Friday, September 28, 2012

Dealing With Deutschland

The German ambassador had gotten in touch, and requested a short meeting. I suspected this was to forward thanks from Angela Merkel for a small gift I had sent her. I had done the German Republic a small favour, and Dr. Merkel had sent me two tickets for next year's Ring at Bayreuth. Since these tickets are scarcer than hen's teeth, I was grateful, and in return, knowing her background in physics, had forwarded a photo, never released to the press, of the Higgs Bosun. It does pay dividends to have a son working at CERN.

I was partly right.

I had prepared for the meeting with some care. The ambassador had been invited to tea, and I had ensured that all was in order -- the tea brewed, the scones freshly made (my cook Henri excels at this sort of thing) and plenty of wild raspberry jam available. I had also taken care with my appearance, aware that the ambassador was somewhat of a connoisseur in the area of feminine pulchritude. Hence I had selected a white silk blouse to go with a smashing beige hemp jumper designed by my son Sebastian. I then slipped on a Gianfranco Ferre belt, complete with gold buckle. And since the ambassador was on the short side, I stayed away from my stilettos and went with the Roger Vivier sandals.

Yes, I was taking care, but I also wanted a favour from the ambassador.

He arrived, and was duly appreciative of both the tea and scones as well as overlong glances at yours truly from time to time. I knew the man was happily married, but I also knew that his wife didn't much care where he got his appetite, as long as he ate at home.

We then got down to business.

"First," began the ambassador, "I must commend your command of German. Excellent."

"Danke schoen" I replied.

"Of course, the time you spent in the DDR, and that incident with the Stasi --"

"Perhaps best forgotten --"

"All forgotten of course. Secondly, Dr. Merkel was delighted with the photograph from CERN. A truly spectacular discovery. She also has a small request."

Here it comes, I thought.

"Apparently," the ambassador continued, "the libation we make from your sugar beets is proving very popular, and demand has begun to exceed supply. We would like to negotiate for more."

"You're talking about Zuckerruben-Sirup."

"Yes. Many have come to think that it prolongs life."

"Well," I said, "I would certainly love to supply more, but we are at capacity now. However, I do hold certain rights for land expansion, but cannot exercise them. If I could, I would be able to increase supply with no difficulty."

"What is the problem?"

"The rights were negotiated with Yuliya Tymoshenko, who, having lost an election to that twit, Viktor Yanukovych, was immediately hurled into prison. In my attempts to expand, he blocks me at every turn. If he could be brought to see reason...."

"What are you suggesting?"

"It is possible that Dr. Merkel could play a small role here. I understand she has a good relationship with Vladimir Putin."

"That is so," replied the ambassador.

"A word, then, in Putin's tinted ear on the matter might carry some weight. He then could 'persuade' Yanukovych to release that land, and we would be off to the races. An added bonus would be to release Yuliya herself, but that might be asking too much. He really is a bastard."

"I will take the matter under advisement, and see what can be done."

After that the meeting was mostly pleasantries, although I did press the ambassador somewhat on the 'long life' aspect of Zuckerruben-Sirop. He at that point mentioned a news item he had seen out of China, involving a man who had lived 122 years. When asked how he had accomplished this, he said that he had stayed away from tobacco, women and alcohol. Shortly after, he died, and his last words were telling: "I think I've made a huge mistake."

You think?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Islamic Straw Dogs

Here we go again. An ill-made rather pathetic little video is released that is unkind to the Prophet Mohammad, and the Middle East erupts in an orgy of burning and killing. The West sucks it up and proffers apologies. Even Hillary Clinton, who should know better, felt the need to denounce the video. (I suspect she was pressured into the stance.) In any event, these actions did not stop the carnage, which is still going on as I write these words.

It is, of course, nonsense.

In 1979, Saudi fanatics (and that's saying something) attacked the Ka'aba in Mecca. The result? A retaliatory attack was immediately launched against the American Embassy in Islamabad, an action that gives an entirely new meaning to the term 'non-seqitur'. A new strategy begins to surface --  any slur against Muslims is to be laid at the door of the West, and particularly Israel and the United States.

Sometimes, of course, given the deranged activities that jihadists get up to, this is not possible, and, amazingly, Muslims are not offended. Fourteen thousand dead and disappeared youth in Pakistan-occupied Baluchistan, and not a murmur. 500,000 Muslim Darfuris killed by the Arab janjaweed, well, these things happen. The blowing up of the Bamiyan Buddha statues by the Taliban shrugged off without any protest whatsoever, other than thinking, "boys will be boys". And 20,000 dead Syrians you would think would cause an attack on Iran's Embassy. You would be wrong, and yet.... and here comes the crunch: a minor, mediocre video causes all hell to break loose, and an American ambassador killed. This almost, I say almost, creates a wish for the return of George W. Bush.

You see, to borrow from T.S. Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent, the objective correlatives are all wrong. The real causes of all the mayhem have little to do with silly films, and everything to do with the power struggle between fundamentalist and moderate Islam. Illiterate youth are urged to focus on America, and under this aegis create the mayhem that allows sundry self-appointed imams, mullahs and ayatollahs to obtain power. It worked in Iran. Why not elsewhere?

Once in power, of course, the leaders immediately clamp down on any form of protest save one that focuses on the horror of Israel or the U.S.A. The leaders are there to 'protect' the populace, not unlike Oliver Cromwell's actions during his dictatorship. Indeed, Cromwell himself was termed "a Lord Protector" and this brought to mind a line from a book on English royalty whose title escapes me*: "Lord, protect us from Lord Protectors".

