Saturday, May 16, 2015

What Bureaucrats Do: Making Street Names Unnecessarily Longer

If we can ever be bothered to think about them, street names are usually a mystery
writes Stephen Clarke,
except maybe in American cities where it’s pretty obvious why they’ve called a road “First Avenue”. In Paris, curious passers-by and residents are often helped by little explanations on the blue enamel plaque, telling you who exactly gave their name to the thoroughfare.

 … I used to live in an excellent street in Paris – not only was it well-placed, in the Marais, it was also short and easy to spell. I pity the poor people who live in streets like the rue des Cinq Martyrs de la Révolution du 25 Mai 1848 (which doesn’t exist, but could in this country that loves to commemorate important dates in its street names). My address was in the rue Dupuis, so filling in forms was a pleasure. Recently though, I walked along it and noticed that they’ve changed the name to explain who Monsieur Dupuis was – it’s now called rue Charles-François Dupuis. He was an 18th-century scientist and politician, apparently. Perhaps the city didn’t want us to confuse him with some other Dupuis who did less noteworthy things – Jean-Paul Dupuis the serial-killing shoe repairer, maybe, who also doesn’t exist but could do in some 19th century novel.

I hope the powers-that-be won’t apply this full-name principle to all Paris’s streets, otherwise lots of residents could be in for a painful form-filling time. There’s a boulevard Beaumarchais, for example, named after the author of The Marriage of Figaro, and his full name is Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Even worse, the neat rue de Sully in the 4th is named after Maximilien de Béthune, Duc de Sully whose other titles were Prince souverain d’Henrichemont et de Boisbelle Baron, Marquis de Rosny, Marquis de Nogent-le-Rotrou, Comte de Muret et de Villebon, Vicomte de Meau. Try to get that on a postcard.
Stephen Clarke’s book Paris Revealed is an insider’s guide to his home city, and includes a section on street-naming policies, and the history of Paris’s trademark blue enamel plaques.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wondering Why Slavery Persisted for Almost 75 Years After the Founding of the USA? According to Lincoln, the Democrat Party's "Principled" Opposition to "Hate Speech"

Instapundit links John Nolte's Breitbart article entitled 6 Reasons Pamela Geller’s Muhammad Cartoon Contest Is No Different From Selma.

But there's an older racial issue, and an even more central issue in American history, that can be linked to the left's current crusade against hate speech.

And that is slavery.

And believe me, leftists do not come out on the right side of history.

Far from it.

Leftists are constantly railing about "America's original sin" and about the founding fathers' alleged support for (if not introduction of) slavery in the nation.

What leftists don't know is that one of the reasons that slavery persisted in the (Southern) U.S. as long as it did is that to oppose the special institution was considered to be practicing hate speech.

Yes, to oppose slavery was considered hate speech.

No. No! Not by all Americans!

By members of the Democrat party.

When (conveniently) castigating our forefathers… (Let me add a couple of parentheses: I add "conveniently", because this allows the current generation of leftists to feel good about themselves while engaging in self-praise and bragging how wonderful they are; indeed, leftist "values" and "arguments" is little more than an incessant litany of self-praise, bragging that one is more compassionate than anyone else, bragging that one is more intelligent than anyone else, bragging that one is more understanding than anyone else, bragging that one is more tolerant than anyone else, bragging that one has more humanity than anyone else, etc, etc, etc…) When (conveniently) castigating our forefathers (therefore) for allowing slavery to have lasted so long, or for having slaves at all, or for "introducing" slavery to the American continent, I wonder if leftists realize that one of the reasons it persisted was the Democrat Party's opposition to… (wait for it)… to… hate speech.

And the practitioners of hate speech (the abolitionists) were considered unethical, unrealistic, delusional crazies, who deserve little else but the utmost disgust — you might even say that they were the equivalent of today's demonized Tea Partiers.

Don't believe me?

Think that sounds far-fetched? Or too far-fetched?

Ask Abraham Lincoln.

Of course, the 21st-century term "hate speech" was not used, as such.

