Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Short Christmas Break

The good Lady has decided that a Christmas holiday is in order. This decision was made a tad easier by her reception of an invitation, all expenses paid, to address a Conference on the importance of poetry within a context of politics.

I was not surprised that she accepted the invitation. Lady Simone has always believed that a politician skilled in the knowledge of poetry would be a far more effective server of the public than one from a background in the law or worse, political science -- to her an oxymoron.

She has entitled her address, riffing on Alexander Pope, "Poetry is Politics, to best Advantage dressed / What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."

The fact that the Conference is in Honolulu I'm sure did not affect the Lady's decision to give the paper.

On the other hand, given Toronto's slow recovery from a vicious ice storm, perhaps the decision was affected just a teeny little bit.

The Lady will be back in form next week.

-- The Editor.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Little Exploration on the Number Forty

While I now try to consciously avoid any thinking about the current fiscal mess now rampant in Ontario, now and then something so bizarre breaks through that it is impossible to ignore.

Such is the case with the that jewel in the Liberal Party crown, the Ontario Power Generation Company (O.P.G.) and its use of the number forty.

Now "forty" has a long history. There is, for instance, the forty years Moses and the Israelites spent in the wilderness, or so the  Bible tells us. In the present day, we speak of a nap of "forty winks", and a score of forty-forty in tennis -- three wins apiece --  is equal to "deuce", at which point a player must take two consecutive games to claim victory. And Canadians of a certain age will remember Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins belting out "She'll be back home in forty days."

For our purposes today, however, I will draw on yet another reference, to wit: the Arabian tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

This careened into my mind when I, more by accident than design, stumbled upon the fact that the OPG management included FORTY VICE PRESIDENTS.*

This was hard to believe, and became even harder when I learned that while all made salaries in the six figure range, there were no titles to go along with the term aside from three: VP, Finance; VP, Operations and VP, Human Resources.**

What would the others be called? VP, Alternating Current would be one, which would lead to VP Direct Current. There could be a VP for Isotopes,  a "Heavy Water" VP, a VP that looked after certain flora and fauna that had become radioactive -- well, the list could go on, and I will leave this little exercise in the hand of my capable readers.

Given the horrific state of OPG finances, and the frightening electricity bills that are starting to be delivered to Ontario homes and businesses, I don't think I'm far off the mark when I draw attention to a slightly updated version of the old tale, as with "Kathleen Wynne and the Forty Thieves."

There. I'm done.


* I was researching a number of American Vice-Presidents at the time. Isn't it interesting that the most powerful nation on earth only requires ONE Vice-President, while the OPG requires forty. --LSS

** The term "Human Resources" is fairly recent, and replaces the term "Personnel Department." Very much a step backward in my opinion. Resources can be used, then thrown out. It is a titch more difficult to do when you cannot escape the fact that these are people with whom you are being so cavalier. -- Ed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ukraine: A Modest Proposal

Bohdan, who manages my sugar beet holdings located near Kiev, was somewhat concerned about the recent protest movement that has erupted in Kiev's main square. This revolt had led to certain logistic difficulties with respect to sugar beet exports, and my bottom line was beginning to suffer.

I agreed instantly with Bohdan that this was unacceptable. A world without sugar beets? Unthinkable. 

The cause of all this fuss can be directly traced to Ukraine's leader, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision not to engage in closer trade ties with the European Union. (E.U.)

Instead, he has sought the dubious comfort of Vladimir Putin's Russia, feeling more at home in the grip of the Russian bear than in the E.U.'s democratic embrace. The fact that Putin had threatened to turn off the gas of course had nothing to do with the decision.

This decision, Bohdan tells me, was greeted with approval in the eastern part of Ukraine, while those in the western part were appalled. And herein lies the grounds for the modest proposal referred to in the title of this report.

"East is East and West is West" wrote Rudyard Kipling, "and never the twain shall meet." Taking these words to heart, I would suggest that Viktor could appease the Russian bear (at least for the moment -- it is, after all, a Russian bear) by agreeing to sit down with the protesters and negotiate TWO SEPARATE COUNTRIES.

Think about it. Eastern Ukraine always has been closer to Russia than those in the Western half of the country, speak Russian more than Ukrainian, and are extremely conservative in thought and deed, totally content with not much happening at all. In Russia, but not of it, as it were. And Viktor could, a la Putin, be some kind of President for life. Happiness forever.

This split may not go down with a number of young people in the East. They can, however, follow newspaper editor Horace Greeley's advice: "Go West, young man." and move. The West speaks actual Ukrainian rather than Russian, and even is sticking a linguistic toe into English. An agreement with the E.U. would suit many just fine, and while there is some distance to go, the best way to learn how democracy works is to practice it.

Worth a try, anyway.

Oh, and while we're about it, let Yulia out of prison. If Viktor is happily reigning in the East, he, like Rhett Butler, frankly wouldn't give a damn.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Runaways, Or A Brief Look At Premier Wynne and (ex) Premier McGuinty.

I don't watch a great deal of television, but one program caught my eye, a scientific exploration of electronic entanglement and Bell's Theorem, dealing with what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance". In another post, I might get into just what that's all about, but for this week's topic, I was quite taken with one of the commercials.

The advertisement shows the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, clad in jogging gear and running, running, running in the countryside, the message being to show she is fit and able.  Then something else struck me. I could barely make out, towards the edge of the screen, the leading edge of a horde of enraged Ontario taxpayers, pitchforks and torches in hand, in hot pursuit.

Now the ad made sense.

Yet Kathleen's running was not the whole story. The ghastly deficit position of Ontario was partly her fault -- she signed off on stuff she shouldn't have -- but it was her superior at the time, Dalton McGuinty, who must shoulder most of the blame. This did not come about because he was evil or unscrupulous, but rather that he had put his faith in those who (and I am being kind here) didn't repay that faith with sound projects and good policy.*

McGuinty in this context is an almost too perfect example of W. H. Auden's The Average Man. There the subject of the poem, raised to be a Number One, finds himself in the following position:

So here he was without maps or supplies
A hundred miles from any decent town;
The desert glared into his blood-shot eyes;

The silence roared displeasure: looking down,
He saw the shadow of an Average Man
Attempting the exceptional, and ran.

And run he did.


* Here one thinks of the e-Health fiasco, the Ornge helicopter fraud, and the horrific expenses incurred in the gas plant removal in order to retain Liberal seats. Costs to taxpayers have amounted to some billion and a half dollars. No wonder there's so much running away. Poor Ontario.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Getting And Spending

In the poem The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth wrote the following: "Getting and spending we lay waste our powers." This thought was very much in my mind as I accompanied my daughter Isolde on a rather arcane shopping expedition.

Now as attentive readers will remember (and which of you are not attentive) Isolde is a world ranked violinist of whom I am very proud. What she was shopping for was the sheet music for the first violin in Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor. This involved visiting a number of music stores in the city.  I never realized there were so many, albeit often squirrelled away in little cul de sacs and alleyways.

At each shop Isolde would inquire if the music were available. In the first three visited, it was not, but success was achieved in the fourth store visited, the dingiest of the bunch. All this took some time, for the proprietors were all knowledgeable where classical music was concerned, and at each stop Isolde delighted in conversing with them. This gave me plenty of time for reflection.

It was towards the end of November when this small expedition occurred, and a Christmas commercial push was everywhere to be seen. I thought this was way too early to be aiming to profit from a date a month away.

After all, the Winter solstice, the underlying reason for all the hoopla and rejoicing, doesn't occur until December 21. For much of our history, at least in Northern climes,  this was the time when the sun's light had reached its shortest light exposure. From this point, the light from the sun would increase, and continue to do so until June 21.

But you knew all that. Certainly the Church Fathers knew it*, and it was a stroke of genius to piggyback a major Christian event -- the birth of Christ -- at the time of the solstice.

All of which is to say that there is something very, very wrong in scheduling all this Christmas getting and spending so early. The motive, of course, is commercial success. The irony here is that the person's birth being celebrated, when an adult, took the time to throw moneychangers out of the temple in which they were involved in just such commercial success.

