Look across the civilized world and you’re invariably going to find an election.  This is a quaint institution where every once in a while ordinary people decide who’s going to kick them around for the next couple of years.  Once it’s over half the people are pleased and the other half are pissed off.  But that’s the nature of democracy: somebody’s gotta lose, and losers are generally vocal about it.  In fact (and it’s a little known fact) the word “democracy’ comes from two words: “demos” (a corruption of “demons”) and “cracy” (a corruption of “crazy.”)  These were the pejorative terms opponents shouted at each other in the Athenian Agora where democracy was born.  However, despite the sophisticated name calling, Greek democracy was very primitive.  For example, not everybody got to vote — or even speak — including slaves, women, Pericles’ mistress Aspasia, convicted felons, tax evaders and anybody named Xerxes.  Nor was democracy universally accepted.  The great philosopher Socrates wasn’t a fan and advocated that only men who wore socks should vote.  When the youth of Athens began wearing socks and sandals, he was put to death.  (Rightly so!)  Some years later, Alexander the Great came along and put Athenian democracy to death — where it lay dormant for about 2000 years.  The democracy we know is a weird evolution of English barons, Boston lawyers, Virginia farm boys, French revolutionaries and John Stuart Mill.  It serves us well, but it’s by no means the only form of government available.  Here are a few other systems of note.

Monarchy – Named for the Monarch butterfly, this is government by glamour with plenty of crowns and gowns to go around.  Monarchy is characterized by over-the-top weddings, footmen, tiaras and glass slippers.  And even though one out of two princes are charming, monarchy has some serious enemies — such as spinning wheels, poison apples and wicked stepmothers.  However, when done properly, Monarchy can result in happily ever after.  (I’m lookin’ at you, Kate.) 

Authoritarianism – Sometimes called “tyranny,” “despotism” or “one-man rule” — whatever it’s called, though, it invariably works the same.   There’s always a short man who didn’t get laid in high school.  He somehow seizes power and spends the next few years acting like a paranoid dick to everybody.  (Hence the name – dictator.)  Dictators are characterized by funny hats, funny haircuts and no sense of humour.  And they don’t like to be called Winnie the Pooh.

Theocracy – No idea what this is, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t some silly-ass notion that religious leaders should run the government!  I mean really!  Nobody’s that stupid!

Tribalism – See Facebook.

Fascism – You get to march a lot, but you have to do as you’re told.

Patriarchy – This is where women do all the work and men sit around talking politics.

Matriarchy – Oddly enough, this is also where women do all the work and men sit around talking politics.

Parliamentarianism – This is a combination of two French words, “parle” which means “to talk” and “merde” which means – uh – google it.  The theory behind government by parliament is if enough elected officials talk enough shit long enough, eventually the problem will simply go away.  The best example of parliamentarianism is Canada where they’ve been talking about poverty, homelessness and unemployment for 50 years.

Republic – Parliamentarianism on the Potomac.

Anarchy – This looks great on paper but normally ends up with a big, ugly biker drinking beer out of the skull of the college sophomore who thought it was a cool idea.  It’s basically Mad Max meets academia. 

Communism – Sometimes called Soviet Democracy, there’s only one party, and it isn’t very much fun.

Socialism – Favoured by actors, rock stars and other rich people, the single premise of socialism is somebody else (normally called “they”) isn’t paying their fair share.  Socialists are political tourists who drink champagne, ride around in limousines, attend the occasional rally and then retreat to the leafy green suburbs to contemplate their awareness.

Polygamy – Oops!  Wrong blog!

Ochlocracy – This is a fancy word for Mob Rule.  It was made popular during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, and if you still think you’d like a taste of it, open a Twitter account.

Oligarchy – Not to be confused with Russian gangsters, this is where several groups of powerful people get together, hijack the government and do whatever the hell they like because they’re so badass/ruthless, ordinary people are too scared to …. Hey!  Wait a minute!

Meritocracy – A Cloud-cuckoo-land form of government popular with children and those college sophomores again.

Magocracy – A society ruled by magicians.  It’s hard to explain, but essentially it’s Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley running the show.

Plutocracy – This is rule by rich people who – I suppose — take their instructions from Pluto.  This form of government has probably fallen into disfavour since a gang of treacherous scientists defrocked the tiny planet.

And finally, two forms of government that are very popular these days:

Kakistocracy – This is where the voting public continually elect the stupidest people possible and then wonder why nothing ever gets done.

Kleptocracy – This is where people vote for the candidate who certainly seems sincere — only to be taken in by these con artists who, once elected, turn out to be nothing more than common thieves.

