Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas At The Manor -- 2010

This will be somewhat shorter than my usual. At the moment, total confusion reigns. My brats make it a point to assemble for Christmas every year, but so far only Mark, my 'designer' son, is just in from New York, and Victoria was in Toronto anyway, giving a series of lectures entitled "Warren G. Harding. Why?" She also had a bit part in the TV series "Rookie Blue" where she was tied up and dropped from a building. That girl does march to the tune of a different drummer.

My other son Mark had got some leave from his physics stint at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and hooked up with Isolde in Vienna, where she is first violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic. Unfortunately, snowstorms ruled that part of Europe, and they had not yet managed to get a flight. Those two can be persuasive, however, and I have hopes.

I am glad to report that the Compte de Rienville was here in good time. The weather was also a factor that was causing Air France any number of problems, but the Compte managed to get himself to Ramstein in Germany, where he managed to hitch a ride with American troops returning to Andrew A.F.B. in the U.S. Two cases of Veuve Clicquot helped his request along, and soon he had reached the Manor after a short hop from Washington. Thus happiness reigns. Christmas without the Compte? Unthinkable.

An unexpected visitor was Bohdan, who supervises my sugar beet holdings in Ukraine. He was on his way to visit some relatives in Saskatchewan (which is 90% Ukrainian anyway) so he should feel right at home. He had dropped in with some disturbing news. The new government apparently saw fit to request a sizeable "gift", without which certain taxes would rise to horrific levels. Now I had straightened out this corruption thing with the previous government in the person of Yuliya Tymoshenko (she of the nonsensical braid) but the new government in the person of Viktor Yanukovych was unaware of any agreements, and wanted his cut.

I told Bohdan not to worry. I had some considerable leverage with Vladimir Putin, who has even more considerable leverage with Yanukovych. Things would be attended to, even if it meant a trip to Moscow. Come to think of it, my colleague in The Trade, Svetlana Marinskaya, had promised a whopper of an evening, and perhaps it was time to call in that particular marker.

Now I have to leave you. My gardener/housekeeper Consuela, with no sense of timing at all, decided to give birth on the spot. Her husband Ahmad was frantic, realizing that things were happening so fast that a trip to the hospital was out of the question. I immediately began drawing on certain skills, gave necessary orders to Bohdan, Victoria and Mark, and renewed my acquaintance with midwifery.

How this all turned out, and the adventure that Isolde and Mark experienced, will have to wait for next week's missive. So for now, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Possible and the Improbable

First, the possible.

As the Christmas holiday looms -- I use the verb advisedly -- my minder Irving and his girlfriend Rachel informed me that they were taking a small vacation to an undisclosed location. Undisclosed, because Rachel's development of the Wraith software had the world looking hard for her, and if she were found, things could get, well, unpleasant. Since I was staying at the Manor with the CIA's Matilda Hatt and welcoming my brats home, Irving thought I would be safe.

Rachel also informed me that while attempts to get at Wraith were getting better, it still remained unlocated. The attempts, she added, had increased, probably because she had ramped up the Stuxnet virus, and the Iranian nuclear installations at Natanz and Bushehr were now a good two years behind schedule. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in a state of fury, and no end of resources were being applied to trace down the perpetrator. Rachel went on to say that she had created something she termed a 'deflector buffer' that re-routed any hacker-like probings directly to Mecca. "That", she said, "should keep everyone busy for a goodly time."

Now to the improbable.

Tilly wasn't expected for several days . She was, in fact, in Venezuela and involved in something that, whatever it was, would annoy the hell out of Hugo Chavez. Suck it up, Hugo, I thought. Anyway, what Tilly requested was my response to a series of questions. These were relayed over a public telephone line, an action which told me two things: either she didn't give a damn if the conversation were intercepted, or she wanted it intercepted.

The questions concerned all centred on Americans obtaining Canadian citizenship, and went as follows, along with my response.

What changes are involved? [Canada being a constitutional monarchy, the applicant for citizenship must swear allegiance to the Queen] Not a problem, said Tilly. They like Liz, and while some doubts were expressed about Charles, William and Kate were boffo.

What about the system of Government? [The intricacies of parliamentary government must be mastered.] Nonsense, stated Tilly. What Canadian has mastered the intricacies of parliamentary government? Good point.