All somewhat sad, but I took heart from lines from another poem, a bit more recent than Wordsworth's, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Who Stole Christmas : "Maybe Christmas. he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas. he thought, means a little bit more".

And there I will leave it.


* There were, at least after the first Council of Nicea, no Church Mothers. Jerome and Augustine saw to that. The two saints, however, had much less success against the Virgin Mary. Even they couldn't win them all. -- LSS.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Investgative Reporting: Then and Now

There was a time when public media took the time to bore deeply into an issue, leaving its readers and listeners well informed in whatever topic was being explored. Should there have been any chicanery involved, it too saw the light of day. That time has, sadly, passed.

Before proceeding further, however, I want to make a distinction between what I would term 'investigative reporting' and 'cursory reporting'. The former resulted in such things as Pulitzer Prizes; the latter, with its focus on 'personalities' often resulted in wider circulation or a greater audience along with a concomitant financial benefit to the owners of said media. Guess which of these two has grown and prospered?

Thus we see no more of such writing as Daniel Ellsberg did his treatment of The Pentagon Papers or the work of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward and their in-depth approach to the whole Watergate fiasco. Facts were researched, sources confirmed* and a logical approach prevailed.

Currently, however, cursory reporting is now front and centre, and we are the poorer for it. The role of the Canadian Senate, its history and mandate, is spurned in order to vilify the Mac Harbs and Mike Duffys of the world. (There are other senators involved, but you get my point.) And in Toronto, it is Rob Ford, not the role of the Toronto City Council, that receives all the attention.

Now admittedly Mayor Ford is a gigantic train wreck and desperately needs help, something only a few of his fellow councillors have stressed. And if there were nothing else in Ontario of importance, then the media might be excused for its tunnel vision regarding all things Ford.

That is far from being the case.

The state of finances in Ontario border on the frightening, largely due to the ghastly policies of the provincial Liberal party. This aspect should be receiving far greater attention than it has from the media, particularly when incompetence coupled with political greed (the gas plant move to save two Liberal ridings) has cost roughly one billion taxpayer dollars. I wonder what Ellsberg, Bernstein or Woodward would make of this horrific boondoggle?

 Our media today, however, is Rob Ford ALL THE TIME.

And Mayor Ford has not cost Toronto taxpayers one red cent.

Bah. Humbug.


*Admittedly, 'Deep Throat" was a rather murky source. But as Bernstein and Woodward once put it, "Needs must".

Friday, November 15, 2013

TV Or Not TV. That Is The Question.

A day late with this, and it's all Matilda Hatt's fault. My friend and colleague from The Trade dropped in unexpectedly, and we lost track of time as we reminisced about our past adventures while (strange, this) watching TV. 

Of late, I have been revising my opinion on television, although I am aware of the fact that the word is half Greek and Half Latin, and hence it would be unlikely that any good would come of it. But, as Tilly pointed out, there are glimmers of things actually worth watching. Her posting to England has introduced her to British television and such things as a show on midwives (never going to happen in America, given that country's insane health care policy, Obamacare notwithstanding), the fast-paced Graham Norton show (Leno and company would be left in the dust) and of course, Downton Abbey.

I admitted her point, but I had also done a bit of reversal from my earlier regard of television as hopeless and an insult to anyone of intelligence. While North America really couldn't stay on a par with Britain in terms of the medium, nevertheless we were making strides.

These strides come about through  cable or satellite "specialty channels", the most prominent in my opinion being HBO. Here one can experience such interesting offerings as "Mad Men", Boardwalk Empire", "True Blood" and the completely over the top "Game of Thrones." This is about as far from 'reality TV' as you can get, a very welcome thing.

And there are other such channels. One is the Christian Network (CTS) and it surprisingly carries repeats of 'The West Wing", a show that illustrates what the United States could accomplish if under the guidance of a competent President. That, however, is about as far as that network will go. Well, you would hardly expect a Christian-supported network to broadcast "The Borgias", would you?

So, in a world containing 3D movies, computers, the Internet, video games, I-pods and goodness knows what else, TV continues to play its corner, and doing it a bit better than in the past.

And put together, all of the above almost equal a fibre-based CD ROM; that is, a book.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Going To School On Scandals

Apologies to playwright Richard Sheridan for the title of this week's missive, but my intent here is to rank in order of cost to taxpayers the plethora of scandals that seem to have erupted in Canada. Mind you, Canada is not unique in this regard -- think of the current Tea Party legislative gridlock in the U.S., the LIBOR mess in the U.K., or any and all political activity in Italy -- but the Canadian stuff is, given its rather staid and somewhat boring history, rather unusual.*

Number 1. In terms of taxpayer cost, according to government audits, such costs are in the neighbourhood of one billion dollars plus and the winner (if that is not too awkward a term) is undoubtedly the provincial Liberal Party of Ontario. Cancelling gas plant construction and paying a staggering penalty will do that. Add in incredible incompetence involving medical helicopter acquisition and the botching of an electronic health system, well, as former Leaf owner Harold Ballard once put it, "a million here, a million there, and pretty soon the money adds up."

Unbelievably, this government is still in power, with legal actions pursued against -- no one.

Number 2. A close second would be the City of Montreal, where organized crime has raked off a high percentage of public construction money. The current enquiry into all this estimates that several million dollar somehow found their way into various pockets, with the favoured method of transportation being brown paper bags.

Montreal is now on its third Mayor within the year.

Number 3. Step forward the Canadian Senate. Various transgressions of Senators, particularly Patrick Brazeau, Mac Harb, Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy, have cost taxpayers some $300.000, although at the time of this writing, the audit on the matter is still under way.

Number 4. Toronto's Mayor, the rotund Rob Ford, has been accused of a multitude of sins, from not understanding the right of the press to invade his personal privacy to being rude and short of temper. Charges of alcoholism have surfaced, and Ford himself has confessed to taking crack cocaine. It is becoming more and more apparent that the man should step down, not just for Toronto's sake, but for his own.

The Number 4 ranking is given, however, because Ford is a fiscal conservative, has a deep regard for the taxpayer, has saved Toronto several million dollars, and has cost taxpayers not a red cent.

Things are rarely black and white.


* The good Lady is in my opinion overly dismissive of Canadian history and its tendency to boredom. The life of Louis Riel is drama incarnate (Harry Somers wrote an opera on the man, for goodness sakes!) the true story of Adam Dollard as researched by Donald Creighton is gripping, and then there is that Canadian take on Romeo and Juliet involving Pierre Sevigny and Gerda Munsinger.
Enough said.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Political Conversation

Of late, a term has come into use that is irritating in the extreme, or at least irritating to me.

Herewith my gripe.

From time to time (actually not often enough) politicians are confronted with the results of a bad decision, or were queried on why nothing has been done to resolve a long-standing issue. In the past, you always had a chance of obtaining an answer or being presented with a possible course of action.

Not so today. Now we get a response that the politician is engaging in a "conversation" about the issue, or intends to have such a "conversation" on the topic. With whom that "conversation is" to be held is vague, but in the mind of the politician, the response appears serious and action-oriented, and they to a man (or woman) are ecstatic about stumbling upon such a weasel word.

To my way of thinking, based on Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, this response is both misleading and immoral. Misleading because it suggests indefinite future action , and immoral because it takes an honest request for information and betrays that request.
After all, what really is a conversation? At its simplest, it is an exchange of views on a topic. For our purposes it matters not a whit what that topic is, be it on mosaic tiles, sycamore trees, rogue seals or whatever. The heart of the matter is the exchange of information.

What, pray tell, is being exchanged when a politician responds to a request or clarification on an issue, and offers the reply that "We are shortly going to have a conversation about that."

What on earth does that mean? I certainly do not know, but I am certain that  a specific answer to the query or clarification request is highly unlikely to emerge from "the conversation".

Aristotle, who held politicians in high regard, would be appalled.