The Next Day – In Florence

Florence is a tourist town.  Like Venice, it’s full of trudging backpacks with sensible shoes, queueing up and sitting down and taking photographs and spending money.  Every day (there is no tourist “season” anymore) from dawn until way beyond dark, the narrow medieval streets are overwhelmed by these grim-faced invaders.  But unlike Venice, in Florence, a few streets away from David and the Uffizi, there’s another city – Firenze – a tough little Tuscan town that hasn’t changed its ways since the Medici held sway on the banks of the Arno.  Dreyfus, Emily and Janet Miller chose to stay in a hotel deep in the heart of tourist country.  It overlooked the river and was within shouting distance of the Ponte Vecchio – three more anonymous foreign faces in the shadow of the Basilica.  Dreyfus would find Firenze later; right now, he was just trying to keep up with Emily’s rapid fire Italian — and Janet’s awkward what-do-I-do-with-my-hands was getting on his nerves.

“They’re going to meet us at a restaurant by the school,” Emily said as she gathered their passports, “I’ve sent the luggage up, and I’ve got directions.”

The man behind the reception desk caught Dreyfus’s eye, and they nodded acknowledgement.  Sydney’s package had arrived.  Dreyfus would pick it up later.

“I need – uh – I need, I need to change …” Janet half stood and pulled at her shirt.

“No, Jans– you’re fine.”  Emily stepped over, straightened her friend’s button line and brushed her hair back with her fingers.  “C’mon, we have to go.”

A few streets, a few turns, a few shops and shoppers, and fifteen silent walking minutes later, they found Piazza degli Strozzi.  It was long and thin, bright and grey and paved with new stones.  There were two sets of outdoor tables ahead of them, and from there, across the square, a dark-haired woman stood up.  A second, two — then steps, faster steps, a heel-clicking half run and the three women met and hugged and cried and clung to each other like rescued survivors.  Dreyfus slowed.  None of this was his, and he knew enough to casually stay away.  By the time he reached them, the tears were being sniffled and swallowed and hunted by Kleenex.  Through the sorrys and sympathies, there was suddenly a man with his hand out and …

“Jans, here– use this …”

“Let me see what …”

“Oh, Magpie. I knew you’d come.  I just couldn’t …”

Magpie? Dreyfus made a note to save that for a better time.

“Sinclair, isn’t it?”  The hand had a voice, and Dreyfus reached forward. “James Montrose, we met …”

“Yes, I remember.  My condolences.  This is a terrible time for you.”

“It’s a bad business.” Montrose’s voice shook against his middleclass upbringing.  For a few seconds they stood there, two men awkwardly aware they couldn’t help the women next to them, rescue them, make it better – fix anything.  They were without purpose.  But that changed.  A heavy Mercedes slowly rolled through the square and stopped beside them.  The driver got out.  In the afternoon sun, he wore a black leather jacket.

“Riccardo Ciampi,” he said at them.

Dreyfus looked at Emily.  She was surprised but nodded her approval.

Dreyfus turned back to Montrose.  “I’m very sorry, but I have some business to take care of, and it simply can’t wait.  Maybe we can get together later.”  Then he looked back to Emily: “Go ahead.  I’ll find you.”  As Dreyfus walked over to the car, the driver opened the rear passenger door.

Florence isn’t a large place, but it’s not built for automobiles, so it took the driver some time to cross the river and get to where he wanted to go.  Finally, he stopped beside a three-table restaurant, stuck on a narrow Y street corner.  He got out and opened the door for Dreyfus.  Dreyfus got out and saw a woman sitting at the furthest table.  She was of an age, certainly more than sixty, but after that ….  She was too handsome to have ever been a great beauty, but her cheekbones made her attractive, and her eyes made her interesting.

“You are Dreyfus Sinclair.” It wasn’t a question, and there was only a trace of Italian pronunciation.

Dreyfus nodded and didn’t wait for an invitation to sit down. “And you are?”

The woman offered a brown earthen jug.  Dreyfus reached over and poured himself a glass of deep red wine.

“Our grapes.  Do you eat?”

Dreyfus nodded and tasted the wine.  There was no suggestion of a toast.  He nodded again, set the glass down and waited.

“I am Martina Ciampi.  My son is a busy man, so I will help you with the dead English girl.” 

He turned his head slightly in a question.  Martina Ciampi smiled.

“When an English girl dies in Italy, everyone wants answers.”

Dreyfus noticed there was no traffic, no people walking, no anything except the two of them and the man standing by the car.  And even though it was a warm afternoon, most of the upper windows of the buildings around them were shuttered.  It made Dreyfus extremely aware that the gun he’d asked Sydney to get for him was sitting in a box back at the hotel.

“I don’t care about answers.  All I want to know is who gave her the White Powder.  Tell me that and we can be friends.”

A young woman came out of the tiny restaurant with a wooden platter of sliced meat, quartered tomatoes, bread and cheese.  She set it down on the table and turned away without looking at anything.

“Everyone knows Dreyfus Sinclair is a bad enemy.”  Martina stabbed a single slice of meat off the tray and held it in the air “But is he a good friend?” She slid the meat off the knife with her teeth.

“Everyone knows?”

“Powerful men have long arms, and when Jonathon McCormick sends you as his fist, people talk.  They say you’re untouchable.”