Anything that has to be given up? [Guns] Hmmm, said Tilly. That could be a deal breaker. To which I replied that Americans never had the right to bear arms in the first place. Just the militia, as detailed in the Second Amendment. Read Strunk's Elements of Style on the proper use of the comma and do some research on the Latin ablative absolute.

Let's move on, said Tilly.

What taxes are there? [Lots]. But you get single payer health care, and no rapacious insurance company acting as middleman and adding no value whatsoever to the process. This, I said to Tilly, is a no brainer.

What about Quebec? Don't they want to secede? [In a pig's eye. Too much money would be lost, to say nothing of the Bloc Quebecois in the House of Commons who would lose their salaries, and quite possibly their pensions. Not going to happen.]

What of the Senate? In America, it's very powerful. [ This is a non-issue, the Canadian Senate being a taxpayer-funded patronage-stuffed old age home. Canadians wait for the day it can be abolished.]

Tilly's last question was a real zinger.

How could an entire state join Canada? [Just ask]. Actually, this would be a very complicated thing indeed, and highly improbable. But I think I was beginning to grasp what was behind all this. America's fiscal situation was horrific, and the only way out was through raising taxes and judicious entitlement cutting. But all legislators, Republican or Democrat, refuse to face up to this in spite of the need, and any number of Americans are beginning to look for an escape hatch. That is, Canada

Now a severe consumption tax, VAT, or whatever you want to call it, is the solution, along with a hefty gasoline levy at the pumps. Oh, The Horror! The Horror! shout the Sarah Palins of the world, who see the solution in lowering taxes and dispensing with large chunks of government. But not Medicaid. And not Medicare. And certainly not the Military. And don't you dare gore my ox!

So we have what I term 'The Two Doctors Syndrome'

A financial paradox.

Sorry. I won't do that again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Politicians Behaving Well

I was glad to see Sir Harry acted upon my advice, and the "hero" of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, was arrested in the UK, and is now awaiting an extradition hearing. Sweden wants him badly; they take rape seriously there, at least since Stieg Larsson published his Millenium Trilogy, and that should be the end of all the leaky stuff.

Not that there was much to it. I mean, anyone with an ounce of brains knew most of it anyway, and the real effect seems more a matter of bruised egos rather than treasonous transgression. For my part, I can tell you that the real NODIS stuff [*] never saw the light of day. Yes, I have such material, but there I must stop. Anything further would be telling.

Now to some political matters. It is not often that these pages have saluted the politicians for their efforts, but this is the exception that proves the rule. Toronto's new mayor, one Rob Ford, has taken power and acted -- wait for it -- swiftly, honestly, and with a degree of compassion that few knew he possessed. Ford has brought forward for resolution the issues he campaigned upon, has begun to cut unnecessary expenditure, and corrected a grievous wrong. His latter action involved an elderly female constituent in city ward (not his previous one) who had a tree on her front lawn. It was an old one, but she had faithfully got a yearly arborist's report indicating that the tree was in good health.

The city said it must come down. It was on The List, you see.

The woman, thinking she had homeowners' rights, refused to cut it down.

When she returned home the next day, the tree was gone. What was left was a $5000.00 bill for the cutting of the tree. Outraged, she called her city councillor (who never returned the call), and protestations to the city bureaucracy got nowhere. "The tree was," they stated, "on The List."

In Rob Ford's first day in office, he contacted the woman to apologize, and stated that a cheque for the $5000.00 was already in the mail. Well, well, well. I will definitely tender a dinner invitation to the Manor.

Then the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who along with a fine Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty have kept Canada well away from sub-prime madness, showed another side of himself. At the Tories' annual Christmas party (Yes, Christmas party, Not a 'Holiday 'party) the good Stephen did a commendable job of singing and piano playing, drawing on The Proclaimers, Neil Diamond, and the Rolling Stones. He showed discretion as well, honouring John Lennon by playing the opening bars to his 'Imagine' without the lyrics. Since those lyrics begin with the phrase "Imagine no religion" this was circumspect. No point in enraging all the bishops, mullahs, imams, priests (or even the Pope), although part of me wished he had let fly. But it was a step.

The only sour note was struck by a Liberal MP, who lamented that Harper had not sung in French. Grits will, however, be Grits.

