Thursday, October 25, 2012

Three Times A Charm

To London, and my suite at the Dorchester. I was looking forward to a dinner at The Grill and their excellent Cornish scallops, but my dinner companion was Sir Harry, and his presence was more likely to lead to indigestion rather than a fine dining experience.

My feelings were mis-placed. Sir Harry was, for him, in a state of elation. I knew this because every so often a trace of a smile flitted across his face, something completely out of character. What had exercised him was the success of what he termed "blow back". Apparently, in Afghanistan, when the Ungodly fires three mortar shells at a British army encampment, this action provides enough time to track the trajectory of the hostile round and fire a retaliatory shot to precisely the spot where the original shells were fired. Poof! No more mortar fire, and those doing the firing were sent post haste into their Islamic Paradise, 72 virgins et al. (Question for self: why 72? I will look into this and report at some future date.) enjoyable dinner. We even waxed philosophical for a time, exploring the nature of the number three, with the 'three' acting as a kind of lynch pin countering the action of the previous 'two'. In folk tales, for instance, the third sister is all-important. Think Cinderella. Shakespeare himself draws on this tradition as well in King Lear (Cordelia) and The Merchant of Venice (the third casket containing lead and Portia's portrait).

Baseball has its three strike rule, and, in a completely inappropriate adaptation of the 'rule of three', the state of California has (via an ill-thought out referendum) enacted a three strike rule in terms of prison sentencing. If it's your third court appearance, and the verdict is guilty, you are gone for ten years, even if the charge is a relatively minor one. I guess this pleases some people, but in my mind's eye all I can conjure up is  Les Miserables and Inspector Javert.

Sir Harry made the point that in many cases involving three of whatever, competition of some sort is at the fore. He went on to state, quoting Lord knows whom,* that "neither the devil nor God wants competition. That's why we humans end up in our lonely no-man's-land." I couldn't quite follow his argument, other than The Trade often hurls you into a no-mans-land, but the statement certainly prompts thought. I also noticed that this particular insight had restored Sir Harry to his usual state of gruffness, and it was time to bring this somewhat odd meeting to an end. Unless the man would spring for dessert.

He wouldn't.

*From Henning Mankell's brilliant and disturbing novel, Kennedy's Brain -- Ed.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Indian Love Call --- Not.

I should state right at the outset that I admire a number of First Nations leaders, such as Sitting Bull, Cochise, Tecumseh, or, more recently, Chief Dan George. Then there are former chiefs Terry Nelson and Dennis Pashe, and admiration is about the last thing I would give these two.

My interest in them was piqued by an item on the website of the Canadian Broadcasting System, (CBC) something that surprised. The article was not laudatory, as the CBC usually treats First Nations, but was a condemnation, The article was of course quickly removed, but not before it had appeared in the Canadian version of the Huffington Post, and from there trickled into (where else?) The Toronto Sun. The situation borders upon disbelief, and I thought it wise to give my sources prior to relating what is a very sorry tale.

It appears that Nelson, former chief of Manitoba's Roseau River Anishinabe, and Pashe, former chief of the Dakota Tipi First Nation in Manitoba, had hared off to another country to air their human rights grievances against Canada. That country?

That bastion of human rights, Iran.

In fact, Nelson and Pashe were on Iranian Press TV in Tehran on Sunday, October 7, describing First Nations reservations and stating unequivocally that "The reservations were originally more or less concentration camps." He also drew a parallel with Iran, saying that First Nations peoples were also subject to "economic sanctions".  Pashe went even further, stating "It's part of the ongoing effort by the Canadian government to exterminate us."

It was at this point that I recalled Dana Carvey's portrayal of the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live and her acid observation: "Well, isn't that precious!"