Dreyfus laughed, cut a piece of cheese and ate it off his knife.

“People say a lot of things, and this has nothing to do with Jonathan McCormick.”

“Hmm, just so.  He said you were an honest man.” Martina pointed to the tray.  “Wild boar.  Good for the stomach.”  She leaned sideways, reached into a large bag at her feet, brought out two pale blue folders and put them on the table.

“This is the police report.  It will be released with the girl’s body in two days.  Drug overdose, very sad.  It’s written in English.  You can read it if you like, but,” the woman slowly shook her head, “It’s a … a fantasy.”

Dreyfus took a slice of wild boar sausage, put it on a piece of bread and ate it.  He didn’t touch the folder.

“This is the other report, in Italian.  Will I tell you what it says?”

“Please.”  Dreyfus continued chewing and reached for his wine.

“The English girl,” Martina opened the folder and read from the first page, “Jordyn Janet Montrose died of pulmonary aspiration.”

Dreyfus swallowed, “She choked on her own vomit?”

Martina looked up from the page.

“The needle?”

“There was no heroin in her body except around the puncture wound.”

“So why,” Dreyfus reached his index finger over and tapped the file, “This?”

Martina tilted her head.  Dreyfus thought about it for a couple of seconds.  Clearly this woman was enjoying this a lot more than he was.  It was time to speed things up.

“Alright.  I’m not playing cat-and-mouse all afternoon.  Thanks for the vino.”  Dreyfus finished the glass, set it down and stood up.  The man at the car straightened.

“Hmm, just so.  He said you were direct.” Martina closed the folder and motioned for Dreyfus to sit down, “We’ll be direct, you and I.  Your pretty English girl had a bad reaction to anesthetic and died on an operating table.  There was vaginal bruising and bleeding.”

“Abortion?” Dreyfus interrupted.  Now he was confused.  He sat down.

“No,” Martina sipped her wine, “They were gathering eggs.  Like a farmer in the hen house.”

Sunny Italian afternoons are for lazy conversations about art and love and beauty; they’re not about greasy alleyways and murky light and wicked men with dirty fingers.  It was immediately clear to Dreyfus Sinclair – a random drug overdose was unfortunate but palatable; an abducted teenager, harvested for parts, was not for public consumption.  He felt like he needed a shower, but he poured another glass of wine.  After a few seconds …

“Alright.  Who?  And where do I find them?”

Some (old) Ideas

One of the cool things about calling yourself a writer is you get to do all kinds of things that everybody else calls bone-ass lazy.  Stuff like spending hours drinking coffee, taking long strolls through the Internet and staring off into space.  Wordy Wordsworth called it, “… powerful feelings: … recollected in tranquility” or something like that.  This “work” is essential for writers to hone their craft.  The serious upside is you get to discover all kinds of interesting facts, and you have time to come up with even more interesting conclusions.  Here are just a few things I’ve been pondering for a while.

There’s a town in Canada called Smithers — which means the people who live there are Smithereens.

On average, the Dutch are the tallest people in the world — even though a lot of them are standing below sea level.

Apparently, a huge bunch of people born between 1977 and 1983 are sick and tired of being lumped in with those terminally malcontent millennials.  They have decided to perform a generational Brexit (Genexit?) and want to be referred to as Xennials.  I can’t say I blame them.

In the future, people will look at their electronic devices and think “What a stupid icon for a telephone.”

Despite everybody and her friend claiming they broke the Internet – you can’t.  The truth is the Internet is no longer vulnerable to human attack: there are just too many servers scattered across the planet.  However, before you go all SkyNet/Terminator, 99.99% of all electronic devices are just dumb machines used for storage.

Humans first walked on the moon 50 years ago in 1969.  That was 2 years before women got to vote nationally in Switzerland and 8 years before France quit using the guillotine for executions.  Weird, huh?

One of the earliest and most persistent symptoms of lead poisoning is irritability, so it’s interesting that statistics show violent crime (aside from armed robbery) has been steadily decreasing since lead was banned from automobile fuel in the late 1980s.  Coincidence?  Maybe. . .

For several years, universities have been adding puppies to their “safe spaces” to combat student stress and exam anxiety.  Whatever!  The weird thing is nobody is willing to talk about what happens to the puppies when they’re no longer puppies.  Creepy!

Over 100 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute.  Wow!  And, according to the last time they kept records (several years ago) it would take you approximately 93,000 years to watch everything YouTube has to offer.  That is a lot of avoidance behaviour!

In the last 10 years, restaurant revenues, movie theatre revenues and department stores revenues have all declined — whereas the revenues of home delivery companies like Uber Eats, GrubHub, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have all dramatically increased.  If this trend continues, eventually millennials will never have a reason to leave their apartments.  And this is a bad thing?

Andy Warhol was wrong.  In the future, everybody will have 15 minutes of privacy.

And finally:

I think it’s absolutely hilarious that a generation raised on South Park and Family Guy spend so much time being eagerly offended by everything.  Irony is not dead.