Time, then, for readers to engage in their own conversations on this issue. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ill Chosen Words

I have returned from France, where I enjoyed myself immensely, aided and abetted by the Compte de Rienville and Parisian haute cuisine.*  I wanted to "stay in the mood" as it were, and thus for this week's post will avoid getting enmeshed in the trials and tribulations that afflict countries at the present. Rather, I should like to draw to the reader's attention some words and phrases that really should never have employed in the manner that they presently exist.

Here are three examples.

Blimp. This word is particularly ill-suited to its purpose. Think about it. It hits one's ears as "be limp", thus urging a state of collapse and not what you want in your mind if you are hundreds of metres above the ground. In this interpretation it also has unfortunate sexual connotations -- but enough said. A better choice: dirigible.

Fracking. Environmentalists have a field day with this term, and justly so. Now in this post I am not here to get into the pros and cons of fracking, but to lament the easy attack avenue offered by the term. I have often seen in publications damning the process the phrase "fracking the earth" as if the earth was some helpless damsel in distress, and in danger of losing her virtue.

There may be a case to be made here, but the term makes it too easy to attack. A better choice: Horizontal retrieval.

Idle No More. This phrase, used by Canada's First Nations to drum up support for their cause, borders on the silly. If you look at it in terms of semantics, it avers that the First Nations tribes were once idle, but now are not.  Is this the image First Nations wish to project?  Have Tecumseh and Joseph Brant been forgotten?

That's the trouble with not thinking these things through. So former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, who had no use for the term "housewife" because it implies a wife (or wives) somewhere else.
In the case of the First Nations, a better choice would be Dependent No More.

Of course, using language with skill and ability is difficult, and one can easily get carried away into nonsense. Here is the 18th Century Irish legislator Sir Boyle Roche commenting on things to come: "All along the untrodden paths of the future I can see the footprints of an unseen hand."

I rest my case.


* I offered the good Lady the observation that haute cuisine could also mean eating a meal on the moon. She threw Jamie Oliver's latest book at me. -- Ed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Throne Speech: A Bridge Too Far?

Historically, the Speech From The Throne in a parliamentary democracy is an outline of what the government of the day intends to enact during its legislative term. There is a fair amount of pomp and pageantry connected with this event, including a formal parade of MP's entering the Senate Chamber* led by the Black Rod (Google the term) with the Prime Minister and Governor General (representing the Queen) close behind.

The substance of the Speech is invariably vague, and specific details of the proposals and their budgetary implications follow at a later date. If ever. Thus there is much spoken about how fiscally responsible the government is, how the deficit will be curtailed, how all classes of society will benefit, and, this being a Conservative government, how the Middle Class will receive specific attention in terms of supporting policies.

All lovely. All non-specific and fuzzy.

With one exception.

But first, a small digression. In the British TV program "Yes, Minister" whenever Minister Hackett would propose something real, needed and comprehensible, his Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, would look at him warily and state, "Oh, that's bold, Minister. Bold!"

This reaction would worry Hackett, and shortly after, following some brilliant dialogue,  the initiative would be scrapped.

Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has had a similar "bold" moment, with no Sir Humphrey in sight to warn him.

The issue? Allowing the electorate to pick and choose and pay for only the TV channels they wish. This is instantly understood by the electorate -- we are not talking here of the role of long term debentures as a debt reducing strategy -- and, only one day after the speech, I have it on good authority that cable and satellite companies are already being swamped by clients with their selections already in hand, and happily totting up the cost savings.

What the PM didn't stress was the length of time this would take. The channel providers will fight this initiative as hard as they can -- dollars are at stake, as well as (you can be sure) immense "technical difficulties" in bringing this about.

With no Sir Humphrey around to help in dealing with the outcry as the electorate realizes that such channel selection will be very slow or not coming about at all, the PM will have no course but to hurl the whole mess into the lap of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission. The CRTC will then takes it usual glacial time in examining this, funding a number of 'exploratory studies on the importance of Canadian content' done by the likes of Maud Barlow or David Suzuki, and then holding a number of hearings on the issue (at various plush hotels).

Thus when this comes about (more likely if) we are probably talking somewhere around 2019 or 2020. If we're lucky.

And while the electorate will forgive a lot, on this issue they won't.

Mind you, if the PM has staked his career on this, and the channel providers are being hopelessly intransigent, there is always the War Measures Act..... 


*It is remotely conceivable that this Chamber will not be in existence for any future Speech From The Throne. One can but hope -- L.S.S.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Good Things Do Not Grow, In Ontario

To Paris, and then to the chateau of the Compte de Rienville for a sorely needed change of venue.  Ontario at this point in time is a rather grim place, what with a totally incompetent government (Liberals) in charge, a fiscal deficit that mounts daily, and an opposition that refuses to bring the government down (NDP) or is saddled with an unelectable leader (Conservatives).

Moreover, I find it incredible that the media appear far more concerned with the peccadilloes of  Toronto's Mayor, Rob Ford, and devote much less attention to the follies of the provincial government. The latest folly: a gas plant removal project costing Ontario taxpayers over ONE BILLION DOLLARS.

On the other hand, Mayor Ford has saved Toronto taxpayers a swatch of money by sound budgeting and the elimination of a slew of unnecessary expenses done under the rubric of "We the Council know what's best for you." This is social engineering at its worst, and I, for one, am glad to see its demise.

You can see, then, why I was glad to remove myself from all this sturm und drang and settle nicely into the arms of -- well, we won't go there.

After some needed... er... recreation, the Compte opined on all my concerns, stating that much of the mess in the world today can be traced to being enslaved by ideology.

"For instance," he said, "in your Ontario case, the ideology would be that of hanging on to power at whatever the cost. Wasn't there some by-election stuff involved?"

"There was,' I replied "and a billion dollars seems a bit pricey for two seats."

"Not if you have forsworn your integrity for an ideology that sees staying in office as not only an important thing, but the only thing."

But I had enough of doom and gloom, and left to put on a certain outfit I knew the Compte liked. After all, I was not going to let the side down as we entered the Tour d'Argent. I was even preparing a toast to its possible founder, Henri IV. Thus my ideology: Without harming others, get as much happiness as you can.

Works for me.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Two Oddities

In reviewing the past week, a week that was certainly not (as John Cameron Swazye would have put it) "filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times," two rather odd things stood out.

1) The first involves the government of the United States of America. Or rather, the non-government, I find it truly amazing that Washington D.C. has become a synonym for a children's playground. with a game of "I'm the king of the castle" in full swing. Normally, this might produce a gigantic yawn and a tired, "So what". Unfortunately, this game has brought aspects of the federal government to a screeching halt because Congress appears unable to pass a day-to-day operating budget.

Of course, it takes two to tango, and thus we have the Republicans willing to pass said budget if only the Democrats and President Obama remove his already passed health care bill. As a sop, the Republicans said that implantation of the bill should be postponed for a year. The Democrats (at least most of them) refused, leading to the present gridlock.

Salaries and benefits of a slew of federal workers have come to a stop, and certain federal areas such as the National Parks, the Smithsonian, and various museums have ceased to function, I also bring to your attention the fact that the salaries and benefits of the senators and congressional representatives continue, as swell their continued enrolment in what really is a gold-plated health care plan. Of course, they are the nation's 'leaders' and hence above all such strictures.

An odd situation indeed.

2) In a more light-hearted vein, I turn to the second oddity. At present, THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS ARE IN FIRST PLACE IN THE ENTIRE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE, EASTERN AND WESTERN DIVISIONS! This would seem to bode well for a Stanley Cup in 2014.*

Now, as Samuel Pepys would write in is Diary, "And so to bed."


* Or not. The Leafs have only played two games, the most of any of the other clubs, and there are 80 yet to be played. Still, the optimism of the Lady is heartening, -- Ed.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Whither Thou Goest

Something I don't usually do is go to cocktail parties, but the hostess once had done me a huge favour in terms of providing a safe harbour for a yacht that the KGB was searching for (and enough said about that) therefore I agreed to attend.

