any event, it was time to go.

Back at the Manor, I was confronted with a vast number of text messages, most of which concerned elections, both in Toronto and in the U.S. The following will give the gist of their tenor.

From Hillary Clinton (safely ensconced in Kuala Lampur, and thus far from the madding crowd) a rather neat summary of the American mid-term elections. She saw them in terms of The Three Bears, calling them "Goldilocks elections." That is to say, one half the electorate thinks you've done too much; the other half thinks you've gone too far. This was exactly what happened to Bill, and didn't hurt him a bit when the next presidential election occurred. As I said, a rather neat comment.

From Michelle Obama: "Simone, I know drugs are cheaper in Canada. A good supply of Valium will come in handy right about now."

From Rob Ford, newly elected Mayor of Toronto: "My advisers advise that you would be a good advisor. Could you, er, so advise?" Hmmm. Rob's vocabulary appears a bit sparse, but his heart seems in the right place. I will offer help. For now.

From Laureen Harper: "Isn't it a Good Thing that that nice Rob Ford is the new Mayor of Toronto. But why weren't you at my pumpkin-carving party at 24 Sussex? " Because, sweetie, the Compte de Rienville lives in Paris, not Ottawa.

From Hu Jintao: "Elections? Nonsense."

From Vladimir Putin: "Elections are risky things. One has to prepare carefully to ensure that the result is what you want." Yeah, right, Vlad. Just make sure that the opposition...well... isn't.

So on it went, with any number of messages stating how wonderful it was that they got elected, and how good it would be for the electorate. All this quickly became tiresome, and I lamented the lack of modesty that should accompany any victorious outcome or deed of note. This brought to mind the following statement, an ideal in acknowledging achievement. The words are engraved in a stele near Thermopolyae:

"Go, traveller, and to Lacedaemon tell,
That here, obeying her behest, we fell."

Succinct. And true. And its like sadly missing in today's world.