But listen to the Sixth Debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, at Knox College (full disclosure: I am working on a graphic novel biography with artist Dan Greenberg on The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln), and ask yourself if "hate speech" to be avoided (and opposed) at all costs is not what Abe is referring to when he describes the travails of the Republican Party.

Before we do read the appropriate part in the Sixth Debate, however, let's quickly take a look at another part of that debate, something echoed in the Seventh Debate.

1) The Presence of Slavery at the Founding of the USA Is Always Taken by Democrats—Either Favorably or Unfavorably—as the Founding Fathers' Intended Support For, If Not Creation of, the Institution

Today's Democrats would have citizens believe that America is (or was) a horrid, wretched place because slavery was present at the founding of the American Republic.

Yesterday's (i.e., the nineteenth century's) Democrats would have citizens believe that critics of slavery were horrid, wretched people because slavery was present at the founding of the American Republic.

Are these opposite or mutually exclusive? No. Why? Because in all cases, what Democrats are doing is nothing more than engaging in their ritual litany of self-praise (19th-c leftists praising themselves for loyally following the traditions of the American Republic, 20th- and 21st-century leftists praising themselves for refusing to close their eyes on the true evil nature of the American Republic). In either case, Democrats seem to simply refuse to use their brains and see things in context, while — deliberately or otherwise — perpetuating what Lincoln called "historically a falsehood".

As Lincoln said in the Sixth Debate:
 … I insist that our fathers did not make this nation half slave and half free, or part slave and part free. I insist that they found the institution of slavery existing here. They did not make it so, but they left it so because they knew of no way to get rid of it at that time. When Judge Douglas undertakes to say that, as a matter of choice, the fathers of the Government made this nation part slave and part free, he assumes what is historically a falsehood. More than that: when the fathers of the Government cut off the source of slavery by the abolition of the slave-trade, and adopted a system of restricting it from the new Territories where it had not existed, I maintain that they placed it where they understood, and all sensible men understood, it was in the course of ultimate extinction; and when Judge Douglas asks me why it cannot continue as our fathers made it, I ask him why he and his friends could not let it remain as our fathers made it?
What Lincoln did in preparation for the debates was spend hours in the Illinois statehouse library and look up all the documents from the time of the writing of the Constitution, discovering in the process that not a single one of the founding fathers — Northern or Southern (!) — had ever meant for, or ever expected, or ever intended for, slavery to continue unabated.

(You understand why leftists cannot allow schoolchildren to learn (too much) about the Lincoln-Douglas debates these days, as it would be much harder to demonize the United States — along with Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, etc etc etc — all the while engaging in unending self-laudatory remarks. No no—much better that our kids learn of much more important things, such as the the horrific—horrific, I tell you—situation of gays and lesbians throughout  American history, with its attendant weeping and gnashing of teeth.)

The Rail-Splitter repeats the above fact in the Seventh Debate:
 … the fathers of the Government expected and intended the institution of slavery to come to an end. They expected and intended that it should be in the course of ultimate extinction. … It is not true that our fathers, as Judge Douglas assumes, made this Government part slave and part free. Understand the sense in which he puts it. He assumes that slavery is a rightful thing within itself,—was introduced by the framers of the Constitution. The exact truth is, that they found the institution existing among us, and they left it as they found it. But in making the Government they left this institution with many clear marks of disapprobation upon it. They found slavery among them, and they left it among them because of the difficulty—the absolute impossibility—of its immediate removal. And when Judge Douglas asks me why we cannot let it remain part slave and part free, as the fathers of the Government made it, he asks a question based upon an assumption which is itself a falsehood …
2) Considered Uncouth and Extremist, Like "Hate Speech" Today, Criticism of Slavery Was to Be Avoided and the Boorish Critics Were to Be Gagged If and When Possible

And now, back to the Hate Speech part of the Sixth Debate; see if what Old Abe is discussing isn't the equivalent of shocking examples of speech that Democrats say need to be restricted.
I will say now that there is a sentiment in the country contrary to me—a sentiment which holds that slavery is not wrong, and therefore it goes for the policy that does not propose dealing with it as a wrong. That policy is the Democratic policy, and that sentiment is the Democratic sentiment. If there be a doubt in the mind of any one of this vast audience that this is really the central idea of the Democratic party, in relation to this subject, I ask him to bear with me while I state a few things tending, as I think, to prove that proposition.