What irritates me about such events is the fact that the "mingle" aspect works against any lengthy, meaningful conversation. I find it upsetting that just as you are learning something interesting (the odd life cycle of the duck-billed platypus)  or delving into a complex subject (the impossibility of political truth) the hostess, alarmed at the animated conversation, suddenly appears, saying "Oh Simone, you must meet this friend of mine, a philosopher. He's discovered a new order of things!"

I succumbed, and quickly discerned that what this individual had 'discovered' in terms of a new order of things was, in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, "not new, and not order."

I withdrew as quickly as I could, and began edging towards the exit. I had almost made it when the hostess again intervened, introducing me to an immigration specialist and devout Christian (odd little combination) who was all hot and bothered about three individuals who were seeking Canadian citizenship, but were refusing to give the required oath of allegiance to the Queen. A provincial appeals judge had denied their request, indicating that the oath was mandatory and constitutionally overrode the Charter of Rights in this instance.

"Ridiculous," she said. "Simply ridiculous. Not a Christian thing to do."

"I replied, "I couldn't agree more. Sounds like the judge has done his or her homework, although I'm surprised that the three had not been advised of this before. I wonder to what country they have gone?"

"What on earth do you mean? They are still here, and hope to lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court."

"But why would they do that?" I asked, although I was beginning to suspect that I was hurling a broken lance into the fray."Canada is a monarchy, and the three have every right to say that saying the oath is a deal breaker, and they will seek a more accommodating country. I would. Wouldn't you?"

"That's not the point --"

"Oh, but it very much is. I mean, if I choose to emigrate to a country, I will expect to adapt to that country's customs and laws, if for no other reason. Now you as a practicing Christian, I'm sure you recall Ruth 1:16.

The woman hesitated, and then said "Something about going somewhere.....I can't recall specifically."

"Specifically" I continued, the verse goes as follows: "And Ruth said, 'Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.' I doubt that Ruth would have objected to taking the oath. Good example of Christian womanhood, wouldn't you say?"

But she had fled.

Friday, September 20, 2013

What If Putin Is Right?

A bit late this week, but I have been wrestling with a rather thorny issue, to wit: Is Vladimir Putin correct when he states that Bashar al-Assad did not use Sarin gas against those rebelling against his regime? If so, a great number of states are going to be in a very awkward position, a position akin to suddenly finding a tarantula on a wedding cake. The United States in particular would be embarrassed.

What set me down this path was a communication from a Middle Eastern source who has proved reliable in the past. She had discovered (never mind how) that there was a great deal of confusion about the gas attack. As the United Nations Report has indicated, it is beyond doubt that Sarin gas was used, and that it was in its ghastly way very effective. No one disputes this finding.

But there is an elephant in the room that is becoming more and more visible. In short, the 'why' of the matter is confusing, and this leads to some puzzles with respect to the 'how' of the matter.
It is truly unfortunate that the U.N. Report is vague on these issues.

Let me explain.

In any analysis of a situation, one key question should drive the exploration -- Who benefits? In this case, certainly not Assad, for by using Sarin gas in this manner he brings down much of the world's wrath upon his head. And had there been a different U.S. President, who meant what he said when a "red line" was crossed, a bombing campaign by now would be well under way. * No, the true beneficiaries would be the rebels.

But the rebels are fighting FOR the people of Syria, and would be loath to take up arms against those who were, in every sense of the term, defenceless. If not the rebels, then who? Who could possibly in such a terrible way attack such as these?

Well, recent events, not the least of which was the destruction of New York's twin towers. indicate that there is a group that wouldn't bat an eye at harming innocents -- the sub-humans that comprise Al-Qaeda and its horrific offshoots. And my source indicates that the Syrian rebels have been thoroughly infiltrated by Al-Qaeda fanatics.

And the benefit? To ensure that Assad feels the full brunt of U.S. military might.

As to the 'how' of the matter, my source has come across a not entirely redacted section of a U.N. e-mail where only the word 'Molotov" can be discerned. She suspects that the term refers to Molotov cocktails and suggests that this was the means by which the Sarin gas was released And, interesting this, the U.N. found no evidence of the type of canisters that could have been dropped by aircraft.

All this is, of course, speculation, and food for thought. If proved wrong, though, Putin will come off as an untrustworthy clown. He would know this, and I would doubt he would risk being so laughed off the stage. No Pagliacci he, and this commedia is far from finita.


* Teddy Roosevelt would not have hesitated an instant. Given the substance of this post, Barack Obama may have done precisely the right thing. -- L.S.S.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From Russia With Love

My esteemed colleague from the old KGB, Svetlana Marinskaya, was in town, and asked me if she could stay at the Manor for one or two days.

I was glad to accommodate her -- the Compte was stuck in Paris fretting over the Syria debacle -- and I was, well, somewhat out of sorts. I did inquire if she was in a spot of trouble.

"You could say that," she admitted. "Hotels would be out of the question, but the security of your Manor -- "

"Quite. Do come ahead."

Shortly afterwards, Svetlana was ensconced in my study, content with a serious vodka martini, and full of a rather amazing story. Apparently Vladimir Putin has just written an op-ed piece for the New York Times that has caused quite a stir. It stresses his ability as a "peacemaker" in contrast to the "warmongering" of the U.S.A. He even cites Bashar al-Assad's agreement to turn over to Russia any chemical weapons left over from previous regimes, and thanks Putin for his assistance in ending the crisis in Syria.

"That's sheer rubbish." I stated. "And as I recall Putin's written for The Times before, in 1999 I think*, defending his decision to send soldiers into Chechnya."

"True", said Svetlana," but there's more."

"Thought there might be. Probably why you want a few days at the Manor. Off the grid, as it were. Anyway, continue."

"Well, you remember Gregor Kronski?"

"Best forger you lot have. Probably still beavering away at something."

Svetlana gave me a look bordering on smugness. "You'll never guess what he's working on now."


"A birth certificate for Putin. Shows he was born in North Dakota, someplace called Fargo. And along with that I discovered the rudiments of a plan to approach various groups instrumental in the American electoral process."

"What groups?" I asked.

"Oh, the list is an interesting one. There is  the Tea Party, various prominent Republicans, the N.R.A., certain financial interests -- it goes on."

I was flabbergasted. "You don't really believe that he's aiming to run in the 2016 election, do you?"

"When certain Party officials discovered that I had found these lists, I had to run away very fast. My action was taken very seriously, and it's why I'm glad to be here."

"I leaned forward, patted her knee. "This will all die down fairly quickly my good friend. Not to worry. You've forgotten that while Putin likes the limelight, he hates the drudgery of work. In fact, it was you who told me of Putin's favourite quote from Ronald Reagan.

"I've forgotten, What quote?"

"Reagan said, 'It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?' You can rest assured that Putin won't take that chance either."

At least I don't think he will.


* The Lady is correct. -- Ed.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Inching Towards Optimism

I should not have done it, of course. While doing some research on a possible attack by radioactive nematodes for Sir Harry, I stumbled across these lines from Yeats (The name of the poem escapes me.) *

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

Thinking about these lines so depressed me that I needed some succour, some cheering up. So off I went to the convent I support run by The Little Sisters Of Poverty And Pain. The nuns are atheistic to the core, but insist on doing good works; the good sisters also realize that those who "believe" receive great comfort from that belief,  and see no point in challenging that position.**

I met with Sister Aleda, the Mother superior of the Order. I got right to the point, reading the lines to her and indicating that Yeats had described the modern geopolitical situation perfectly, and, from that point of view, things looked totally hopeless.

"Yes," said Mother Superior.

" Not really a comforting reply," I answered.

"But" the good Mother continued, "that's just one point of view. There are others,"

"Perhaps," I said. "Yet it is difficult, or at least I find it difficult, to ignore the truth of the best lacking all conviction, and the worst being full of passionate intensity. Describes perfectly how democratic leaders do lack conviction, and Islamic jihadists are certainly full of passionate intensity."

"Not much you can do about that."

Mother Superior was beginning to irritate me. "You are not exactly offering heartfelt comfort."

"Then let's take another point of view, one that is more in your control."

"What do you mean?"

