Friday, June 29, 2012

MY Nobel Nominations

An interesting contretemps occurred during a trip to the airport (of which more later) that got me thinking of those processes that contribute mightily to making life easier, processes that I think that I think the Nobel Committee should give more consideration to. I am not so much concerned with a specific inventions here, although there's no denying that inventions such as zippers, can openers, intermittent windshield wipers and the like have facilitated things no end. Rather I was thinking of processes that do much to enhance social life.

Two instances come to mind.

1) The Nobel Committee should have sought out the person, group or organization who first conceived the 'one queue leading to many'. Now it has been many years since I have lined up at a bank (I mean, why else have staff?) but I can remember when I wore a younger woman's clothes never failing to pick the one line that never seemed to move. Others advanced well, but not mine, as a senior citizen simply had to discuss with the teller the trials of her Aunt Maud and those pesky bunions. Now, however, and given a similar situation, what I call the 'Prime Line' feeds into a number of secondary lines. To be sure, one line will be slow, but not all will, and life can go on. This process also has made airport baggage check-in easier, although its efficiency has been trumped by security examinations that edge on the pornographic.

2) The Committee should also unearth whoever saw the efficacy of adding a left hand turn lane to an intersection. Prior to this, one person making a left turn (or right turn in the UK) had it in his or her power to hold up everyone. Now the left-turners simply slide into their own lane while the non-turners can continue on their way. Good stuff, and a great diminisher of road rage.

Speaking of road rage, this was prominent in the incident that started this train of thought in the first place. I was in the backseat of the Bentley, Ahmad my driver was in charge, and we were in a long line of traffic leading to an up ramp to the expressway. To our right was a lane that was clearly marked, and had been from a fair distance, indicating that this was for right turns only, with no access to the ramp, and led to a street that went north from the up ramp.

We were close to the ramp, patiently waiting for the light to change. It did, and the line started forward. At this point, two cars, a Jaguar and BMW to be exact, had cheated by zooming along the near empty right hand lane and now made an effort to insert themselves into the ramp line. This enraged all those that had been patiently waiting in the line, and they were denied. The Jag came to an abrupt halt, and the BMW careened into it, although from my point of view no damage to either car was caused. Instantly two persons, best described as 'ladies who lunch', got out and began screaming at each other. This little scene brought everything to a halt, along with not a few comments from now trapped drivers along the lines of "You go, girls!"

I wasn't overly worried about violence with these two -- their hair-dos looked way too expensive to be put at risk, and their make-up was 'just so', although it looked like it had been put on by power tools. The invective continued, and was growing stronger. Maybe things would get nasty after all. Then the cops arrived, and attempted to establish order out of chaos. They weren't happy about this, and the expression on their faces indicated that perhaps they should have just done a FIDO.**

Soon all got straightened away, and the cars were directed up the street, which is where they should have gone in the first place. All of which told me that another 'process' was needed. It would, for instance, be entirely possible delineate the lane in question (via a prominent flashing light) by constructing a concrete barrier, a kind of Herman Kahn approach, if you will. This would make it impossible to turn in any direction but right. To be sure, this would cause pain when one realized that the ramp was not viable, but pain leads to learning, a Good Thing. (All we learn from pleasure is the principle of repeatability).

Or, in the words of Hermann Hesse, "Experience is a good school, but the fees are high."

** The good Lady again assumes too much. FIDO is cop-speak for "Fuck it. Drive on." -Ed.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sympathizing With Svetlana

A bit late with this post, but things happen. To be precise, my Russian colleague in The Trade, Svetlana Marinskaya,  dropped in unexpectedly, and we spent last evening going through two bottles of superb Chardonnay that she had 'obtained'  in Ukraine. Lana, you see, is a soccer nut, and had been swanning about Poland and Ukraine watching the matches. Until she wasn't.

Now Lana and I share a history. Indeed, in Vladivostock, we had spent some time trying to kill each other. Yes, we were together in The Trade, but on opposite sides. Astute readers will suss out that we were unsuccessful in this endeavour, in that we were now happily drinking together some ten years later. Nothing personal in this, you see.