 … If there be a man in the Democratic party who thinks it is wrong, and yet clings to that party, I suggest to him in the first place that his leader don't talk as he does, for he never says that it is wrong. … I suggest to him that if he will examine the policy proposed to be carried forward, he will find that he carefully excludes the idea that there is any thing wrong in it. If you will examine the arguments that are made on it, you will find that every one carefully excludes the idea that there is any thing wrong in slavery. Perhaps that Democrat who says he is as much opposed to slavery as I am, will tell me that I am wrong about this. I wish him to examine his own course in regard to this matter a moment, and then see if his opinion will not be changed a little.

You say it is wrong; but don't you constantly object to any body else saying so? Do you not constantly argue that this is not the right place to oppose it? You say it must not be opposed in the free States, because slavery is not here; it must not be opposed in the slave States, because it is there; it must not be opposed in politics, because that will make a fuss; it must not be opposed in the pulpit, because it is not religion. 

Then where is the place to oppose it? There is no suitable place to oppose it. There is no plan in the country to oppose this evil overspreading the continent, which you say yourself is coming. …
 … turn it in any way you can, in all the arguments sustaining the Democratic policy, and in that policy itself, there is a careful, studied exclusion of the idea that there is any thing wrong in slavery.

3) American Slavery and Abolitionism in the Context of World History

Of course, some might say that slavery existed for 5,000, for 10,000 years previously, so perhaps rooting it out in the space of some 73 years ain't in the final analysis all that bad.

To use Instapundit's regular quote of Robert Heinlein's,
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. 
(The science-fiction author goes on to say that: "Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as “bad luck.” ")

So, for centuries, for millenia, grinding poverty was the normal condition of mankind, with the vast majority of people throughout the world living a life of poverty and ennui, doing little more than working their farms to feed themselves, and rarely subsisting on more than the equivalent of $3 a day.

Next to that, how bad was slavery?

Compared to the bane of poverty that most people lived in, how terrible was it to be a slave, how immoral was it to own slaves?


Now, the spittle-flecked will scream that I am a racist with no empathy defending Southern plantation-owners. And a number of conservatives might join their chorus.

But it is time that we own up to one basic fact:

Slavery — like poverty — in the past was ubiquitous.

Both started coming to an end (some places faster than others, but certainly all over the West) after the American Revolution and the advent of capitalism (which some of us prefer to call, simply, the free market), along with the industrial revolution in the land of their English-speaking cousins.

I.e., slavery started coming to and end in, and thanks to, the English-speaking nations.

And yet, the only slavery the nitpickers (American or foreign) condemn, revile, and wail and gnash their teeth over is slavery in the US of A. South American slavery of Africans? No, not so much. White slavery of whites (from Rome to the 19th century)? No. Arab slavery of Christians? No. Arab slavery of (other) Arabs? No. Black slavery of blacks? No. Slavery today, from the Arab world to the African continent? No. The only slavery that is rendered in apocalyptic tones—the most apocalyptic tones possible ("America's original sin"!!)—is America's. (Is it any wonder that I conclude that we are living in the era of the drama queens?)

(When Amazon banned the sale of all items bearing the Confederate flag in the wake of the nine black churchgoers killed in Charleston by a white racist, Breitbart's Katie McHugh (képi tip to Sarah Hoyt) pointed out that the giant retailer had no compunction to continue selling all sorts of communist merchandise—with not a word concerning the millions of enslaved laborers on the gulag, not to mention the 94 million deaths world-wide—"featuring the hammer and sickle, Joseph Stalin’s mustache, all things Che Guevara, Vladimir Lenin and other colorful revolutionaries".)