She went on to explain that actions that were under our control were the ones that really mattered, even if only a small circle of people were affected. And she asked me to think deeply on Margaret Mead's words, 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Now THAT helped, and I left in a much better frame of mind, even thinking about ways to prevent what Yeats saw as an inevitable conclusion:

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born."

Food for thought indeed.


* Didn't escape me. The title is The Second Coming, -- Ed.

** Until recently, the Vatican has attempted through various ways and means to shut the convent down. None worked, Now, however, things are different, The new Pope, Francis I, is much more liberal than his predecessor, and, amazingly, has a good sense of humour. He wrote to me personally on the matter of the convent, making the point that my and the nuns' atheism were akin to facing away from the Heavenly Gates, while at the same time our good works were backing us in to the Holy Edifice. Charming -- the man will go far. -- L.S.S.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Syrian Conundrum and Britain

It was, I believe,  Napoleon who stated, "Never interrupt the enemy when he's making a mistake." I found this useful to keep in mind when assessing the ghastly situation in Syria.

That chemical weapons came into play is almost certain. Less certain, but not by much, is just who employed them, with a wide consensus pointing to the regime of Bashar al- Assad. The United States had indicated publicly that if this were the case, they would take action. Britain also indicated as much, to the chagrin of Russia, who supports Assad. (More on that later).

Canada has wisely stayed out of the whole mess, save for the provision of humanitarian aid.

A recent vote in the British House of Commons, however, went against the Prime Minister, David Cameron when it came to going to war with Syria. Shock all round. How could this happen? How could Cameron be seen letting his friend President Barack Obama, down in such a manner?

Well, in fact, he didn't. The MP's in the House of Commons did, something last seen in 1782*.  Looking at this result, and knowing full well that Cameron was not born yesterday, I suspect that this was an "engineered" vote. It makes little sense to lob a few missiles into Syria, and the downside in the Arab world would be considerable. I mean, trading priorities might even be affected.

A second factor, one that Russia has taken to its bearish heart, is that Muslims are killing Muslims. Putin, who would certainly know of Napoleon's dictum, is no doubt delighted, given the nasty situation Russia faces in Chechnya and the North Caucuses. Surely Cameron wouldn't be so ruthless as to stay out of Syria on purpose? Only a politician would ......but wait, he is a politician.

Barack Obama is, or was, a "community organizer" so will probably surge ahead and in some fashion  'organize" the Syrian community.

Good luck with that.

* In that year Parliament voted against continuing the war with the United States. ---Ed.                

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Close, But No Cigar

Egypt has been around for some 4000 years, and has had its share of ups and downs. The latest up and down occurred recently, and has been painful to watch.

Long-term misgovernance by privileged elites finally came under close scrutiny by citizens, aided and abetted by ubiquitous social media. This not only affected Egypt, but also Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere. Our focus here, however, remains on Egypt.

A not so spontaneous gathering in the main area of Cairo, Tahir Square, caught the world's attention. One thing led to another -- a full description of events would really require a large book -- and the leader, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted, and sent to jail. His possessing some $70 billion didn't help his cause with Egyptians, about 40% of whom live on less than two dollars a day.

An election followed, and Muhammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected with some 52% of the vote. He had promised to be inclusive, and to appoint representatives from all aspects of Egyptian society to government positions, be those representatives Coptic Christians, the army, other Muslim sects, and secularists. In effect, he appeared to recognize that it was important to acknowledge the importance of those in the 48% who had not voted for him.

All of Egypt held their breath.

Alas, it was not to be. As the title of this piece states, "Close, but no cigar."

Morsi drew exclusively from his colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood to fill government positions, and packed a constitutional committee with Islamists. He stood by while hatred between Christians and Muslims grew, and more and more seems to have morphed into something little different than the previous dictator. The only difference, perhaps, was Morsi more and more emphasizing a fundamentalist Islam.

Morsi, however, had miscalculated -- the army was having none of this -- and Morsi found himself arrested. Egypt (once again) erupted in protest, and all that can be said at this point is that Egyptians came close to achieving the original aims first proclaimed in Tahir Square. But we are not playing horseshoes here -- close doesn't count.

More appropriately, close doesn't count when tossing a hand grenade either. But it can be dangerous.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Beauty and the Beast

Some readers have let me know that references to my friends and colleagues have disappeared. There is some truth in this. Being ill has a tendency to focus on the inward rather than the outer, and demands full attention. Gradually, however, things right themselves, and the outer becomes a reality again.

Thus it is that my colleague in The Trade, Matilda Hatt, got my attention by sending me some material gleaned from that beacon of shining democracy, Iran. I have taken Tilly's material and re-organized it under the following headings.

The Beauty: Nina Siakhali Moradi

The Beast: The Iranian Council of Qazvin

The Issue: In a recent election for the Council in charge of the town of Qazvin, Ms Moradi was successful in winning a seat. This horrified the elders of the town, and her election was annulled on the grounds -- wait for it -- that she was "too pretty." (I am not making this up). The deciding body here was the Election Review Council, and they determined that Ms Moradi's appearance, even if well hijabbed, would be too distracting for her fellow, male Council members.

It is interesting to note that Ms Moradi was elected with a plurality of some 10,000 votes, streets ahead of anyone else. Hence those votes must have come, not just from eager female supporters, but a slew of others, including a goodly portion of males.
This aspect gives some hope for an Iranian future not controlled by theocrats yearning for the return of the Ninth Century.

Also interesting is the fact that the Review Council has in the past indicated that in all cases, Allah's strictures are followed. Yet, as Tilly went some length to find out, it was this very Council that permitted Ms Moradi to run for election in the first place, the prevailing thinking being that she didn't stand a chance. This apparently was the will of Allah, who of course is infallible, and to date Tilly, nor anyone else, has learned how the Council will square this particular circle. Good luck with that, Council.

My Response to the Council: I have had Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn translated into Farsi, and, with some help from the inestimable Miss Hatt, sent it to the Council members (as well as Ms Moradi, along with some words to her of commendation and encouragement). I have drawn the Council's attention to the last lines of the Ode, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

I am sure that the Council will appreciate the gesture.

Friday, August 9, 2013


History would appear to be repeating itself. In the old Soviet Union, projects were undertaken that altered the course of rivers, built dams wherever possible, created cities perched uneasily on permafrost, and poured tons and tons of concrete here, there and everywhere. Cost was never a problem. This manner of thinking is much in evidence at Sochi, the proposed site for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games hosted by Russia.

Sochi itself is problematic, and one wonders what Vladimir Putin was thinking -- or smoking -- when he put the site forward. It has a sub-tropical climate and according to my research, is one of the few places in Russia where snow is scarce. The ground was once swampy and infested with malarial mosquitoes, although these nasty creatures seem to have disappeared. But you never really know.

Moreover, it is not often that the temperature falls below zero, and the lower slopes of the Caucasus Mountains do not guarantee snow. The organisers therefore have stored snow from the previous winter.

A final note of caution. Sochi is close to the north Caucasus, predominately settled by Muslims and who are immersed in a vicious conflict with Russia. According to Caucasian Knot, a monitoring organization, last year Russia lost 296 soldiers, as many as America lost in Afghanistan in the same period of time. To crazed jihadists, the opportunities for mayhem must be salivating.

And the cost? The Economist* estimated these at $50 billion U.S. -- the most expensive games in history. All of the funds come from the public purse or state-owned banks. As for corruption, well, in Russia corruption is not a side effect but simply the way business is done. Where workers are concerned, $500 per month is usual with no contracts, safety training or insurance. Wages at times are delayed, and sometimes not paid at all.

Needless to say, the work is sub-standard, and one hopes that Olympic officials alert athletes to watch their step. ALL THE TIME.

Finally, the issue of gay rights has surfaced. Russia's Parliament, or Duma, given a nod by Putin, has made being gay a criminal offence. This enables Russian police, throwing aside any pretext of servicing or protecting, to arrest, detain and deport any foreigners who "propagandize".

As Bill Maher has noted in his recent Real Time television show. "Well, there goes Olympic figure skating."

Has Putin lost it Big Time? Just asking.

