Friday, December 13, 2013

The Etiquette Manual for the Modern Métro Traveller

… there’s a fun new French e-book just out 
writes Stephen Clarke,
and it is specifically designed to be read on public transport.

It has a long title – too long, perhaps for smaller e-reading tablets: “Manuel du savoir-vivre à l’usage du voyageur moderne”. This translates as something like “Etiquette Manual for the Modern Traveller”. It’s a deliberately old-fashioned-sounding title chosen to signal that the contents are going to be fun. It is, though, a serious book, a genuine attempt to improve public behaviour on Paris’s crowded transport network. And it is quite witty. Two of its suggestions are: “being helpful means carrying an old lady’s bag to the top of the stairs … and then giving it back to her” and “being courteous means understanding that the enormous crossed-out cigarette on the walls of the Métro isn’t just a work of art”.

These rules have been suggested by users, and they highlight some real everyday problems. Among the most relevant is the plea “not to challenge the knight who accidentally steps on your foot to a duel”. You see this happening all the time. Given that the genuine rule one of Métro usage, especially at rush hour, is: “when the train pulls into the station, passengers waiting on the platform must form a dense crowd around the opening doors, thereby preventing anyone standing near the doors getting off, and then push their way on to the train while those who were sitting down are still trying to shove their way towards the exit doors”, you naturally see a lot of people losing their temper. Someone getting off will “accidentally” elbow someone getting on too early, and before you know it, a full-throated shouting match is in progress, with both people indulging in an in-depth analysis of their adversary’s race, physical appearance and supposed possession of testicles. It rarely goes beyond an exchange of words, but it holds the train up even more and creates a bad atmosphere in an already stressful situation.

And here lies the problem with these witty guidebook-style appeals for courtesy. The people who read them are usually not the ones offending. The jokes in the book were thought up by the victims of the bad behaviour, and they’re being too polite about it. Admittedly, the light, bantering humour is necessary because if you tell Parisians “do this”, they’ll be tempted to ignore you or do the opposite. If, on the other hand, you use humour, you’re suggesting that you don’t really care whether they do it or not, and that it might actually be cool to do it, so you’re in with a chance that they’ll actually do it. Sadly, though, even if the new manual does get a bit of media attention and raise awareness, its jokiness won’t solve many problems.

 … It’s easy to compare London to Paris. The Tube’s corridors are almost all clean and homeless-person free. London employs people to beg travellers on the platform to let people on the train get off. At the barriers there are people preventing fraud and giving advice. Escalators abound, whereas you’d be very hard pushed to find any Paris stations without long staircases. It all makes travelling around London feel much smoother. There is, though, one other key difference – the Paris system is incredibly cheap.

 … In Paris, you get what you pay for, and that includes sharing your trains and buses with a tiny but attention-seeking minority who are incorrigibly impolite. The person smoking on the platform or listening to loud music on a train isn’t just being impolite, anyway – he or she is being provocative, looking for an argument. There are people like that in every city and in Paris they often hang out in the Métro. The next time one of them is growling “connard, fils de pute, enculé” (literally “male version of the vagina, son of a whore, recipient of anal penetration”) at me for exiting a Métro rather brusquely, it’s not going to help if I tell him wittily that I am a knight who doesn’t want to be challenged to a duel. The reply would probably be a crushingly effective allegation that I am the “knight of his rectum”. That’s the kind of everyday wit you get on the Métro.
Stephen Clarke’s insider guide to his home city, Paris Revealed, includes a line-by-line portrait of the Métro network, and his own user manual for surviving on public transport.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Too many kids aren’t motivated to learn and too many teachers aren’t motivated to teach; It’s a baby-sitting service

American students are slipping further behind their peers from overseas, according to a study from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
complains Benny Huang.
Out of sixty-four countries surveyed, the US earned a grade of “average” in reading and science, and “below average” in math.

…/… The boondoggle of public education is an American shame. There’s something very wrong with our schools that seems to defy all of our most well-intentioned remedies. Without a clear diagnosis as to what ails our education system, we’ve stumbled around, searching in vain for the right medicine.

 …/… My layman’s diagnosis is pretty simple—our schools fail because ours society fails. Every societal ill eventually finds its way into schools, from unwed motherhood to drugs. Too many kids aren’t motivated to learn and too many teachers aren’t motivated to teach. It’s a baby-sitting service.

Here’s what I remember about being a student in a public school—kids with bangs in their eyes and bad attitudes, waiting for the bell to ring so they could steal away and smoke pot. I remember teachers trying to fill the day with time-consuming fluff, which is so much easier than teaching. I remember educators who chose the profession for ulterior motives, which were almost always political and left-liberal in nature. They taught their students that gay is good, America is bad, and there’s a racist hiding under every bed. Regardless of what subject they were hired to teach, certain teachers invariably blazed their own paths, incorporating white guilt into English class and environmentalist junk science into geography lessons.

Mandela and the ANC: A Look Back

The Diplomad has a good piece on Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress: Certain
informal "off the record" meetings with ANC reps while in Geneva and Vienna [in the 1980s] proved inconsequential, but showed the intense hostility of the ANC towards the USA, capitalism, and Western democracy. Some of the ANC had a very hard pro-Soviet, pro-Castro line, and there was no reasoning with them. These meetings, frankly, shaped my view of Mandela, making me suspicious of him and what he would bring to South Africa were he freed and in power at the head of the ANC.

As it turns out, I was right and wrong. The ANC was a lost cause; they did not believe in democracy, and had a large element of thuggery in their ranks. Many were terrorists who had received training in Libya, and were out for revenge and blood.
Mandela, however, was more complicated than I had thought. He had had his violent phase, but only after trying peaceful opposition to apartheid. Both in and after coming out of prison, he proved an extremely intelligent negotiator and compromiser, reaching understandings with Botha and De Klerk, and turning down the volume of the anti-white message of the ANC. He seemed to have an understanding that whites and other non-blacks were essential for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa. He also, surprise, did not go full Mugabe. He won election--although the vote counting was suspicious--served his term, trying to unite blacks, whites, Asians, and others into accepting the new post-apartheid South Africa. He did not try to drive the whites out, and did not go around confiscating farms and businesses. He did not encourage revenge against whites and sought a reconciliation of the races. A practical politician, he turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption among the ANC, finding it better to let the party members expend their revolutionary fervor making money. At the end of his term, he stepped down. Yes, he stepped down. That is an amazing thing in Africa; he stepped down on completing his term of office. It does not happen much on that continent. He, however, never got over his deep mistrust of the USA, and despite his credentials as a victim of human rights abuse, refused to criticize Qaddafy, never gave up his fervent admiration for Castro--who, ironically, runs a racist regime in Cuba--and remained very anti-Israel.
RelatedFans of Mandela Like to Forget That One of the ANC's Biggest Supporters Was Muammar Gaddafi