And conservatives jump on this bandwagon. Even conservatives as diverse as Scott Rasmussen, Milton Friedman, David P Goldman (alias Spengler), and Onan Coca buy into this. Ben Stein refers to "the horrors of slavery" while the Washington Examiner speaks of the "long-festering wounds that were the terrible national legacy of slavery."

In the Prager University video Don't Judge Blacks Differently, Chloe Valdary refers to racism as "a stain so deeply ingrained in our culture" while bemoaning "the disparity between the races". Saying "America made grave and profound moral errors with regard to race", Jonah Goldberg calls slavery "an evil institution" that "will always remain a stain on America’s honor."

See, I am not defending slavery, but what the drama queens are doing, and getting conservatives to go along with, is perpetuating historical falsehoods, along with false comparisons, such as comparing the life of a slave (but only a black slave in the United States, you understand by now, not any others) to life in today's modern world (which truly would be nothing but atrocious) while ignoring the dreary poverty that life was for most people, black as well as white, in the West as throughout the rest of the world, up until the 18th and 19th centuries.

4) The Arguments Southerners Used to Defend Slavery in the 19th Century Sound Strangely Similar to Those of Leftist Heroes the World Over in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Indeed, when Southerners defended slavery, they brought out what was hardly an unreasonable argument; they said that that "freedom" among the Yankees was a mirage—that the only freedom the workers had there was the freedom to croak—and that they (the Southerners), at least, were taking care of their blacks, taking care of them from the cradle to the grave no less. And ain't that generous of them?!

You think that sounds ridiculous? Alright; so do I. Am I defending slavery? Am I defending the Southerners who practiced it? Am I "ridiculously" enamored of the image of ante-bellum plantation life? Not at all. Au contraire: notice how the Southern defense of slavery (we are taking care of our blacks/of the people/of our citizens) is not a conservative position; in no way is it so.

This is the liberal, the progressive, the smiley face position of the left, with all their good intentions and all their central plans, from LBJ to Barack Obama, from Allende and Che Guevara to Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, from Scandinavia's "we-enlightened-people-support-all-members-of-society" nations to Western Europe's incomparably glorious health care systems. Coupled with their outraged condemnation of the Yankees' evil capitalism (Yankees here meaning all American citizens and not just, as among 19th-century Southerners, American citizens from North of the Mason-Dixon line).

You may wonder (whether you lean left or right), really, is there no difference? There are a couple of differences, actually. First of all, the Southern plantation owners are private citizens, businessmen, while the others all embody the state and its armies of bureaucrats.

Right there, our leftist friends have an additional reason to attack slavery, with a fit of anger: wasn't slavery private business, after all, the affair of ruthless capitalists? (Actually, no it was not the free market, since the blacks had no freedom and no say in the matter.) In any case, compare this with the non-committal, neutral response to the far more cruel societies of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot ("Sure, sure, of course we condemn the Soviet Union and China's millions of dead … but… at least… we have to admit… that… they had good intentions").

What 19th-century Democrats were telling their castigators, in effect—to return to the hate speech point—was "at least we have good intentions (and if you have the outrageous gall not to believe that, you must be a worthless, ridiculous, laughable excuse of a human being with no values of empathy who ought to be shut up)".

Second difference, the goal of the statists seems to be to create a playground, one in which they tell the citizenry: "Don't worry, we support you, society supports you, just use your earnings (what's left after taxes) to make your life pleasant and comfortable, and we'll take care of the rest—your protection, your safety, your health care, your lot in life, everything." What the Southern plantation owners demanded, of course, was that their slaves work, work hard, and indeed engage in back-breaking, exhausting work. Question: are today's leftists more concerned with the freedom of the citizen or with the fact that his overlords do not provide him with a playground but ask him to work (admittedly, back-breaking work)?

Ben Carson is attacked for saying Obamacare is akin to slavery.

I keep getting emails from Barack Obama in which he tells me he wants to continue fighting for the American people.

In that sense, he has truly succeeded in "fundamentally transforming the United States".

For wasn't the American Dream the dream to get money, and thereby to get riches, and thereby to get power, and thereby to get independence?