Now a word about chief Terry Nelson. An independent audit of the Roseau River Reserve found that between 2003 through to 2005, while being administered by a federal manager, the band was in surplus. When Nelson took over, however, from 2006 to 2008, the Reserve managed to accumulate a deficit of $!.5 million. Moreover, as Lorne Gunter of The Toronto Sun Reports,* "The auditor had also questioned about $567,000 in loans and advances made to six current and former employees that were not recorded in the financial statements, including money that went allegedly to Nelson's daughter for a gas station she operated on the reserve."

In 2011, he was removed as chief by his band's council, by a 9 - 1 vote. As Council spokeswoman Linda Roberts put it, the Council was concerned about Nelson's "failure to accept requests to update the Council on finances, activities, and other band governance issues."

I'll bet they were concerned. And to think that the Canadian Federal Government gives every man, woman and child upon reserves some $35,000 to $45,000 per year, as well as monies to be devoted to infrastructure, schools and housing. Where does all the money go to? Not to the women and children, that's for sure.

Mind you, those two clowns Nelson and Pashe were right about one thing -- the reserves for the most part are a total mess,** particularly in the North. They really should go, along with the Indian Act itself. To go into just how this might be accomplished is beyond the scope of this particular post, although allowing property rights would be a good start.

And one final observation. How did these two get to Iran? In that Iran itself is enduring heavy economic sanctions, I cannot see the lunatic religious leaders presently in power paying to bring infidels to come and visit. I strongly suspect that once again Federal dollars have been used to make the trip possible.

As readers will know, I am not of a religious bent, but here I sum up my feelings with the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35:

"Jesus wept."

*The Toronto Sun, October 12, 2012, p. 21

** Not all reserves fail. The Gibson Reserve in Muskoka, for instance, serves its populace well through their cranberry franchise. Less healthy, perhaps, but still economically viable, is the casino on the Rama reserve.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Real Terror

The Compte de Rienville was staying at the Manor for a few days, and in between bouts of ...well, never mind...we had some good conversations. One in particular stands out.

After an excellent dinner, we were enjoying some warmed Brie on Henri's fantastic home-baked crackers while sipping a forty-year-old Port brought from the Compte's cellar in his Chateau. For some reason, we were discussing what really terrifies people. I, for instance, am frightened of people with 'Causes'; I mean, if you argue with a reformer, you are always wrong. The Compte confessed to a fear of a world without electricity, and he has a point. Were the global grid to collapse suddenly, well, just imagine, and a marketable skill in such a world would be how good you were with a bow and arrow.

This was proving an interesting subject, and we thought of a number of groups, and just what they would be most frightened of. At some point, I mentioned the Taliban, and we both realized that one thing that terrified that ghastly lot were fourteen-year-old schoolgirls such as Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai. She had been shot by a member of the Taliban, and was, at the time of this writing, in critical condition in a hospital in Peshawar. The Compte put forward a thesis as to why the Taliban had acted so savagely.

In his view, the Taliban were adamant that no girls should receive any education other than a home reading of the Qu'ran, and then only appropriate suras. Girls are, after all, chattel, and what's the point of teaching chattel? It would like training a goat to sing. It can't be done, and more importantly, it would annoy the goat.* Girls are there to serve the patriarchy, and follow the precepts of vani.

"The what?" I asked at this point.

"Vani. This is the custom by which girls are handed over as child brides to settle blood feuds. In fact, just last month in Pakistan's Balochistan province 13 girls aged 4 to 16 were so used by a tribal council to settle a conflict between two clans of a major tribe over the murder of a man."

"How the hell did you know that?"

"I was there. So was your colleague Matilda Hatt. We got three of the girls out, not one of our more successful missions. Difficult to work in that area. But you would know that."

I nodded. The Compte went on to explain that a girl, once even partially educated, became extremely difficult to manage, and in at least a few incidents, had either killed their husbands -- or, as the girls state, their owners -- or killed themselves. Education of girls, then, has to be nipped in the bud. Hence that attack on the unfortunate Malala.

