Friday, March 28, 2014

To Lead Or Not To Lead

"You might be interested in this, Simone."

I put down my book, Jo Nesbo's Police, and turned my mind from the adventures of Harry Hole to the concerns of Rachel Levi. Rachel is my I.T. specialist, and she is very, very good. So good, in fact, that she found booking in at the Manor not only pleasant, but also life-saving, given that she was on at least three hit lists from certain intelligence agencies. Her act of interruption was so unusual that I was immediately intrigued.


Rachel plumped herself down, all six feet of her, and said "There's some very interesting chatter coming out of the National Security Agency that you might be interested in. Concerns your Prime Minister, in fact."

I snorted. "Stephen Harper? Interesting stuff? Hard to believe. He tends in terms of action to resemble a Galapagos turtle, making slow and almost imperceptible movements when he thinks no one is looking."

"Not this time. According to a number of people in the N.S.A. he is attracting all kinds of attention, most of it favourable. He's met with the Ukraine leadership, offering aid and support, as well as bucking up the European Union. At present, he is getting along famously with Angela Merkel, not the easiest thing to do. All this has led Putin to lose his temper, and a note was intercepted  where he savaged Harper, stating that Canada was a frozen wasteland that had accomplished nothing in 300 years of history."

"He has yet to get over a certain hockey game," I put in.
"Be that as it may, the NSA analysts were quick to summarize the various leaders in terms of historical or literary figures. They see Harper as a kind of Coriolanus, acting with will and dispatch. Obama they blame as having a "to be or not to be" approach to almost everything. They bemoan as well that their President cannot even make up his mind on a pipeline, let alone what to do with Ukraine and Crimea. As one of the more perceptive analysts put it, they thought they had elected Marcus Aurelius. Instead, they got Hamlet."

And just how did they portray Putin?" I asked.

Rachel smiled. "Oh, that was a a toss-up between Caligula and Nero."

Couldn't argue with her on that.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Puting It To Putin. Not.

This post will be a tad shorter than usual -- the world is, in Wordsworthian terms, way too much with me. So let's get to it.

Readers may recall that from time to time I use poetry to highlight and illuminate a given situation or person. The last example I believe was using Auden's The Average to get at the essence of Ontario's former Premier, Dalton McGuinty. The key lines were, "The silence roared displeasure / He saw the shadow of an average man attempting the exceptional / And ran."

Still on the run, as I believe.

Now we come to Vladimir Putin and the situation in the Crimea. The poem that in my opinion best encapsulates this situation in Maurice Ogden's The Hangman. It is somewhat lengthy, but I recommend Googling the piece -- it sums up the Crimean takeover brilliantly. The line that most nails the issue under discussion is the following: "I did no more than you let me do."

Food for thought. Now I must off; something about a lost airplane. But there was another who commented (sort of) on the latest example of Russian irredentism, and here I turn to the singer Julie London, and her signature song  "Crimea River."

And sometimes that's all one can do.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Being Frivolous With The Feds

The meeting was scheduled at the Manor for 9:00 a.m., an unearthly hour to be up, but needs must. Apparently I am going to be charged with some weird form of copyright infringement. Hence the meeting.

At precisely nine o'clock, Irving, my butler and sometime minder, showed a gentleman into the study. The man was young, tall, balding and thin as a rake. I had the feeling that if he came too close to one of the cracks in the wood flooring, he would disappear forever. 

"Mr. Wishope", Irving announced. "From the Bureau of Indian Affairs." 

"Do come in, Mr. Wishope," I said, and gestured to one of the Chippendales. "Let us see if we can satisfy your wishes and give you hope."

The man looked puzzled, and I quickly came to the conclusion that some plodding was going to ensue.

He then cleared his throat, and the plodding began. I'll give the man this -- he came right to the point.

"It has come to our attention that you may be in contravention of the federal Indian Act, and we would like to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. To avoid any awkward charges, you see." A note of smugness had crept into his raspy voice.

"Goodness," I agreed. "Can't have any of those. Just what seems to be the problem?"

(I knew damn well what the 'problem' was, but one doesn't hand out goodies to opposing troops -- unless your Laura Secord.) What the Band Councils and Ottawa bureaucrats hated was the growing success of the Foundation in freeing young tribal members from the reservation strictures and giving them start-up funds to educate themselves and to enter business or a profession. Jobs in Ottawa were being affected, as well as calling into question the leadership qualities of certain Band Council Chiefs. All of which was legal. Why, then, was Mr. Wishope here at all?

Mr. Wishope explained.The problem, Dr. Strunsky, is your  'White Cloud' Foundation. The name has been challenged by a certain Band Council, who also have what is called a White Cloud meeting once a month. The name derives from a noted Huron warrior."

"Ah, but my derivation, Mr. Wishope, is quite different. It also stems from a certain tribal member of famous repute. I have actually registered all this with the U.N. Human Rights Committee, who have given full approval. (Cost me an arm and a leg, but as I stated at the start, needs must.)

"And just who might this member be?" Wishope said in a more cautious tone. The mention of the U.N. had definitely had an effect.

"Have you not heard of Little White Cloud That Cried?"*


"He's the son of Big Chief Rain-In-The-Face. I'm surprised you did not know of him."

Wishope was silent for a bit. Then, summoning his courage, said "You're making all this up."

"Possibly," I replied, "but the U.N. had no objections, and, indeed, commended the Foundation for its positive impact upon First Nations peoples. I don't think you want to enter into a disagreement with the U.N. on the issue. How would you put it? Oh, yes, bad optics. You agree?

Wishope nodded. The young man was coming round nicely. "I will inform the Chief who had made the challenge that a legal suit would not succeed."