Wasn't the American Dream the freedom from having to look and to appeal (just like in Europe) to our betters, to our leaders, to our smiley-face bureaucrats, to our "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" politicians, to intervene in our lives (with the bestest of intentions, natch)?

5) Republicans in the 19th Century Were As Castigated, As Ridiculed, and As Demonized As Today's GOP Members Are—If Not More

You can hardly find a description of the Garland's Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest, pro or con, without the writer (again, pro or con) feeling the necessity to have no choice but vilify Pamela Geller in the harshest of terms, as a human being of the most horrid of sorts (from shrill and obnoxious to possibly outright racist).

Guess what, Democrats! That is exactly (as we have seen) how your party treated abolitionists in the 19th century. As the lowest, and as the vilest, of human beings.

It is often said that Abraham Lincoln was a racist (the—few—times he used the N word, he actually appears to have been quoting Stephen Douglas's words back to him) — or that he had no choice, willingly or otherwise, but to appeal to the common racism of the American people. (Thus the modern-day leftist has history conveniently written down, once again, in a way in which America's forefathers are all demonized, as bigots, while modern leftists like he or she appear wise and humanistic.)

As John Nolte writes,
When you are dealing with the mainstream media, it is always difficult to tell if you are dealing with willful ignorance or just plain old ignorance-ignorance. There are plenty of moronic savants in the national media who have cracked the “hot take” code to please their left-wing masters but have no fundamental grasp of history, or much of anything much of else.
Leftists have again twisted history, as Jonah Goldberg notes in Liberal Fascism, to condemn Americans en masse while leaving the Democratic party unscathed.
…In the liberal telling of America's story, there are only two perpetrators of official misdeeds: conservatives and "America" writ large. Progressives, or modern liberals, are never bigots or tyrants, but conservatives often are. For example, one will virtually never hear that the Palmer Raids, Prohibition, or American eugenics were thoroughly progressive phenomena. These are sins America itself must atone for. Meanwhile, real or alleged "conservative" misdeeds — say, McCarthyism — are always the exclusive fault of conservatives and a sign of the policies they would repeat if given power.
What Lincoln had to do, rather, was less "appeal to the common racism" per se of the average American per se than to distance himself from those demonized abolitionists.

In the very same manner that Republicans, today, are constantly being asked, requested, to differentiate themselves from "far-right" "extremists" of such groups as the Tea Party.

That's right: the abolitionists of the 19th century were as demonized and ridiculed (today's castigators of slavery will be happy to know) as the members of the Tea Party are today.

And how about members of the nascent Republican Party? How were they treated in the 1850s? Can you imagine?

Well, only five years ago, James Carville referred to (modern-day) Republicans as "reptiles".

And 150 years ago, when an Illinois Republican felt the necessity to address himself to Southerners and Democrats (during his Cooper Union
in 1860), guess which term Abe Lincoln reached for:
…when you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us as reptiles [!], or, at the best, as no better than outlaws. You will grant a hearing to pirates or murderers, but nothing like it to [Republicans]. In all your contentions with one another, each of you deems an unconditional condemnation of [Republicanism] as the first thing to be attended to. Indeed, such condemnation of us seems to be an indispensable prerequisite — license, so to speak — among you to be admitted or permitted to speak at all. Now, can you, or not, be prevailed upon to pause and to consider whether this is quite just to us, or even to yourselves? Bring forward your charges and specifications, and then be patient long enough to hear us deny or justify.
"Reptiles, outlaws, pirates, murderers"… How often have Republicans been called terrorists in the past seven years?  (And in the years, in the decades, before that?)

So maybe we should take with a pinch of salt all the alleged decrees that the Democratic and Republican parties have switched positions between them and how, today, Lincoln would "obviously" be a Democrat.

You might be tempted to dismiss such (self-serving) musings — along with comparisons of the likes of Barack Obama to such illustrious predecessors as Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan — as not the fruit of intellectual investigation, analysis, and arguments but—again—as part of its incessant litany of self-congratulation.

(Is it any wonder that I assert that The Leftist Worldview in a Nutshell can be summarized as A World of Deserving Dreamers Vs. Despicable Deplorables ?)