* The Economist, July 13,2013, p. 45

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Notes On Votes

While recuperating from my recent bout with Cholangitis, I stayed with a close friend who lived near the hospital where I was being treated. (Can't be too careful about these things).

Now it so happened that part of the city was enduring a by-election and hence was subject to candidates coming to the front door, and explaining why their candidate deserved my vote. Being from another riding, I had no vote in that particular jurisdiction, and my friend stated that there was no reason for me to respond to the request to learn all about the candidate's proposals for re-election.

I said that this was not a problem, and, were a candidate to hove into view, I would gladly illustrate what I meant.

Shortly after, this occurred.

We invited the candidate in, a somewhat breathless young woman afflicted with Purpose. She shook our hands, and gave us both a flyer outlining all good things that would come to be were she to be elected. I studied the pamphlet for a moment, then asked, "Where is it? I can't seem to find it."

"Where is what?" the woman said.

I replied,"The programs you have to cut, in order to accomplish the objectives stated in the flyer. We are already in a deficit position, taxes are at an all-time high, and therefore spending cuts to certain programs must occur. I have looked at your information to see what programs would be affected, and they don't appear to be here."

She stared at me a moment, then, realizing that this was a classic Lost Cause, took her leave.

"You see," I said to my friend, "the minute you draw on Reality, the whole political edifice crumbles, and the candidates go away."

"Unless you're Rob Ford," she countered.

"Unless you're Rob Ford. Pity he's not with the Federal Government dealing with the First Nations. Chief Redman Hood of the Standing Buffalo First Nation, to be specific. If ever a program should be cut, it would be this one. The Chief has refused to give up his office and his $194,737 tax-free salary as infuriated and impoverished band members try to impeach him. If you look further," I continued, "he makes the equivalent of $317,583 for someone living off-reserve and paying taxes. By comparison, Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan was paid $158,566 and Prime Minister Harper earned $315,462. Not bad for the Chief, considering Standing Buffalo has only 443 residents living there."

"Now that's a gravy train,"my friend observed.


Friday, July 26, 2013

And So She Returned......

My apologies to readers for the recent hiatus -- Cholangitis (Google it)  has that effect. Good physicians, and an astounding array of drugs, are helping. It really is amazing. In earlier times, my medicine cabinet contained one bottle of aspirin. Now I couldn't squeeze that bottle in on any of three shelfs.

There may, in fact, be too much of a reliance on drugs, and I am in sympathy with Sir Willam Osler's observation that "I would throw one-half of modern medicines out the window, except that would be bad for the birds."

But enough of personal angst -- there is enough of such angst extant in the world. As I caught up on what had transpired while I was in hospital, I was shaken by all the negatives that had surfaced: severe flooding in Alberta, ghastly train wrecks in Quebec and Spain, Egypt slowly coming apart, the ongoing hell that is Syria, and way too many crazed jihadists popping up all over. Was there anything of a more positive nature, something that would at least provide a sliver of Pandorean hope?

Then came the announcement of the birth of a child to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and the arrival of Prince George swept (briefly) all other negatives aside. Media coverage was a bit over the top, but so what. The world cannot continually reside in John Bunyan's Slough of Despond.*

Mind you, some try, and various articles quickly surfaced about the uselessness of monarchy, its cost, and its anti-democratic nature. And how dare that to become a Canadian citizen one must swear loyalty to the Queen?

What gets lost in this pathetic anti-monarch shuffle is the fact that among the countries that consistently lead UN and other international indicators of human development, at least 10 -- Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada -- are constitutional monarchies. Moreover, in the most recent UNDP** index, six of the top ten are such monarchies.

There are a host of other reasons to maintain the monarchy, not the least of which is ongoing stability, but this is a topic for another day. For now, I leave you with the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Good to be back.

*From Bunyan's Christian allegory, the novel Pilgrim's Progress --Ed.
**United Nations Development Programme --Ed.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Privacy Problems

It was, I believe, Marshall McLuhan who first coined the term "global village", although others attribute the term to Harold Innis. Regardless of the 'who', suffice it to say that the advent of modern media, particularly the internet, has given real meaning to the term.

Now  in such a village, where inhabitants are all known to each other, as are jobs and occupations, a certain lack of privacy prevails.  Indeed, such a lack can be looked upon as a very Good Thing, a kind of early warning system, if you will, with everyone dependent upon each other to help out in times of danger or distress.

It is also a very Bad Thing, for precisely the same reason. In Internet lingo, this goes under the wee acronym, 'tmi'. (Too much information).

It is this aspect that appears to be causing all manner of angst, hand-wringing, and flossing of teeth. You see, our electronic global village makes all manner of information readily available, even information that was previously "classified". Hackers are having a field day, and it begs the question, why on earth would you store such "classified" information in electronic form in the first place? All of which brings us to the curious case of, not Benjamin Buttons, but Edward Snowden.

According to the world's press, Mr. Snowden, a former American spy agency contractor, fled the United States and went to Hong Kong. He is accused of leaking details of U.S. surveillance programs. From Hong Kong, he then went to Russia, winding up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. Vladimir Putin, of course, knows nothing.*

The U.S. wants him back badly.

But maybe not. He did, somehow, manage to leave Hong Kong without a passport. Just you try doing that.

Moreover, Mr. Snowden is viewed in America in a very Manichean way -- he is either a hero, or a traitor that has committed treason. It's about a 50 / 50 proposition, something politicians hate. Regardless of what you do, 50 per cent will hold it against you.

And aside from the 'cause' crews such as the A.C.L.U. or the Republican Party, the American populace doesn't appear that worried about being surveilled. Way deep down they know that the government isn't that interested in eavesdropping on a conversation that has to do with creating a perfect peach cobbler, or arranging the car pool for the kids involved on the local soccer club. If the government really must listen in, go for it guys.

Perhaps we never really did have privacy, other than those private matters that we keep to ourselves. So Winston Churchill: "It is wonderful how all men can keep secrets they have not been told."


* I am waiting for the Toronto Star to feature an alleged video showing Mr. Snowden ensconced in Rob Ford's basement.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Of Adages and Common Sense.

A book that I keep by my bedside for intellectual comfort is a copy of Michel de Montaigne's Essays. The essays are well written, and deal with issues that are still with us today: war, political strife, religious nonsense and so on. Most of all, the essays are brimming with that most sought after quality -- common sense.

A good example of such common sense is the following: "Take a beam wide enough to walk along; suspend it between two towers; there is no philosophical wisdom, however firm, which could make us walk along it just as we would if we were on the ground."

Some have deemed Montaigne's observation here to be mundane,* but surely 'mundaneness'**  is central to common sense. After all, it is 'sense' that is 'common' to us all.

Of course, this doesn't make it necessarily correct. Common sense, in terms of geography, dictates that the world is flat. It is, however, a worthwhile starting point, in that it describes a point of view that most can agree upon. To go further, we enter the world of the adage.

An example, from the Chinese: "In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly." The common sense element here is the fact that turkeys cannot fly; the extension of thought into adage posits that if conditions alter, the 'cannot' becomes a 'can'.

Let's do it again, using something a bit more complicated. Before the Arabs fell into the tyranny of religious dogma, they did some really sharp thinking. One example: "What comes from the lips reaches the ears. What comes from the heart reaches the heart." Common sense, to be sure, but making a further point -- unless both aspects are involved, we are in the realm of the meaningless. Certainly Shakespeare was aware of this dual aspect, albeit in a slightly different context, when he has Hamlet say, "My words fly up; my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to Heaven go."

This could go on and on, but I trust I have made my point. At least, in little.

Beyond adage, of course, lie the mother lodes of knowledge found in science, mathematics and philosophy (and Montaigne isn't bad here either). I must warn the reader, however, that philosophy can be tricky. This closing excerpt comes from the World Philosopher's Conference in Brighton, England:

"Any cat has one tail more than no cat. But no cat has two tails. So any cat, quite clearly, has three tails."

Q. E. D.

* Montaigne often mountaineered on the interface between the Catholicism and the classical world of letters. He had, then, his critics.