The there is Laureen, fair wife to the Prime Minister. She saw fit to publicly lambaste the Iranian authorities (read: thugs) for their not releasing Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani from the Evin prison, but instead, in an Iranian act of compassion, altered her fate from death by stoning to death by hanging. Her crime was adultery, with some high judges arguing for murder. This is all rubbish. My sources (which are stellar) tell me that that her husband (three decades her senior) died of a heart attack. How she committed adultery with a dead body remains unexplained by these all-knowing authorities. I suspect someone had it in for her, possibly because she had let a wisp of hair poke out of her hijab. Whatever the reason, the judicial action is a travesty, and good on Laureen for speaking out.

Oh dear, and I was concentrating on politicians behaving well. Sorry about that, but when I hear of the fate of some women crashing into Islamic fundamentalism, all I want to do is engage in some beheading myself. Either that, or head for my bedroom, assume the pre-natal position, and turn the electric blanket up to nine.

* NODIS. No distribution. Ever.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wiki Whatever

Until recently, I had thought 'Wikileaks' an obscure term having to do with incontinence. I was disabused of this by Sir Harry, who wanted an analysis of the whole Wikileaks mess. He also complimented me -- a strange departure of form -- saying that absolutely none of our messages had surfaced. Of course not; I had taken to heart Marshall McLuhan's insight that modern media had resulted in a 'global village', with all that that entails, both good and bad. The Good Thing about a village is that everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing. That is also the Bad Thing, and therefore one must take measures.

Apparently, as I delved into the subject, I was somewhat astounded to learn that very few members of The Powers That Be had absorbed Dr. McLuhan's insight, and had taken few such measures. Hence all kinds of private communication were now flooding the world, to the chagrin of many and the delight of many more.

What was even more surprising -- the person involved. One might have expected that Lisbeth Salander had somehow escaped from The Millenium Trilogy (as could happen in a Jasper Fforde novel) and was now crying havoc and letting loose the dogs of cyber space. But this was not the case at all.

Step forward one Julian Assange, who is about as far away from a Lisbeth Salander as it is possible to get. (Sweden is after him for rape, and Interpol has issued an arrest warrant.) A closer look gives the following:

1) His parents were travelling entertainers in Australia. When young Julian was eight his mother remarried into 'The Family', a cult whose predilection was to abuse children with psychiatric medication. The marriage soon went to ratshit, and Julian's mother took him into hiding for the next five years, moving the kid 37 times before he was 14. (I am not making this up).

2) Julian somehow discovered an ability with computers, and started a career -- if you can call it that -- in computer hacking. His nickname was 'Mendax', which is I believe 'liar' in Latin, and at least shows a glimmer of self-awareness on Julian's part. He was once convicted for hacking into Nortel, an event that might explain....well, no it won't.

3) His obsession is to embarrass the world's freest countries, and his anti-Americanism is virulent.

Case in point. Julian made known the names of Afghan human rights activists and other personnel who have cooperated with the U.S. and giving out GPS coordinates to help the process along. The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was delighted, saying that the information would be "beneficial" and that "We know how to punish them." (I don't doubt that for a minute.)

A second case in point. Julian published details of the technology used to stop improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from being detonated. He called such IEDs "rebel investments" and noted with glee that for every dollar spent by the terrorists, the U.S. has to spend thousands to defend against them.

As I informed Sir Harry, it is the above stuff that should be concentrated upon. The gossipy stuff should simply be ignored. After all, who didn't know that the Karzai brothers were sleazy and corrupt, or that Hillary Clinton was one tough cookie, or that Vladimir Putin was skimming the profits of Gazprom, or that Angela Merkel could be blunt, or....well, the list could go on. In effect, much ado about nothing, save for the two cases in point mentioned above. All of which prompts a question -- why is this man still alive?

But I refrained from suggesting what we in The Trade call an 'executive sanction'. Why make the guy a martyr? Given that my sources indicate that Julian is presently in the UK, I urged Sir Harry to link up with his colleagues in MI5, grab him, and extradite him to Sweden. A rapist gets little world sympathy, save perhaps in the Congo, where rape is fast becoming a ghastly national sport. Certainly the whole Wikileaks thing would come to a sudden, abrupt halt.

All very depressing, and I felt in need of some soothing, some calm. So I entered the study, poured myself a serious martini, and put on a DVD that always relaxes me. Its title? Why Animals Attack.