The Compte said, "There is, however, a bright spot in all this. For perhaps the first time, there were nationwide protests across Pakistan, denouncing the barbarity of the act. Admittedly, these were held by women. The men seem to only protest silly film footage or Danish cartoons. But it is a start."

All this was getting pretty heavy, and a change of topic was in order. So we both helped ourselves to more Brie, crackers and Port, and began to discuss who REALLY got married at the Biblical feast of Cana.

* De Rienville is, I think, referring to a remark once made by NFL quarterback Ken Stabler, who referenced a pig in this regard. The Compte well realized that a goat would be a better exemplar than a pig -- a observant Muslim wouldn't go near such a creature. --ed.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Annual Transportation of Wood

Very late with this posting, but this sort of thing happens when you go off to the Emp's estate on a Haliburton lake. A fine group gathered to aid in the transportation of firewood from the mainland to the island, an annual and much looked forward annual event. All present contributed in various ways -- I commemorate the event in poetry -- and the job was done.

The group is an eclectic one. Bohdan, the manager of my sugar beet holdings, was there, and was looking well even if his job was a constant struggle against various and sundry bureaucratic attacks against my plantation launched by that fuckwit Viktor Yanukovych. (I refuse to talk to him until he releases Yuliya Tymoshenko from prison. Asshole). Also attending was Sir Peter Crapp, who indicated that his boss (and mine), Sir Harry of MI6, was trying to get in touch with me about a (very quiet) deal I had made with Bibi Netanyahu involving a number of Syrian farmers who had fled to Israel and, at my suggestion, assumed the identity of displaced American tourists. I will tell Sir Harry that when a thing is working well, it's best not to fix it.

Also attending was the Earl of Murphy, whose geographic knowledge of the world is considerable. Indeed, his nickname is 'World'. A later arrival was my Chief Financial Officer, WDM, who ensures that the financial gains from both the late Lord Strunsky's estate and the sugar beet enterprise do not go amiss. And they don't, although he does comment that my donations to the atheistic nuns, the Little Sisters of Poverty and Pain, are a bit of a drag on profits. I counter with the fact that the money is well spent, particularly in the number of women rescued from domestic abuse, and certainly those from Muslim or Hindu homes that are fundamentalist in nature. Which may account for the large number of fatwas against yours truly, but if you walk in the woods, you must feed mosquitoes.

So the logs all found a home on the island, and the mission was completed. The Emp was pleased, and all were glad. His hospitality was a wonderment, with superb food, fine wine, and sparkling conversation. Also, the Emp's ability to find chinks in one's psychological armour (he is very good at this) was much less evident, a kinder, gentler approach if you will. Not completely, mind you; one always had to be on guard for an unexpected verbal jab or poke. But this is part of the Emp's charm.

A culmination of sorts was an impressive bonfire in the fire pit, something dear to the heart of WDM. Yes, he is a brilliant financier, but underneath that exterior lurks a pyromaniac. (I hasten to add that the fire danger in the area was low). I acted as supervisor, an acknowledgement of my delicate and fragile condition,* and scanned the skies seeking out any water bombers from the Ministry of Natural Resources that might suddenly appear.

The only lacuna in the whole thing was a somewhat unaccountable lack of reference to the fair sex. I mean, all are getting on, but still.....As Marvell put it in his poem, 'To His Coy Mistress', "The grave's a fine and private place / But none I think do there embrace."

Too true, and it is a very good thing the Compte de Rienvelle is shortly expected at the Manor. Can't happen soon enough.

All for now.

*This is rubbish. It was not that long ago when Simone had a wee tussle with an Al Qaeda operative on the north face of the Eiger. Later, the body was found in a deep crevasse. This was initially thought to be a mountain climbing accident until the bullet hole in the forehead came into view, setting off an Interpol investigation in three Alpine countries, and gave Sir Harry a severe headache.. Delicate and fragile? As I said, rubbish. --Ed.