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.