Thursday, July 28, 2011

Expecting The Unexpected

I had asked Rachel Levi, my I.T. specialist, to encrypt and send off some notes Sir Harry had requested on the Norwegian tragedy. The response team taking 90 minutes to arrive an arrest the perpetrator was ludicrous, and Norway is going to have to invest in creating mobile tactical squads that are armed, along with one or two helicopters that can actually get off the ground. Surely NATO could part with a couple of Black Hawks? At least get on the phone to Hillary. I mean, this was a lone psychopath, and should have been stopped in his tracks much sooner than he was. The attack, however, was unexpected, and there is the rub of the question.

[An aside: The incident in Norway was horrible, but the man was, finally, stopped. Other countries which didn't stop such psychopaths paid a terrible price -- Hitler in Germany, Pol Pot in Cambodia, and anyone with the surname Kim in North Korea.]

Once the material was sent to Sir Harry, I began a heated discussion with Rachel. We were in what used to be a cozy basement den, but,given the variety of computer equipment it now housed, the place now resembled the tracking room at NORAD.

The root of our discussion concerned the WRAITH software, developed by Rachel, and smuggled out of Israel because Rachel had doubts about the use of the software by the Likud Party presently in power. The situation had been smoothed over, helped by Sir Harry of MI6, but Rachel was still very much a persona non grata as far as Likud was concerned.

What the software did was very simple; how it did it was complexity itself. In short, Rachel could take over another computer system without the users of that system being aware that anything was amiss. An example. Before we began our conversation, Rachel had been happily transferring amounts of money ($100.000 a pop) from certain accounts and sending them to a number of NGO's concerned with the ghastly famine now present in the Horn of Africa.

"I just thought," said Rachel, "that countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, and businesses such as Exxon and Goldman Sachs, should be doing more to help. And to them, $100.000 is more of a rounding figure than anything else. Surely you would agree?"

I admitted I could not find fault with her approach. "But Rachel, I continued, "it really has to stop. At least for a time."

"Why?' she countered. "The system's foolproof --"

"No system is ever foolproof. And your efforts are attracting attention, and, worse, these efforts are beginning to focus on this location. Or so I am informed."

"By whom?" asked Rachel, a note of petulance in her voice.

"Not germane to the discussion," I replied. (Actually, it was Matilda Hatt of the CIA who had given me the heads up.) "And you, Rachel, of all people, should know that there are some very capable techies out there, and sooner or later you would be traced, hacked, and your software protocol fall into some very dubious hands. If you will, it is in line with the analysis I asked you to send to Sir Harry."

"The 'Expect The Unexpected' thingy?"

"Right. That's the point. Just because you expect your software to be safe, doesn't mean that it is. The unexpected can and does occur."

"As you wrote in the Norway stuff."

"As I wrote in the Norway stuff."

Rachel sighed. "Oh, well, it was fun while it lasted. But I would ask for one more favour. I can create a phantom --"


"A phantom server. This will attract, at least temporarily, any hacker trying to locate WRAITH. Thought of the perfect place, too."


"Beijing. The Chinese are already under suspicion in the I.T. area, so this would make sense. Gets you off the hook too."

"Always nice to avoid hooks. Something I share with Peter Pan."


I just stared at her. That's the trouble with specialists. They specialize.

Discuss among yourselves.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Legal Lunacy

My legal advisor had requested a meeting, and it being insufferably hot, I suggested the Manor pool. This offer was received with thanks -- the weather really was trying to simulate at least one version of the afterlife.

I was on the diving board when the advisor, Gina Favola, appeared, wearing a spectacular bikini. Gina and I had grown up in Naples before we left; I to England and Oxford and eventually to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she to Toronto and Osgoode Hall, where she received her law degree and now practices corporate law for a VERY prestigious firm.

"Ah," I said in Italian, "the Bean appears," and before she could retort, dove in. This sobriquet came about when we were children. Gina's surname really means "butterfly" in Italian, but kids being kids, "favola" was reduced to "fava': that is, "bean." So it goes.

I surfaced, and then was cannonballed into by Gina. When heads again appeared above water, Gina said, "That's what you get for the bean reference. Truce?"


We swam to the edge of the pool, happy to be conversing in our mother tongue. The only others partaking that day were Consuela and her little daughter, Maria Aisha, happily splashing about in the shallow end. I wondered briefly where her husband Ahmed was, then recalled that he was in the Manor's greenhouse, attempting to splice some seedlings to create a number of very poisonous hellebores, complete with angry red leaves. These would be planted at the Manor's front gate to ward off unwanted callers. I was all for it.

Perched on the pool's edge, I asked Gina what was on her mind.

"Two things, actually. First, that land claims thing from the Crees. You will be happy to know that your offer was accepted."

