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.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

To London To Honour A Queen

At the request of Sir Harry, I consented to accompany him to the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, who I have always regarded as a kind of queen of self-reliance. Mind you, there was an actual queen in attendance, Elizabeth II, who had not appeared at a Prime Minister's funeral since that of Winston Churchill. A small indication, if you will, of the high regard Margaret Thatcher was held in.

To be sure, there were detractors. If I had to encapsulate one aphorism that would sum up Lady Thatcher's philosophy, it would be along the lines of the following: "If it's to be, it's up to me." Not sure where that little saying comes from,*  but her detractors would alter this to "If it's to be, the government must give it to me." Such a philosophy, when taken up by a government, leads by a short route to chaos. Step forward, Greece, Step forward, Cyprus. Step forward, Canadian First Nations. Indeed, step forward any group that wants something and offers nothing in return.

Lady Thatcher was having none of it. A green grocer's daughter from Grantham, she knew the value of hard work. Her opinion of government was to ensure a level and fair playing field, and provide as many opportunities as possible for those who were prepared to work hard to enjoy success. Such thinking, of course, provoked howls of outrage on the part of those who to that point had been coddled and soothed by the state, not the least of which was one Arthur Skargill and the National Union of Mines (NUM).

The NUM was large and powerful -- this little female snippet from Grantham would be dealt with easily -- and the NUM could could continue to hold Britain to ransom. In short, Skargill would turn her.

But as Margaret would actually say, in a different context,** "The lady's not for turning." She stood firm, and faced down the NUM. Skargill realized, too late, that this woman was not a cream puff, but made of sterner stuff, to wit: IRON. (Later, General Galtieri of Argentina would come to a similar realization). Any 'turning' that took place was in Britain itself, where the country began to stabilize, to grow in terms of economics, and to once again look at itself with pride.

Truly, an Iron Lady. She will be sorely missed, and in this regard Marc Antony's words on Caesar seem appropriate: "When comes such another?"

When indeed.

*From Ben Bova's science fiction novel, Moonrise. --Ed.

** The phrase, playing on Christopher Fry's play, The Lady's Not For Burning, was used at the 1981 Conservative Conference when Lady Thatcher was asked to make a U-turn in terms of a policy already in place. -- Ed.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Yes, I've skipped a week, but there is just cause. My editor went temporarily on the fritz, and while I rail occasionally at his changes, they play a useful role in terms of logic and clarity.

Now by my editor, I don't mean the electronic one that comes with my word processing software, and that I trust as adders fanged. No, I am referring to the real one, who during the course of a week-and-a-half endured three types of 'crashes'. First, his computer crashed. Then someone crashed into the side of his parked car, creating a significant dent. Finally, he himself crashed.

This final crash was almost, well, final. In fact, he has informed me that one of the thoughts that went skittering through his mind during this 'crash' was the hope that someone would remember what he had requested be engraved on his tombstone, to wit: "He died, somewhat with a sense of relief."

He didn't.

It is not my role here to give a blow by blow description of what precisely occurred. Suffice it to say that a minor heart attack caused an extreme shortness of breath. This took the doctors involved some time to figure out, in that there was no chest pain whatsoever. A battery of tests, however, established that my editor's lungs had been abetted by his heart, a kind of medical version of Robert Frost's 'way leading on to way'*

It was this Frostian approach that turned a 40 minute angiogram into an angioplasty and then to a blood clot removal (the real culprit behind it all) and the insertion of two stents, stretching that 40 minutes into three-and-a-half hours. The procedure was a total success, and apparently the patient has recovered nicely, and, I might add, in much better health than before. That grumpy German Nietzsche got it right: "What does not kill you makes you stronger."**

So there you are, and a more 'regular' report will follow next week.

* Nice to be back. The line is from his poem The Road Not Taken. -- Ed.

** She WILL not hunt down her sources. This is from Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols. (It's still good to be back). -- Ed.