** I doubt that this is a word. --Ed.
     It is now. -- L.S.S.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Operatic Going-Ons In Egypt

On nightly news casts, Cairo has moved onto the stage, competing in street protest sessions with Turkey, and giving the horror story that is Syria a run for its money. It appears that the Muslim Brotherhood has underestimated the number of Egyptians, good Muslims all, who would simply like to have a normal secular life.

All this was drawn to my attention by a cousin in The Trade, who was attending a performance of Verdi's opera Aida at the Cairo Opera House. Except that the performance never occurred.

Now opera cogniscenti will know that Aida was commissioned by the Khedive of Egypt, one Isma'il Pasha. Verdi was happy to oblige (some 150,000 francs helped here) and it opened in Cairo in December, 1871.

It closed on May 29, 2013.

Cast and crew simply went on strike, an event captured in an interesting You Tube video. They were protesting a raft of firings of capable and respected people in the Egyptian artistic world, all ordered by a recently appointed new Minister of Culture. This august person had no expertise in arts or culture, but was well-regarded in theological matters by the Brotherhood.

All this recalls old Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan hatred of all things that might give pleasure to common folk. He was their 'Lord Protector', and his mission in life was to force a stringent morality down everyone's throats. Hence the saying, "Lord protect us from Lord Protectors."

At least Cromwell, however, allowed music to remain, even if confined to hymns and staid Christian chorales. Given the aims of the new Egyptian Minister of Culture, I suspect that in time music itself will come under the gun. So with the Taliban. So with Iran.

So stike on, cast and crew at the Cairo Opera House! I wish you well, and have shaved a bit off certain sugar beet profits and directed the monies to those on strike. Not an easy thing to do, but I have my ways.

Don't we all?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Constitution For The Ages

It has come to my attention that a number of jurisdictions are presently in the process of writing a new constitution for their particular populaces. I am nothing if not helpful, and hence put forward the following as a workable template to make their task an easier one.

First. There must be an impenetrable wall between church and state. If this is not possible, then stop writing right now. Your every effort will be in vain. You simply cannot have a government under the sway of an imaginary "friend", or, worse, under the sway of a person or group who believes that  "friend" speaks to them and them alone. Fantasy has no place in a constitution.

Second. Your constitution should promote and enhance gender equality. This may come as news to certain tribal elders, Al Qaeda members and the Taliban, but, sorry guys, women are people. Deal with it. Oh, and here is a good place to insert a rider emphasizing that "the state will have no place in the bedrooms of the nation".

Third. Be sure to stress the importance of a judicial Supreme Court that is completely independent of the political process. Canada and Australia offer good examples of this, with judges appointed mainly on merit. I would, however, avoid looking too closely at the United States. There, the political has been allowed to overtake the judicial, and Cicero's words from his De Legibus have been ignored: Salus populi suprema lex.*  Pity, that.

Fourth. Finally, think carefully about what governmental structure you wish to favour, whether a Parliament (as in the UK or Canada) or a Congessional separation of powers (as in the U.S.A.) It really has to be one or the other, although I have always favoured a benevolent dictatorship -- save for the problem (as yet unanswered) of how you keep the dictator benevolent.

All things considered, I would opt for Parliament, where a government can "fall" in a way not possible in a Congressional system. This is a Good Thing, as the late (and lamented) Christopher Hitchens has noted: "The government regards you as expendable, so all you have to do is to learn to think about them in the same way."

As for the American process, I will leave it to Mark Twain: "Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."

So there.

*For those who don't speak the Imperial Tongue: "The safety of the people is the highest law."

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Getting Serious About Syria

Much to my relief (on many fronts) the Compte de Rienville saw fit to pay a visit to the Manor. He was somewhat the worse for wear, having been stationed in Jordan, with a number of trips into Syria, and dodging any number of attempts to force him to shuffle off his mortal coil. Mind you, not THAT worse for wear; relief is what I asked for, and what I received. He really is a wonderful man.

Once necessary needs had been satisfied, and over an excellent dinner, complete with Dom Perignon, I brought him up to date with what had been occurring here, and he raised some mid-East issues that I found intriguing, and herewith pass on to you.

First, the Compte had difficulty understanding why the Canadian press was so focused on Toronto's Mayor and the Senate shenanigans in Ottawa, when Ontario had recently been bilked of close to a BILLION dollars, and Montreal was trying to rival Capone's Chicago prior to the arrival of Eliot Ness. The latter two were horrific, and surely jail sentences loomed; the former were really pecadilloes, and had cost taxpayers little. In his opinion, a very strange media emphasis.

I printed out my previous reports on the Toronto and Ottawa fiascos, and left it at that. What I was really interested in was the Syrian mess, rather than video tapes that may or may not exist, or Senators that were avaricious.

The Compte stated that the Russian action of sending advanced S 300 missiles to Bashar Assad had considerably upped the ante in this situation. This was so, he continued, because the Lebanese group, Hezbollah, already aligned with Shia Iran, gave full support to Assad, while at the same time threatening Israel. The rebels in turn were aligned with Sunni Saudi Arabia, and had recently received support from the European Union, up to and including the shipment of arms. Given that Al Qaeda fighters have been all too evident in the rebel camp, the whole thing is a horror story, made all the more dangerous by the actions of religious zealots.

And as always, it is the innocent farmers and tradesmen, along with Syrian women and children, who suffer the most.

As for the Americans, the Compte could understand Barack Obama, while promising and delivering aid, staying well out of the mess.

"But what", I asked, "of Israel? Surely those S 300 missiles ---"

The Compte interrupted. "According to Moshe Arens, the former Isreali Defense Minister, Israel is not overly worried about the S 300 missiles. In Israeli opinion, they are well out of date, and if Russia has actually sent them to Assad, something he doubted by the way, then it would be terrible marketing. Putin is smarter than that."

So there you have it. We both tried to assess who was most responsible for bringing this about, but here we failed. In this context, the Compte recalled a quote (albeit not the author) that he thought apropos: "Each snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty."*

*Stanislaw J. Lec --Ed.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Triumph of the Bizarre

It is not often that the truly bizarre makes it into the staid world of Canadian politics. Much more likely are such things as sleaze, incompetence, or downright corruption. The first two are evident in the current provincial Liberal administration, what with the e-health scandal, the medical helicopter issue and the gas plant fiasco. And where corruption is concerned, the City of Montreal is a prime example, if evidence from the provincial enquiry now under way is anything to go by. Nothing bizarre here.

There is also the nonsense of false moving expense claims on the part of selected members of the Canadian Senate, but these cannot really be termed bizarre either. More, sadly, like business as usual, and at least one Ipsos Reid poll indicates that some 70% of Canadians would abolish the Senate entirely,* or, failing that, have members elected.

No, for the truly bizarre, one must turn to Toronto's Mayor, His Honour Rob Ford. A video recently surfaced showing the Mayor  possibly smoking crack.
I say 'possibly', because the video is somewhat indistinct; here we are some distance away from Academy Award cinematography. The video came to light through the good offices of The Toronto Star, and was offered to that august paper for some $200,000. Now the Star is not exactly a fan of Mr. Ford, and indeed, given past articles, have slammed him at every opportunity. Still, even The Star balked at paying the price.

This was probably wise, and here we truly enter the world of the bizarre. Turns out that the makers, or owners, of the video are, in The Star's prim voice, Somali community activists. In other voices -- such as the cops -- they are drug dealers. The United States web site, Gawker, has thrown the price open for purchase to its membership, and funds to purchase the thing have reached about the half-way point. Late night talk show hosts in the U.S. adore the whole thing.

Today, however, Gawker admitted that the video, and the Somalis, have fled into the ether, and haven't been seen for several days. It remains unclear just how the video could be purchased if it and its makers cannot be found.

I rush to state that I AM NOT MAKING ANY OF THIS UP! It is, purely and simply, an example of how bizarre things can get, even in quiet, sleepy Toronto. One thing is certain, however. The Mayor has yet to comment on any of this save for uttering the word "ridiculous".

He is going to have to do better than that.

Much better.

And soon.