A wee bit of background here. As readers will know, I have title to a rather large acreage in Northern Ontario, part of which I use for Camp Can Do, my program for women who for a variety of reasons have lost confidence in themselves. The program demands facility with motorcycles and small aircraft, and is designed to allow the women to, as Mark Twain once put it, "face life with the supreme confidence that a Christian feels in four aces."

Apparently a section of this acreage had been identified as a Cree burial ground, and a group of these Crees wanted the land returned in order to restore it to its original purpose. I saw instantly that the section of land in question was totally useless, and had Gina legally sign it over to them, wishing them well in their purpose.

Gina said, "This was not well received. They were looking for a cash settlement."

"Of course they were," I replied. "Not going to happen, and don't get me started on the idiocy of the Indian Act --"

"But there was an up side to the thing," Gina interrupted. "One of the younger lads was really into sculpture, and wanted to erect a suitable memorial. I looked at some of his really excellent work -- bought two pieces in fact -- and gave him the go-ahead, along with monies to purchase the necessary materials. Total cost, $2000.00, a sum which delighted him. Since the figure the group was asking for was in excess of $500,000.00, I thought this reasonable."

Well who could argue with that? "Now Gina, you mentioned there were two things on your mind."

"Si. And this one's a bit tricky. You should know that the firm allows its associates a certain amount of leeway when it comes to taking pro bono cases. I have just undertaken one, at the request of a moderate Muslim group."

"A moderate Muslim group? Isn't that an oxymoron?"

"Now, Simone, don't let your bias show."

"Oh, why not. I have a lovely bias. And after all, any number of jihadists would love to see my head on a platter."

Gina ignored this, and plowed on. "Now what has concerned this group is a decision by the Toronto School Board to allow Muslim prayers. On school time, no less, in direct contravention of the Provincial Education Act."

I said, "So -- what is that legal term, oh yes -- estop them."

"Normally, all this would go away. The problem here is the Charter of Rights, and its stressing of the right to religious practice. The charter trumps the Provincial Education Act."

"So it's game over," I replied glumly, "unless provincial politicians have the guts to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause. Which they don't."

"That may be true," said Gina, "but all is not totally lost. You see, at prayers, the girls, being inferior, must be behind the boys. This aspect also brings in the Charter, in that males and females must be treated equally. So here, then, you have two rights clashing. This is Supreme Court stuff, and why my firm allowed a pro bono approach. Eliot's 'right deed for the wrong reason' if you will."

I decided this was one case I would follow with interest. I also decided it was time for lunch, and as we walked into the Manor, my thoughts turned to the problems religion can cause, and took comfort in remembering H. L. Mencken's thinking on the matter: "Every time scientists take another fort from the theologians and the politicians, there is genuine human progress,"

Amen to that

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Canada Calling

I try to avoid involving my brats in these missives, but occasionally they impinge upon things. This is one of those times.

My eldest son, Sebastian, was in town negotiating a clothing deal with Target, and dropped into the Manor as a matter of courtesy. Well, not quite. He had found himself in a situation, and wanted some advice.

I always like to give advice, particularly when asked.

We sat in the kitchen, happily destroying one of Henri's quiches. Henri, my cook, considers quiche one of his triumphs, and in that he is not wrong.

"So," I began, "what's this all about?"

"That." He pointed to the hem of my skirt, upon which was Sebastian's logo, a small red maple leaf.

"I think it's rather cute," I said. "Makes a little statement. Much better than the Nike Swish or that wee alligator. What's the problem?"

Sebastian, as I and Lord Strunsky taught all our children to do, was silent for a moment, gathering his thoughts. All the kids have well absorbed the Irish proverb, 'Many a man's tongue broke his nose.' Then he explained.

"When your driver Ahmed picked me up at my hotel, I couldn't help noticing the slew of condos being built. Cranes are everywhere and I have never seen so many cement trucks in my life. Ahmed indicated that most units were pre-sold, but wasn't sure just who had bought them. And by the way, Ahmed talked me into discounting two dresses and three skirts for his wife. He's a great bargainer. You know, I could use a talent like that in my purchasing department --"

"Forget it. Ahmed stays here."

"Worth a try. Anyway,My stores in New York and Chicago sell a great many items, all with that maple leaf. The logo obviously surfaces thoughts of Canada within certain minds, and lately, there have been a slew of questions about Canada, what the policies are, how to obtain citizenship, do you have to speak French?...well, the queries go on. So Ma, any ideas you have on responding to such questions would be appreciated."

Now as readers will know, I have good sources of information, and I knew for a fact that a lot of American money was tied up in those condo units. But this was investment money, and I think Sebastian's issue was somewhat different.

"I think that simplicity is the answer. I remember Isolde, when she was two, asking 'Will I burn my fingers if I touch the Sun?' to which your father replied, 'Yes.' I mean, why would you launch into an explanation of hydrogen fusion with a two-year old? Your father, Sebastian, was a very smart man, who knew very well that context precedes comprehension."

