Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hands Off My Ukrainian Sugar Beets

I have received a number of queries regarding my sugar beet plantation in Ukraine, given the upheaval that country is experiencing. I can tell you that all is fine.

There are a number of reasons for this.

My manager, Bohdan, is skilled in keeping relations with both Kiev and Moscow warm and friendly, no easy task given the acrimony between the two. Secondly, Russia is a big market for my product. In fact, I am its only source for sugar beets, something that the powers that be in Russia (to wit: Vladimir Putin) are very conscious of. Orders have been given to leave the plantation alone.

These orders stemmed from an intercepted communication initiated in the Kremlin to an outfit called the Russian Orthodox Army. This was interesting, in that Russia had said publicly that this lot was comprised of home-grown patriots with no connection to Russia. How, then could orders.........oh, never mind.

Moreover, the plantation is well into the Western part of Ukraine, and there is no pulsating desire from the population in that area to  be enfolded in the loving embrace of the Russian bear. Finally, Bohdan doesn't skimp on hiring expert personnel when it comes to security, and four of the Orthodox Army guys, feeling us out as it were, are now in a Moscow hospital recovering from a number of unfortunate happenstances involving cracked bones and some other ailments best described, as they do in sports lingo, as "lower body injuries."

So all is well.

That said, I have some sympathy for the Russian point of view. After all, if I am reading my history correctly, it was at Kiev that the Rus (as they were first named) got their start, and successfully fought off the invading Mongols. This was no mean feat, and ever since, Ukraine has occupied a special place in the Russian heart.

But that was then, and this is now, and given the result of the recent and surprisingly very fair election, Ukraine has chosen to belong to, well, Ukrainians.

So to Russia I say, "Now Vladimir, nothing to see or do here. Time to move on."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dancing With Iranian Stars

The Internet is turning out to be some kind of massive electronic vacuum cleaner, scooping up everything in its sight, from the trivial (cats being cute) to the inane (anything involving the Kardashians) to the truly interesting (a sound analysis of Bell's Theorem and Alain Aspect's proof).*

Then there is the unusual.

One of the sources drawn upon by the Internet is You Tube, and there we find a short film of three girls dancing with happiness. Nothing outré there, but then we discover that these girls are Iranian, and are cavorting gaily about sans niquab or hijab. Very touching. Very honest. Not that they rival Isadora Duncan or Anna Pavlova, but that's not the point. They were having FUN, and expressing happiness.

This activity, of course, drew the attention of the mullahs who arbitrate such goings on, and the three were quickly arrested and imprisoned. The speed at which this occurred gives a new meaning to the term "flashdance".

Now it gets interesting. The President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, reviewed all this, and focussed particularly on the girls' motivation. They indicated they were not trying to overthrow the state, nor to disparage Islam; rather they wanted to express happiness by dancing, and this was easier done when not hampered by overly restrictive clothing.

Rouhani ordered their release, making the point that Islam has no quarrel with attempts to be happy. This infuriated the mullahs, who in their bleak lives find happiness to be a total stranger. As well, they saw the action as an attack on the Islamic "new order" of the glorious state of Iran.

Upon reading this, I immediately sent to the Chief Mullah the words inscribed on the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial:

They who seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual this a new order. It is not new, and it is not order.

So there. And good on Hassan Rouhani.


* The Lady tends to think everyone has read what she has, something not the case.What Bell and Aspect are on about is what Einstein referred to as "Spooky action at a distance." Check it out. -- Ed.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Honesty and Politics: An Odd Mixture

When Winston Churchill first became Prime Minister at the beginning of the Second World War, he did a strange thing. He was honest with the British public, stating he had nothing to offer in the short term but "blood, sweat, toil and tears." The effect galvanized Britons as they united to face a sworn and vicious enemy.

Those words are one of the few examples I have come across of politicians speaking honestly to their electorates. Another would be Abraham Lincoln's stirring phrase, "A nation divided against itself cannot stand."* In both cases no rosy promises are made, and no references made to how wonderful life will be if I am elected.

Such statements are extremely rare, so imagine my surprise when just such a statement was uttered during the course of the present provincial election in Ontario. The Liberal and the NDP stress the Frank Capra approach, telling all and sundry that it is, or will be, a wonderful life if my party is elected, with no tax raises and lots and lots of heart-warming programs.

How all this would be paid for is skipped over very quickly, and the whole approach is about as far from honesty as you can get.

Enter the Tories, promoting the view that the province is in real fiscal trouble, and must cut back drastically in order to have any hope at all of future job creation. Moreover, the view zeroed in on the public service sector, where job creation abounds, but is accompanied by negative fiscal impact that the province can no longer afford. Tim Hudak, the Tory leader, indicated that a figure of 100,000 public service positions may disappear, and there is talk of privatization in some areas.

What is interesting is the reaction of the head of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Warren Thomas, who stated, "I don't really like it, but at least he's honest in saying he's going to do it."