* Couldn't agree more. --Ed.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Responsibility, Interrupted

I am becoming more and more alarmed that the decline of personal responsibility is at the root of many of the ills currently affecting the world today. In terms of world "leaders", rarely (if ever) do you hear the words "That action was taken upon my orders, and I take full responsibility for it."

Much more likely to occur is what I term 'reponsibility, interrupted'; that is, an acceptance of responsibility for a situation that was not one's fault or beyond one's control. Yes, these can actually occur*, but all too often the words are offered as excuses for behaviour that resulted from personal actions. In this regard, be particularly wary of anyone who states, "Well, what happened was really too bad. I mean, when I said what I did, I didn't really mean...."

Yes, you did. Now bloody well own up to it.

Much worse, of course, occurs when responsibility for decisions and actions that you enact is given over to others, whether a revered leader or (truly incredible) an imaginary religious entity. Currently, and in this context, God and Allah are leading the pack.

The advantage here is that invariably a cardinal, imam or mullah or other religious leader has somehow managed to know what precisely the reigning God wants, and can incite followers to carry out these wishes. So jihad reigns today. Too bad for non-believers when those wishes argue for total elimination. The religious followers happily carry out the instructions; personal responsibility has disappeared, to be replaced by subservience to some (in my opinion, crazed) leader.

Until a great many stand up and say, not without courage, "It's our fault. We are responsible, and here is how we can correct the situation", there is likely to be a great deal of blood shed. Or, as Erica Jong wrote in one of the better paragraphs in Fear of Flying: "Take your life in your own hands and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame."

Enough, or too much.

*The reference here is to the Benghazi raid, where an American ambassador was killed. Congressional Republicans see this as a cause celebre with respect to Hillary Clinton being incompetent, and hence spiking her guns should she wish to run for President in 2016. This is rubbish. Ms Clinton has already taken responsibility for the situation, although there were a number of areas well beyond her (or anyone else's) control.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Game Of Drones

Sir Harry was on the secure line, requesting my thoughts on drones. I was happy to respond.

I informed him that I was delighted that at least one senior level of government was taking the decline of bees seriously. Cross-pollination of crops was suffering and in severe decline; I suspected that the drones in the hive could be part of the problem. "You see," I stated,  "the drones are responsible for mating with the queen when the incumbent dies or is superseded. During the nuptial flight --"

"Shut up. That's not what I meant, and you know it."

"Oh. You mean those drones."

"Just get on with it." And Sir Harry rang off.

So it was that I turned to the issue of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or, as they are termed, U.A.V's. Now while all manner of these UAV's exist, two categories predominate: those used for reconnaissance and surveillance, and those that are armed with  missiles and bombs. The latter have appropriate names, to wit, "REAPER" and "PREDATOR"; a missile for the drones is called "HELLFIRE".*

The drones are controlled from afar, and one station for certain is the USAF base just outside Las Vegas, bringing new meaning to the blackjack phrase, "hit me." They are prominent in Afghanistan, Iraq and the tribal areas of Waziristan, much to the chagrin of Pakistan.

Possibly the most successful strike occurred in Yemen, near the Saudi Arabia border. This resulted in the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, Al Qaeda's chief propagandist and strategist, and the man at the top of the CIA's most wanted list since the demise of Osama bin Laden. Also killed was Samir Jhan, the editor of an online jihadist magazine.

Both were Americans.

This segues into the problem of identifying and attacking one's own citizens. Research is being done on the use of drones to enhance domestic surveillance, including the monitoring of individual conversations. A bit frightening, but not entirely -- people yap a lot, and you would need thousands of monitors to sift through all the verbiage, even after computers had sorted out key words such as destroy, kill, bomb, etc. etc., words that could just as well relate to a sporting event or even a rocky marriage rather than a possible terrorist attack.

Still, as I pointed out to Sir Harry, the area is an important one, and worth watching. I also stressed the far greater importance of bee decline, but that plea probably fell on stony ground.

T'was ever thus.

* Who dreams up these names? They are either off their meds, or really should be seeking professional help. I must, however, confess that most of the good names have been taken. For example, "ROSEBUD."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Crossing A Line

Took some time recently to catch up on what was going on in my home province, Ontario, and saw instantly that this was a Bad Decision. A new budget has been proposed by the Liberals, and likely supported by the socialists of the New Democratic Party,  that will continue the death spiral of over-spending financed by a slew of new "revenue tools", or, as any normal person would call them, taxes. And nary a word about any cost saving measures. Greece, here we come. Poor Ontario.

This got me to thinking. What is it that happens when a normally sane individual gets elected to political office, and immediately forgets all about household frugality and sound budgeting and starts spending as if there's no tomorrow? Is it something in the air? Tainted water at the Legislature? Or is it the fact that they are not spending THEIR money, but OURS. Whatever the reason, it occurs.

Now I exempt from this little diatribe those who are under the sway of ideology (or worse, religion) or are deeply into fraud and sleaze. If the electorate sees fit to elect such creatures, then it is the electorate that will duly pay a price. In Ontario, that price is massive -- think e-health, medical helicopters, or the two gas plants that "moved". All this bothered the ideologues or sleaze artists not one whit.

Not so for at least one other individual, although here I must speculate a little bit. I am thinking, of course, about our former Premier, Dalton McGuinty.

Now Mr. McGuinty strikes me as being what my late husband, Lord Strunsky, would call "a good bloke" and one who truly fell among thieves. As time went on, and things went from bad to worse, with Ontario's debt rising ferociously, poor Dalton finally became overwhelmed, and acted as did W.H. Auden's figure in his poem "The Average":

So here he was without maps or supplies,
A hundred miles from any decent town:
The desert glared into his blood-shot eyes;

The silence roared displeasure: looking down,
He saw the shadow of an Average Man
Attempting the exceptional, and ran.

He sure did.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Looking On The Bright Side

Whilst still in London, after that magnificent funeral for Lady Thatcher, I took the opportunity to lunch with my CIA colleague, Matilda Hatt. Tilly recently, and much to her chagrin, had been given a senior desk job at the CIA's London Station. When we last had chatted, Tilly had sounded morose, and I was bent on cheering her up.

We met at The Grill at the Dorchester. Tilly had just arrived when I entered. I was humming "Always look on the bright side of life" from Monty Python's Life of Brian. Wanted to set a mood, as it were.

Turned out, I didn't have to. Tilly was in really good humour, and was taking immense satisfaction in the fact of the sentencing that day of three would-be jihadists, Irfan Naseer, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali. This unholy trio had been previously convicted of 12 counts of committing acts in preparation for terrorism. Tilly had  been instrumental in uncovering the plot, and when she successfully located eight "rucksack" bombs, along with notes that Al Qaeda had instructed said bombs were to be used in crowded areas of London, well, the whole ungodly plan came to a sudden and abrupt halt.

"Your lot," Tilly said, "also achieved a definite plus. As I have it, the curtain has come down on Raed and Chiheb show."

Tilly was referring to the just uncovered Al Qaeda plot to derail a train going from Toronto to New York, with one Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier being the "masterminds" behind the scheme. I put the term 'mastermind' in quotes because these two were anything but. They had been identified very early on, and recounting this opened up a whole avenue of similar actions and therefore achieved the objective of looking on the bright side of things.

To wit: The 2007 Glasgow Airport attack  where the car bombers had not foreseen the security posts, the botched Times Square bombing, and several instances of suicide bombers in Afghanistan who have prematurely blown themselves up while sharing a last, tender embrace. No doubt it is this sort of thing that really, really irritates senior Al Qaeda operatives.

I weep for them. Not.

All in all, a successful luncheon. Tilly had also inquired about the health of my editor -- her sources of information were still working well -- and I brought her up to date. When I informed her that he had recently somehow managed to twist a back muscle, and therefore was spending a lot of time lying down, Tilly said that the editor was also in need of cheering up, although seeking expensive medical help was not always the best route to take. As she put it, "I mean it's a known fact that the least costly treatment for any illness is lethal injection."

I said that would undoubtedly cheer him up immensely.*

*It didn't. --Ed.