"And this is"

"By keeping any information simple and to the point. And I am going to assume the queries come from sane Americans, that all too silent majority."

Sebastian nodded.

"Then I suggest the following."

What I outlined to Sebastian was summed up in four points. First, the person would have to swear allegiance to the Queen. That might stop the query in its tracks. Second, language. Unless the person was planning on settling in Quebec, in which case fluency in la plus belle langue du monde was a definite plus, English will do just fine. Third, taxes are somewhat higher. You don't have single payer universal health care, a sound Federal pension plan and well-funded social security without the fiscal resources to make them happen. Canada has, for instance, a Federal sales tax. America does not.

Finally, Canada has read the Second Amendment to the American Constitution correctly and has an armed militia; that is, the army and police. Now while long guns are permitted for farmers and hunters, handguns and assault rifles are illegal, and The Law takes a very dim view if you are caught possessing one. It is no wonder that those committing a crime, when being chased, take the first opportunity they have to ditch their weapon. A gun on your person in this type of situation puts you in very deep legal shit.

"So there," I said to my son. "This type of information should give any curious American much food for thought."

Sebastian said, "My thanks. But my American customers all appear very worried, and even are talking about the U.S.A. going bankrupt."

"Well then," I responded, "one can only hope that a point made by Winston Churchill holds. As he so well put it, 'America usually gets it right, after she has exhausted all the alternatives.' Agreed?"


Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Royal Tour

Irving entered the room, the secure phone in hand.

"It's him", he said.

I sighed, and put down the book I was reading, given to me by an esteemed cousin whose only quibble with me was his not approving of my relationship with the Compte de Rienville. The book was by Stephen Clarke, and was entitled 1000 Years of Annoying the French. Good stuff, if you're in the mood for some highly interpretative history.

I took the phone from Irving, who then wisely left, not wanting to irritate me further.

"Well?" I said.

It was, of course, Sir Harry, who began as usual with no preamble whatsoever. "Just what are you Canadians trying to do? Kill them?"

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Hockey games. canoeing. dragon boat races. And that little manoeuvre with the helicopter -- well, faces at the Foreign Office were ashen. Ashen I tell you."

"Oh for God's sake, Sir Harry. You are jesting at scars that never felt a wound. The two of them were never in any danger, and in fact my sources tell me that they are enjoying the trip immensely."

"Oh, really? Setting a helicopter down on water? I mean, the whole machine could have vanished into the deeps --"

"Enough of this," I interrupted. "The helicopter exercise was a special request by the Prince himself. Canada is the only country that knows how it is done, and William wanted to learn the technique. Which he did. Have you forgotten that his trade is helicopter search and rescue?"

"No I haven't. But this leads me to my request."

Hah, I thought. Here we go.

"I need your analysis of the Royal visit." said Sir Harry.

"I am not part of the security team."

"No," said Sir Harry bluntly,"but you have colleagues that are. And you talk to them. What I have now is the tabloid press, with its pernicious, pettifogging puffery. Ghastly. I want to know what's really going on. Why are the Duke and Duchess so damn POPULAR?"

I was silent for a moment, digesting the phrase 'pernicious pettifogging puffery', and part of me wanted to commend Sir Harry on his foray into the world of Alliteration. I refrained, and instead bowed to the inevitable. "Right," I said, "a report will be sent in the usual way. I already know of one aspect that will interest you."

"And what is that?"

"Ah, that will have to wait until you receive the complete report. Bye, now."

Sir Harry was not the only one who could be brusque.

I then proceeded to have several conversations with various colleagues in The Trade who were tasked with all things having to do with security. In all their comments, I discovered a surprising thread -- the Duke and Duchess were enjoying themselves immensely, no more so than when conversing with Canadian John and Jane Does.

I thought about this a bit, and came to the conclusion that such conversations were with people that led far more interesting lives that those of the dignitaries accompanying them. Addicts in recovery, men and women that had lost their homes to fire, soldiers just returned from Afghanistan -- all were engaged with, and avidly listened to.

This worked a charm in Quebec -- not the easiest venue to impress -- and as for the First Nations, well, the reception was heartwarming. Not surprising, given that Victoria herself had signed the treaties, and thus property rights allotted by the Great White Mother Across The Sea became a fact. The couple even managed to crack open (a bit) the frozen ice that is Stephen Harper. Apparently the Duke and Duchess, no slouches when it comes to pop music, were surprised as hell to learn that the Prime Minister was also no slouch in this area. One source indicated a particularly animated conversation during the Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa exploring the linkage between Bruce Springsteen and earlier 'social' singers such as Leadbelly and Arlo Guthrie.

So the leitmotif of my report to Sir Harry will focus on this interpersonal aspect above all others. The ability of Will and Kate to talk to people, and more importantly, to listen. Moreover, one might wish that if the majority of our politicians are paying attention, some of these interpersonal skills might be picked up and employed.

Mind you, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride....