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Ambassadors to inner, outer space

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WASHINGTON -- On a narrow street behind the Supreme Court one afternoon last week, I met a smallish woman with soft, sincere eyes who told me she was running for the presidency of the United States. As we talked, she handed me a flyer announcing her candidacy and a 194-page manifesto that sounded her one-note campaign song: Peace! Peace! Peace!

On the cover page was the headline, thusly rendered:

(2nd Version: Much More Detailed)

The Universal Declaration of the Right to

International Peace Every Day Treaty For Global Truce and

Global Cease-Fire Proposal

The woman told me her name was Michelle Lee Rosenthal and she was a licenced social worker from Brooklyn, New York, my own pacific hometown. Her bandolier of Xeroxes probably weighed more than she did. Each handout was a painstakingly annotated compendium of Internet links and textual citations that referenced everything from The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 to the International Convention Against Apartheid in Sports.

I promised her I would study every word.

"Please vote for me," Michelle Rosenthal implored, as I began to read through her opus. "I will not let America or humanity down. I will step up to the plate. I will gladly work 18 hours per day. I would only take working vacations and still get things done as needed."

"Give all combatants, soldiers and military commanders plenty of pens, papers and forms to write all the problems down," she proposed on Page 38. "Before the beginning of any military action, soldiers should vote to determine if they wish to take part."

"Most people, like me, live their entire lives without killing anyone," Rosenthal stated on line 4,318 of her platform, on page 163. Those words, she said, will form part of her inaugural address, after she prevails in November over Barack H. Obama and Willard M. Romney. In fact, the instant after she takes the oath of office next January, President Rosenthal will announce she is withdrawing all American military personnel from all their bases and outposts around the world.

"Only after all this is done I will then proceed to finish the enjoyable inaugural program including having fun and participating in festivities," the candidate vowed.

"May peace Prevail in Heaven and even in Hell," she devoutly wished.

I smiled at her as sweetly as I could and continued on my way. I had just left an interview with a cheerful man named Frank A. Rose who has been deputized by Hillary Clinton to be America's new ambassador to outer space.

Should Michelle Rosenthal somehow not win the presidency, Frank Rose is the man who will have to ensure that peace prevail in Heaven. This sounds like a full-time job; somebody at the Bureau of Mines will have to tranquilize Hades.

Formally, Frank A. Rose is the deputy assistant secretary for space and defence policy in the bureau of arms control, verification and compliance of the Department of State, and America's lead negotiator at discussions that are supposed to lead to a new international code of conduct for outer space activities. Despite his celestial portfolio, Rose is neither a Star Trek aficionado nor a former astronaut. In fact, at age 40, the ambassador to outer space is much too young to remember America's trans-lunar glory days at all.

We were sitting in the courtyard of the State Department compound, next to a statue titled Man and the Expanding Universe. This was a gigantic god, forged in 1964, seated on a star-studded tussock and tossing little Saturns into the sky.

"The long-term sustainability of the space environment is at risk from debris and from irresponsible actors," Frank Rose told me, quoting Clinton herself. By this, he (and she) meant the Peoples Republic of China, which, in 2007, blew up one of its own weather satellites just to demonstrate that it could, an action that created 20,000 pieces of jagged debris that are circling the planet at a speed of 19,000 kilometres an hour, mortally threatening the cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station, the Howard Stern Show on satellite radio, and the GPS in your car.

An old Chinese proverb calls such an action "Killing the chicken to scare the monkey." If the mandarins deigned to obey line 1032 of Michelle Rosenthal's campaign handout -- "Tabulations on the number of shots, fired by the combined forces under each leader's military command" -- Frank Rose never got the memo.

Needless to say, the celestial empire has yet to sign on to the code of conduct for outer space.

"China is developing a multiple set of anti-satellite capabilities," said Frank A. Rose. "We want to have an engagement with China on space issues. To date, it's been a bit of a one-way street to be quite honest with you."

The ambassador to outer space laughed at the rebuff.

"The United States has notified China when pieces of debris have come close to their own satellites," he said. "We're not doing this out of the goodness of our hearts."

I mooted to Rose the certainty that China would become the dominant power in the ionosphere, deploying death rays over our heads and blasting an endless succession of astronauts to infinity and beyond. Gamely, he repeated his desire the Chinese sign on to what he called "this non-legally-binding code of conduct."

"Why would an irresponsible actor care about a non-legally-binding code of conduct?" I asked him.

"Nations shall honour their treaty agreements with each other whenever possible," answered Michelle Rosenthal, on page 39. "Let's turn all the world's armies into the world's peace corps!"


Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 J11

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