It would appear, then, that Mr. Thomas is at least dimly aware that without some severe action in the public service sector, Ontario could be heading towards a Grecian fate. Whether the honesty behind this approach will be received by the electorate positively or negatively remains to be seen.

At this point I remembered a scene from the BBC Series "Yes, Minister" that argues for caution. It goes as follows:

Sir Humphrey: "That's a wonderful proposal, Minister. Very bold. But......"

The Minister: "But...?"

Sir Humphrey: "It's way too early for the truth."


* If the present divide in the United States between the Democrats and the Republican widens much further, Lincoln's words may come back to haunt an entire nation. -- LSS.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Elephant in the Room

I try not to get involved in things political; it is the poor man's Theatre of the Absurd, and if I want that, I will find it on the stage, not in a hall at an all-candidates meeting in view of the upcoming provincial election. (I use the word 'upcoming' advisedly)

That said, I nevertheless found myself at exactly such a meeting. I was collecting a bet (see previous post) and if I wanted my winnings, this was the venue at which they were being offered. So I came, I saw, and I collected, much to the chagrin of my two opponents in this endeavour, who thought that such attendance would be a bridge too far.

Once there, my desire to escape as quickly as possible surfaced, but I became intrigued at what was being discussed by the candidates.

Or rather, what was NOT being discussed.

Here we have a province, Ontario, that for most of its history was the economic engine of Canada, a "have" province that helped out those weaker provinces owing to geography or priorities other than economic ones.* And the books were always balanced, save for a brief period where the NDP stumbled into power.

After a decade under the Liberals, however, Ontario is no longer a "have" province, and the deficit has become monumental, complete with billion dollar level interest payments. True, the American laxity in terms of banking regulations allowed sub-prime mortgages to flourish, and when all came tumbling down,  the world was severely caught out, Ontario included.

Canada, given its stronger bank regulations, survived better than most, and under the leadership of the Prime Minister and a shrewd finance Minister, things began to right themselves, and a balanced ledger is in sight for 2015. Heroic efforts are also underway in other provinces, to the extent possible.*

Under Ontario 'leadership" however,, the deficit has increased, and while a balanced budget is promised by 2017, this statement belongs in the same category as one promising the flight of pigs.

So, from pigs to elephants in the room. What astounded me was that none of this financial concern was spoken about by the candidates. The Liberals and NDP promised more funding of programs for this and that, while the Conservatives promised more job creation by the private sector, while at the same time savaging jobs in the public service. This latter comment was akin to a matador coming to a full stop, baring his breast to the charging bull, and saying "Here. Gore me right here."

Bah. Humbug.


* The Lady in both these instances went on a Jeremiad concerning la belle province and its cultural and language issues. I stashed all this stuff in my 'Grist for Future Articles' folder, for it was not really germane to the point she was making. -- Ed. 


Friday, May 2, 2014

Winning A Wager

I was feeling rather pleased with myself when I entered The Three Q's pub.* I ordered a pint of Double Diamond at the bar, and drink in hand, sauntered over to where my good friends had procured a table. I sat sat down, and said, "Well?"

My lawyer, Gina Favola (whom we call 'The Bean')  leaned forward and stated, "It's not official yet, Simone."

Well she would say that, wouldn't she.? I mean, she's a lawyer, after all. But both Gina and the my other friend in attendance, Rachel Levi, found themselves out $200 apiece, and were obviously not going down without a fight.

"Now Bean," I replied, "the leader of the NDP has stated she would not vote for the budget, and the Tories certainly won't.Therefore the Liberal Government will fall. And, I might add, not a moment too soon, or the name Ontario will quickly become 'Greece'. This was the bet, and you both stated that the Liberals would do anything to stay in power. Didn't work, did it?"

Rachel Levi interjected, "But the Bean has a point -- "

"What point?" Really and truly, these are some of my closest friends, but when it comes to paying up on a losing bet......

Rachel continued. "The point is that the leader of the Liberals can still alter the budget and make it even more favourable to the NDP. So, speaking in idiomatic terms, the fat lady hasn't yet sung. The bet is still running. And you know how desperately the Liberal leader wants to cling to power, and she also is well aware that most of the electorate is appalled at the spendthrift actions of her party."

"I don't deny the last point, but, mark my words, there will be an election. Probably in early June."

"And," The Bean put in, "when that election is announced, we will gladly pay up. But, Simone, in the words of 'Enry 'Iggins, "Just you wait."

So I will. With, unfortunately, a little less confidence than I had when I entered the pub. The liberal leader couldn't give her NDP rival anything more, could she? Liberal ethics would weigh against such a concession.

On the other hand, the phrase 'Liberal ethics' is an oxymoron.

I want another pint.


* In a previous missive, asked and answered. To save readers the trip back, the three Q's are Quips, Quibbles and Quaffs. -- Ed.