"Appreciate that. Now, have you some time for some first-rate Brazilian coffee, scones, and juice freshly squeezed from Israeli oranges? It's all been prepared in the adjoining room."

"I have a feeling, " Wishope said, "That I better not refuse that offer."

I smiled. There was definitely hope for the lad. First task -- getting him out of Ottawa. Next task.....but I forget, brevity is the soul of wit.


* A song from 1951, sung by Johnny Ray. Had to look that one up -- way before my time. How the Lady knew of this, well, a mystery. -- Ed.

Friday, March 7, 2014

To Split Or Not To Split

To my favourite pub, The Three Q'S, for some excellent bitters and some interesting discussions with two visiting friends from Italy. (The Q's -- Quips, Quibbles and Quaffs; that is, a pub devoted to good discussions and fine fare, with no cacophony of modern "music" allowed to intrude.) So I and my companions, Gianni and Anita, sat down to enjoy the evening. I had known them when growing up in Naples, and it was good to re-new the friendship.

I was rather pleased with myself, having noted that a position outlined in a previous report had been taken up by the two Davids* in the International Policy publication. They argue for the splitting of Ukraine into an eastern component and a western component, citing numerous successful precedents, among them Northern Ireland and Ireland, and Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Gianni at that point mentioned some less successful splits, referring to the Koreas and the former East Germany and West Germany. I countered with splits that came about through brute force were not in the same league as those that were thoughtfully negotiated.

"Of course", added Anita, "If Italy were to follow this route, it would be chaos. Can you imagine fifty-three countries all jostled together?"

"Fifty four," put in Gianni. "You forgot The Vatican."

From there we began an in-depth exploration of Italian reunification, with due regard for the efforts of Mazzini, Cavour, and Garibaldi. This was of interest to us, but not necessarily to the readers of this missive, who hadn't signed on for a course in Italian history.

At one point, however, Gianni asked me about Vladimir Putin, knowing I had had some past business arrangements with the man.

"Apparently," I said, "he has gone into a great sulk. Ukraine was to be an easy acquisition in terms of being influenced by Russia, and Yanukovich blew it."

"So what is he doing now?"

"I am told he spends a great part of each waking day watching re-runs of the Sochi Olympics."

And then it was time for another round.


* David Kilgour and David T. Jones -- Ed.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Winter Revels

WINTER IS COMING. So goes a major leitmotif in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Well here, in Canada, I can inform readers that WINTER IS HERE. In spades. And the question arises, 'What to do?'

My answer was to join three close friends and enjoy some days at The Emp's cottage in the north (vague on the location, for reasons of national security) and cavort in the snow. Or at least look out at the snow from a distance, while savouring the warmth from The Emp's fireplace. It was, after all, well below zero (C) during the entire three days we were there. The Emp's hospitality was, as usual, exemplary and much appreciated.

Returned just yesterday, and so this report is a bit late. These things happen.

Also in attendance was Sir Peter Crapp, glad to be taking some vacation time from an assignment he was not keen on, the shepherding of a bevy of bureaucrats around  Sevastopol in the Crimea examining the effect of global warming on an ocean port. Owing to a wee tussle that had broken out in Ukraine, the chances of getting their asses shot off were rising daily, and Sir Peter was glad that the powers that be finally realized that such a mission was ridiculous, and pulled the plug.

My sugar beet manager in Ukraine, Bohdan, was also in attendance. He had determined that my plantation, about an hour's drive away from Kyiv, was not in harm's way. This did not surprise, for I supply not only the Ukrainian market, but also the Russian. Such a split works, although I feel I must credit this approach to its proper creator, the Hopi Indian tribe in the American southwest. They traded with everyone, and were rarely attacked.

While certain of our discussions over the three day period must remain undisclosed -- national security again -- I can relay the following.

I have said that the weather was brutally cold. This was expected, at least by me. What was not expected was the type of snowmobile ride over to The Emp's island. Thawing and freezing can do nasty things to surfaces that would otherwise be flat, and the trip over was akin to participating in Olympic trials for mogul racing. The slamming up and down has given me a greater respect for the athletes that engage in such a sport.

The Emp and Bohdan continued their constant wrangles over culinary matters, but these discussions get so arcane -- the marked difference and use of corn, olive and Mazola oil -- well, you get the idea.

Something new, however, had an effect on these and other discussions. Sir Peter had brought along a very high tech PDA * and could consult it whenever an argument broke out. Such an activity recalls the adage that nothing will end a conversation faster than a person who actually knows what they're talking about.

Before leaving this missive, I must relate a very odd occurrence. A certain song came over the radio, and I immediately identified it as the Beatles Eleanor Rigby. Keeping this little tidbit of memorabilia to myself, I asked the Emp if he could recall the name of the song being played. He thrashed about a bit, got some of the lyrics, but the title escaped him. Sir Peter stayed silent, but I was pretty sure he knew the exact title.

Bohdan, however, got quite excited, and shouted "Aha! That's Martha Mackenzie!" Which was not the answer but did have a link to the lyrics. Not wishing to prolong suspense over such a trifle, I relayed the true title.

As for the Martha Mackenzie reference, a quick consultation with Sir Peter's PDA indicated it was not Martha, but Father Mackenzie that was being referred to, he who was"writing the words to a sermon that no one would hear."

Which left Sir Peter, The Emp and myself with a deep conundrum to work on in the weeks to come. The name Martha Mackenzie that had so exercised Bohdan had undoubtedly come from deep in his psyche. Who was she really, and how had she so influenced him?

Questions to be asked.


* For those who have totally rejected electronic technology that is becoming more and more invasive, PDA is a personal digital assistant. -- Ed.