Devoutly to be wished.

*Didn't escape me. The book Lady S. refers to is an excellent work entitled Kings and Queens, by E. Farjeon and H. Farjeon. It has pride of place on my library shelf, next to Sellar and Yeatman's brilliant 1066 And All That. --Ed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

He Ran, She Ran, We All Ran From I...Ran

On the world stage, Canada traditionally plays a cautionary role, a kind of Galapagos turtle, given to making small, almost imperceptible movements when it thinks no one is looking.

Every now and then, however, Canada startles. Think the discovery of insulin. Think the Avro Arrow.* Think (although here I push things a bit) Justin Bieber. And this brings me to the closing of the Canadian Embassy in Iran, and the subsequent booting out of all Iranian diplomats from their Canadian Embassy.

Now such actions are never taken without a great deal of thought, resembling if you will the burning of bridges a la Cortez in Mexico. A line has been drawn, and a point made crystal clear.

What on earth prompted such an action?

The Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs, John Baird, trotted out the usual reasons. Iran was a rogue state, determined to drive Israel into the sea, and determined as well to possess nuclear power. Moreover, the country was ruled by unhinged maniacs who have torn to pieces what once was a reasonable religion -- if, indeed, any religion can be termed 'reasonable'. Finally, both the American and the British embassies had previously come under attack, and readers will no doubt remember Canada's role in rescuing American diplomats from becoming hostages.

All true, but all known, and this begs a question, what was different this time?

This intrigued me, and I called in some markers by colleagues in The Trade. I knew that the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, attending an Asian Conference in Vladivostok, had extensive meetings with Vladimir Putin of Russia, Ju Jintao of China, and Hillary Clinton of the U.S.A. My sources also indicated a lengthy telephone conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. In terms of what was released to the public, there was the usual references to trade, the ghastly situation in Syria, and the parlous state of the world economy. Nothing new there, and there was nothing untoward to be found in cyberspace. (After the Julian Assange fiasco, really hot information is now almost totally verbal.)

Yet it was directly after after these meetings that Baird made his announcement with respect to the closure of the Embassies. And, folks, you can be sure that Baird did not make such an announcement on his own. This had to have been ordered by Harper, who runs a very tight ship indeed.

Further investigation led to a certain conclusion. After a check with Sir Harry, my superior in MI 6, I was told in no uncertain terms to shut up. All I can tell you, dear reader, is that October will be a very, very interesting month.

Interesting in the Chinese sense of the term.

* With the Avro Arrow, Canada had the temerity to create a jet fighter miles ahead of any other at the time. This startled the world. It also startled the United States, and  the President,John Kennedy, immediately made the Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker an offer he couldn't refuse. The Arrow was then scrapped. An uptick here was the fact that a goodly number of the aeronautical engineers at De Havilland, who had developed the plane, were hired to work at Cape Canaveral with that All- American scientist, Werner Von Braun, and became instrumental in paving America's way to place Neil Armstrong on the moon. So it goes.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Putting It To Putin

What on earth is going on with Vladimir Putin?

I ask this upon learning from my sources (very reliable) within Moscow who inform me that his latest venture involves dressing as a Siberian Red crane and, piloting a glider, attempting to teach these cranes how to reach winter nesting areas. This from a man who throws any opposition politician into prison at a moment's notice, or has it in for female rockers who upset the Russian Orthodox Church. This, of course, begs another question: when did such an avowed atheist become a good son of the Church? Finally, his actions encourage others, and so Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine can take heart and throw his own opposition leader into prison. Poor Yuliya Tymoshenko, she who helped Putin secure a very favourable gas contract. It really is true -- no good deed goes unpunished.

I mean, could you imagine Stephen Harper dressing as a Canada Goose and leading the flock to God knows where.* Or Angela Merkel donning the habit of a crow and leading the flock out of Germany?** I think not.

Putin, of course, is the President of Russia. Now in a normal country, the role of President is largely ceremonial. The person offered this position by a Prime Minister is usually of the Great and the Good, and is appointed to bring stature, stability and a certain amount of gravitas to the whole legislative edifice.  In this regard, the best example would be that of constitutional monarchy, and Queen Elizabeth II of the U.K. would be the perfect exemplar. In terms of ceremonial Presidents, Germany and Austria come to mind. Putin, however, has iron control of the reins of power, and hence the Prime Minister -- in this case Dmitri Medvedev -- is very much cabin'd, cribb'd and confin'd by such a mis-use of the Presidency.

(An aside. The U.S. President operates under an entirely different arrangement, with an emphasis on the separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. As can be seen, this can lead to gridlock, but what did you expect? The whole kit and caboodle was developed in large part by the political philosopher the Baron de Montesquieu, who was French. Enough said.)

Perhaps Putin is simply bored, and needs to hunt grey whales, to explore the depths in scuba gear, and to face down tigers. I have no problem with that, but not if he is to be an effective President. So I have fired off a letter, urging him to seriously consider retirement, when he could fly cranes ALL THE TIME.

But he is Russian, and I conclude with this observation from The Economist: '"if only Russia were different, it could be a wonderful country' is a lament the country's greatest writers have been proclaiming  for two centuries -- and in better prose."


* Possibly to Quebec. They can be a nuisance there.

** Lady S. had originally used the proper term for a group of crows, a 'murder'. In that the term is not that well known, and that Dr. Merkel might take offence, I altered it, although not without thinking that were she to actually lead the crows, she would undoubtedly aim straight for Greece. --ed.