February 18, 2014
I suppose the biggest topical subject of the moment is the Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, sport has never been my thing. I can”t catch, throw, or hit, have precious little sense of balance, and run like a duck on ice. As for skiing, I”ve tried it, but bowlegs and splayed feet don”t lend themselves to natural grace on the piste, so you”ll find me on the terrace of a nice restaurant, enjoying the view and admiring the natural ability of mountain folk not only to travel at great speed downhill, but also to distill alcohol from every berry and herb they pass on the way.
So I”m moving the topic from Russia to a neighboring spat: the ongoing political crisis in the Ukraine and an amusing incident that has recently sparked off from it. The US has apologized because, in a leaked video of bugged footage, one of their senior diplomats made disparaging remarks about not only the local political figures, but also, heaven forfend, the European Union. I”m not going into the question of Ukraine’s foreign policy. That’s their business. What I find curious is: Why on Earth did the US have to apologize?
This was a private conversation, for heaven’s sake. I mean, who among us hasn”t at some point not so very long ago been somewhat scathing”even on occasion excoriating”about our best friend, our family, or our spouse? Wouldn”t it have been terrific if, rather than wringing their hands and bleating, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” the US had turned around and said something along the lines of, “So? So what? Eavesdroppers never hear any good of themselves. Do cheer up: Right now you”re not doing much to change our opinion,” I would have cheered them, and I suspect a lot of people would have been right with me.
It’s not the first time it’s happened recently. Most famously, we had Snowden’s leaks, in which freedom of information was used as a brazen and shameful excuse for personal self-aggrandizement. What? You didn”t suspect that national espionage agencies were spying on us and inevitably overstep their bounds to meander into the sunny realm of paranoia? Do you know nothing about history or human nature?
I don”t understand why governments went into an endless and deeply amusing tailspin of half-denials, spluttered excuses, and mutual finger-pointing when it was revealed that they had all been spying on their own allies. Shortly afterward, we were informed (as though we should be horrified) that Britain had spied on Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. The German foreign minister even summoned Britain’s ambassador for an explanation.
Well, the obvious explanation is that MI6 was established with pretty much the sole purpose of spying on the Germans. Going back to the Olympics for an analogy, it would be like someone complaining, now that the Games include synchronized swimming, beach volleyball, and canoeing, that people were still competing in traditional events such as the 100-meter sprint. Don”t lose sight of your core business when you expand: It’s a fundamental rule of business.
It all reminds me a little bit of television chat shows. A group of celebrities with absolutely nothing in common other than the public’s desire to know more about their sex lives are all sat together pretending to know and like each other. The fact is, most of them don”t know each other, and of those that do, most probably don”t much like each other. Wouldn”t it be refreshing and much more entertaining if they all went Jerry Springer on each other?