Mementos of this tussle are still with us -- a bullet scar on my right shoulder and a similar scar on Lana's inner thigh. If I had aimed a bit higher, any child bearing on her part would have....well, enough of past battles. It all goes to show that bullets and real estate share something in common: what matters, in the words of Phil Spencer and Kirstie Alsop, is "location, location, location."

Given last night's tryst with the Chardonnay, my memory of what transpired is a bit hazy in spots, but I think I remember the gist. Lana had a great time bouncing around the various stadiums in Poland, but much less so in Ukraine, although she had visited my sugar beet plantation and was impressed. Not so much with the sugar beets, but more with my Ukrainian supervisor, Bohdan.

"He's kinda cute," she said. "And don't get me wrong," she stated. "Like Bohdan, the average Ukrainian was always very kind and helpful. There was, spot of trouble occurred when I came into conflict with the elite."

"The cronies of Viktor Yanukovych."

"Precisely. Can you imagine? There I was, having paid top ruble for a seat in the Kiev stadium. Just before the game started, I was told to vacate the seat. Some nephew or other had suddenly decided to attend. I was escorted out of the stadium by two "government officials". Bloody thugs, actually. In the passageway leading out of the stadium, the two nodded in deference to the nephew who was just entering. I mean, REALLY. What was a girl to do?"


"The three of them wound up in some hospital or other, and are now tending to various broken arms and legs. At that point I decided to get the hell out. No point in joining poor Yuliya in some godforsaken prison."

"Speaking of Yuliya," I put in, "what I cannot understand is why Putin hasn't resolved that situation. After all, it was she who made that oil and gas deal with old Vladimir, from which Russia has profited handsomely."

"Ah," said Lana, a touch of sorrow in her voice, "Vladimir is not the man he was. He wants to be loved and adored by the people, and the fact that a slew of people are rather vehemently protesting his policies (or lack of them) well, it grates.  He is, in my opinion, beginning to choke. Just like the Russian soccer club did. Unless there is some kind of epiphany -- "

"And pigs will fly," I interrupted.

Lana stared. "What on earth do flying pigs have to do with it?"

We had been talking in Russian, save for that last bit. Lana's English wasn't bad, but idioms are tricky. I explained the reference, and, after thinking for a moment, declared, "So, as we would say, 'And the Volga will flow no more.'"

"You have it."

At this point Lana launched into a detailed description of the various soccer matches she had attended. All of this is ill remembered -- the Chardonnay -- but one thing stuck in my mind, the perfect name of a professional athlete. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Bastien Schweinsteiger.

Auf Weidersehen.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Conversing With A Colleague

Sir Peter Crapp dropped in to the Manor on his way back from Beijing, where he had been on assignment. He had yet to report his findings to Sir Harry, so I took it as a compliment to be in on the ground floor, so to speak. We hared off to one of my favourite pubs, The Libidinous Leek, and were soon ensconced with pints of Best Boddington and awaiting the arrival of sustenance. The pub's Ploughman's Lunch was, as I knew from past experience, excellent, and it came with a bowl of leek and Stilton soup that was simply superb. So Voltaire: "Apres tout, le monde est passable."

"And how," I began, "are things in The Forbidden Kingdom?"

"We'll get to that," Sir Peter replied, "but before I forget, Wei Ling sends her regards. She still feels much in your debt for your help in what we now call The North Korean Incident."

"Good Lord, that was six, no seven years ago. As you know, it was a bit of nip and tuck, but Miss Wei certainly did her part. Very good with a knife, as I recall. Do let her know that I appreciate the remembrance. I learned a lot from her."

"So did the North Koreans. They still have a contract out on both of you."

I shrugged. "Well, they'll just have to get in line. Now what really is going on there?"

"A number of issues," Sir Peter replied, "but two in particular stand out. First, the machinations and intrigues involved in the coming change in leadership are vicious, and totally shrouded in mystery. Even some of the highest officials are at a loss in terms of predicting a winning faction. Sir Harry will be displeased."

