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.