Indeed, debate over the causes of the Civil War veer between the South's defense of slavery and the South's (alleged) fight for state rights.

How about a much simpler solution?

Isn't the truth looking at us from the center of the room?

Isn't the main reason that, then as now, Democrats (ever "fighting for the American people") did not want to be ruled by such low-life scum (reptiles, outlaws, pirates, murderers, terrorists, haters, etc) as Republicans, as abolitionists, as Tea Partiers?

Update: The Confederate Flag: Another Brick in the Leftwing Activists' (Self-Serving) Demonization of America and Rewriting of History

Thursday, May 14, 2015

French politicians still think that one of the privileges of getting elected is to act like a 19th-century prince

France has long thought of itself as the sexiest place on the planet
notes Stephen Clarke,
and the male politicians think they’re top of the social heap, so they assume that they’re infinitely desirable, and completely untouchable (not literally, of course – touching is what it’s all about).

One problem seems to be that journalists in general treat the politicians like stars. Of course I’m not saying that the women journalists in any way deserve to be subjected to sexist remarks. But if reporters spend their time chasing after politicians begging them for interviews about who they might support in an election two or three years away, and thereby imply that the politiicians’ influence is so great that the whole nation wants to hear their opinion, it is going to go to their heads (and elsewhere).

I’ve said it before, but I think it’s worth repeating: the French Revolution didn’t sweep away the élite, it just created a new one. In my book Dirty Bertie, I described how the young English Prince (the future Edward VII) fitted effortlessly into this system when he started coming to Paris on sex tourism trips in the mid-19th century. In France, as a member of the international elite, he was accorded as much respect, if not more, than back home under the British monarchy. He could (and did) proposition any woman he wanted – married or not – and the understanding was that she was a prude if she declined or took offence.

It’s exactly the same today with the political elite. A young female journalist threatens to complain to the police because a politician is chasing her around his office? Who does she think she is?

The 40 female journalists who wrote the open letter didn’t name the politicians. I have been told a couple of them by a friend of a one of the journalists, and I was pretty surprised. They’re men who ought to be afraid of losing their jobs (and all their privileges) if anyone catches them at it on camera. But apparently they still think that one of the privileges of getting elected is to act like a 19th-century prince.
Stephen Clarke’s new book How the French Won Waterloo (Or Think They Did) will be published soon in English. It’s out already in French, but the second half of the title is missing, for some strange reason. It’s just Comment les Français Ont Gagné Waterloo.

Related: Jacques Chirac's Golden Rule While on the Road (NSFW)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Obama takes jab at Fox News over portrayal of poverty

Fox Business' Stuart Varney reacts to Barack Obama’s jab at Fox News over its portrayal of poverty.

(Look at 02:00, as the (left) camera pans from Obama and a neighbor towards a man with glasses with black frames [he is also the man on the right earlier, at 00:10, shaking hands with Barack Obama]. Isn't that our old friend Jonathan Gruber? Nah, it can't be…)

Jacques Chirac's Golden Rule While on the Road (NSFW)

According to a laughing Rose­lyne Bache­lot, writes Voici's Mathias Alcaraz, the former government minister's favorite Jacques Chirac quote was the following:
Il me disait toujours “Tu sais, quand tu es en dépla­ce­ment, il ne faut jamais perdre une occa­sion de bouf­fer, de pisser, de baiser”
He always told me, "You know, when you are on the road, you must never waste an opportunity to eat, to take a piss, to get laid."

(FYI, all three verbs used by Chirac are slang words, with the latter one closer to the F-word.)
Ensuite, il allait aux toilettes et il me disait “Y’en a plus que deux à faire!”
Then he would head off to the restroom, and quip "one down, two to go."