"Too bad. Sometimes the magic doesn't work. And the second issue?"

At that point the soup arrived, and conversation ceased. A good leek and Stilton soup will have that effect.

All too soon, all was consumed, and Sir Peter raised the second issue irritating those in Cathay.

"The ruling elite," he said, "are very, very upset with the West over the carnage in Syria. They are taking their lumps at the U.N. Security Council, and they think the West's position is not well thought out. To their mind, and given some Muslim difficulties on their northern border, it is the enemy killing the enemy, and the term 'collateral damage' doesn't signify. In addition, Chinese action in support of rebels against the authority of the state....well, do the math.

"That 'collateral damage' you mention involves a great many women and children."

"We are talking Chinese realpolitik here," Sir Peter countered. "Remember, they hold figures such as Metternich and Bismarck in high regard. Hell, they thought for a time that Henry Kissinger was one of them."

"So they will not likely sanction any armed intervention."

"That's what I will report to Sir Harry."

At this point I reached into my purse and withdrew a small book entitled From The Heart by someone with the improbable name of Bull Taco. "And will you also be reporting on this poetry book?"

"How did you....oh, never mind. Someone somewhere was going to make a connection. I should have guessed that you would be one of the first. Yes, the poems are mine and -- "

"And they're quite good, my friend. And the heart has reasons --"

"I know the quote.** But enough. Our plowman's lunches have arrived. I must say, they look really --"


And so they were.

** These two are more widely read than is good for them. The quote is from Blaise Pascal's Pensees, and is as follows: The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing. Ed.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Brouhaha At Bilderberg

I had accepted an invitation to attend the Annual Conference of the Bilderberg Group, and, accompanied by my minder Irving, travelled to Chantilly in Virginia, where the Conference was being held that year. I arrived early and, given the town's name, went in search of some French lace. Greeted by storekeepers with blank stares, I gave up this quest, and retired to the hotel venue of the Conference, the Westfields Marriot.

This gathering of the great and the good was by invitation only, and it was a chance to exchange views with those people who had the power to actually do something if a situation warranted action. I had also been asked to present a paper on the current mess that is global finance, and suggest a possible way out. Since a solution to all this fiscal sturm und drang was (at least to me) glaringly obvious, I was pleased to comply.

My thesis was a simple one. I began by indicating that globally there was more than enough cash floating around to solve, not just the current crisis (Greece et al) but any others that might rear their dandruffy heads. Billions of Dollars, Euros, Yen, Pounds, Yuan, and numerous other currencies are in play. They are, however, locked in the frozen sea of nationalism, and hence extraction is difficult.

"Therefore gentlemen," (there were few ladies present) "I would posit that the next saviour of the world will not come from religion, but will come from that person or group that solves the problem of EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION. Not easy, but given the excellence of the minds gathered here, a solution surely can be found."

This statement received a stony glare from two Divines that were present, but this was not the time or place to debate religion. The problem was a real one, and imaginary friends would be of little help.

"There will," I continued, "be several difficulties, not the least of which are the objections by people described by former Secretary of Labour,Willard Wirtz, as 'those who want by the yard, but try by the inch, should be kicked by the foot.' So," I said, looking right at the Divines, "along with prayer, there is effort."

"The second difficulty lies in perception. The world now is seen as a pastiche of separate entities. This is rubbish, as Marshall McLuhan well knew. It has become a global village, and must be dealt with as such. At present, what I am hearing all too often are voices screaming at each other, "Your end of the boat is sinking!"

"Finally, and I leave you with this conundrum, there is a monumental amount of work that needs doing, and yet we have unemployment on a ridiculous scale. Why the disconnect? A question for bright minds, and I would suggest that it is high time we get to answering that conundrum."

The address received only half-hearted applause. To be expected, I guess; after all, I was asking them to work for a better world, not profit from the existing one. Considering this, and to relay to readers that I don't hold religious belief in total contempt, I recall words from a Jesuit teacher who, after I had not done well at something or other, said, "Simone, God doesn't ask that you succeed. He simply asks that you try."

Fair enough.