Related: French politicians still think that one of the privileges of getting elected is to act like a 19th-century prince

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My father and millions of Soviet soldiers, sailors, and airmen, virtual slaves, brought the world not liberation but another slavery

Every year on May 9, Victory Day in Russia — marking the anniversary of the day that news of the German surrender in 1945 reached Moscow — my father would go to the closet and take out his sailor’s uniform, which required regular alteration to accommodate his growing belly, and pin on his medals.
Thus Mikhail Shishkin remembers the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 in a New York Times piece entitled How Russians Lost the War.
It was so important to me to be proud of my father: There had been a war and my papa had won it!

When I grew up, I realized that in 1944 and 1945, my father was sinking ships that were evacuating German civilians and troops from Riga, in Latvia, and Tallinn, in Estonia. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people met their deaths in the waters of the Baltic — for which my father received his medals. It’s been a long time since I was proud of him, but I don’t judge him. It was war.

My father fought the evil of fascism, but he was taken advantage of by another evil. He and millions of Soviet soldiers, sailors and airmen, virtual slaves, brought the world not liberation but another slavery. The people sacrificed everything for victory, but the fruits of this victory were less freedom and more poverty.

My father was 6 when his father was arrested. A son wants to be proud of his father, but his father was called an enemy of the people. My grandfather perished in the gulag.

When the war began, the persecuted population heard from the loudspeakers, “Brothers and sisters!” The baseness of Russia’s rulers lies in the way they have always taken advantage of this remarkable human emotion: the love of homeland and the willingness to sacrifice everything for it.

So my father went off to defend his homeland. He was still a boy when he went to sea, in constant terror of drowning in that steel coffin. He ended up protecting the regime that killed his father.

The victory gave the slaves nothing but a sense of the grandeur of their master’s empire. The great victory only reinforced their great slavery.

After the war, my father drank. All his submariner friends did. What else could they do?

  … The chief Russian question is: If the fatherland is a monster, should it be loved or hated? Here everything has run together, inseparably. Long ago, a Russian poet put it this way: “A heart weary of hate cannot learn to love.”
Of course, I wish my homeland victory. But what would constitute a victory for my country? Each one of Hitler’s victories was a defeat for the German people.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Did stereotypes used to be called monotypes? (A better name, perhaps…)

It is a cliché that clichés are clichés because some of them are true
writes Stephen Clarke.
Similarly, stereotypes are usually stereotypes because they are based on observation – they’re not necessarily a bad thing. (By the way I wonder if stereotypes used to be called monotypes. A better name, perhaps, for a single sort of person that is meant to characterize a whole set of people.)

Anyway, I say all this as an advance apology. I am about to tell a [Parisian story] that conform to Parisian stereotypes. My only defence is that [the event] happened. In Paris, too.

 … I was having a quick coffee in the Marais, at a place where I stop off sometimes when I’m in the area. I stood at the bar, and noticed I was the only one doing so. The other customers all seemed to be sit-down tourists. I had a quick read of the paper, paid, leaving a small tip as you do, then turned to go. As I did so, I heard a growl behind me and noticed that the waitress had been charging past with a tray, and had been forced to slam on the brakes when I turned away from the bar into her path. I apologized – “pardon” – and got out of her way. As she put her tray on the bar, she replied, “You should watch where you’re going! Merde!”

Of course we don’t know, and it wasn’t the right time to ask, what’s been going on in her life recently. Money worries, husband troubles, her favourite player is out of the French Open, who knows. It is very rare for Parisian waiters and waitresses to let the customer hear this kind of aggression, although they must think it quite often, for example when people take hours (well, OK, seconds) to order, or complain that they wanted a ham and cheese sandwich and not a ham and cheese omelette, or ask what’s in the beef lasagne. So I just said “Is that how you talk to your customers?” and left. There are half a dozen cafés in the same street, I don’t need to go back to that one. But i thought that she’d really let the side down. I’ve been defending Parisian waiters for years, saying they can seem brusque but they’re just being professional – they have to work fast and sometimes we the customers hold them up, but be polite and they will too. Now I was disappointed to have been proved wrong. After all, if you can’t rely on a Parisian waiter or waitress to look down on you in imperious silence, what is the world coming to? It’s like Jeeves telling Bertie Wooster to go and f**k himself (which, I must admit, he occasionally deserves.)