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Archive for the ‘france’ tag

Liberalism without a backbone

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Just at a time when we as a society need courageous voices to stand firmly behind free expression and the rights of writers, comedians and cartoonists to engage in robust satire and criticism of dangerous ideas, such as are found in the Koran and the hadith, certain weak-kneed, PC-infected liberals like Ben Affleck, Reza Aslan and the like threaten to pull this program of progress ever backward.

Six members of the PEN American Center, Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have chosen not to attend a gala set for next month in New York, in which the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo will receive the Freedom of Expression Courage award for its poise and resolve amid the controversy over its cartoons and the subsequent terrorist attack on the newspaper offices earlier this year for its satirical depictions of Muhammad.

In a report from The New York Times, Kushner bowed out of the gala for what she described as Charlie Hebdo’s “cultural intolerance” and “a kind of forced secular view.”

Although Pen president Andrew Solomon said those were the only six members who have pulled out of the event to his knowledge, at least one writer, Deborah Eisenberg, who was not attending the gala anyway, also spoke critically of giving the award to Charlie Hebdo:

What I question is what PEN is hoping to convey by awarding a magazine that has become famous both for the horrible murder of staff members by Muslim extremists and for its denigrating portrayals of Muslims. Charlie Hebdo’s symbolic significance is unclear here.

I hope Eisenberg’s writing is better than her ability to analyze satire. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons did not denigrate Muslims, of course. It poked fun at the ridiculous notion in some circles of Islam that depictions of Muhammad — and by extension, depictions of anyone — are somehow off limits, and that in a free society, certain elements in culture are and should be considered sacred cows, even to those who don’t recognize them as such.

For his part, Salman Rushdie called the authors who decided to pull out of the event “horribly wrong:”

If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name. What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.

And here is Sam Harris, who has been vocally critical of the weak brand of liberalism that might find offense or even a strain of xenophobia in the Charlie Hebdo cartoons or other critiques of Islam, as is apparently represented by these authors:

Written by Jeremy

April 27th, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Nonbelievers around the world

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Here is a map compiled by showing the percentage of atheists in the world by nation. Interestingly, China is far and away the top nation, which is also poised to rival the United States, with its many, many fundamentalist Christians, as a world power. France and Australia are no surprise, although Canada should probably not be on par with the United States in the nonbelief category, since a census showed that 16.2 percent of the Canadian population were not believers. Here is the map:

Credit: WIN/Gallup International,

Credit: WIN/Gallup International,

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Written by Jeremy

June 3rd, 2013 at 12:35 am

Europe’s immigration dilemma mirrors our own

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France, under the directive of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration, began expelling hundreds of Roma this summer, claiming that they were in the country illegally, and today, thousands have come out in protest of the government’s new policies, the immigration issue being just one of them. Another contentious issue is Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 and to cut spending.

Credit: Council of Europe via The Economist

According to this Reuters article,

Critics see expulsions of Roma gypsies as part of a drive by Sarkozy to revive his popularity before 2012 elections and divert attention from painful pension reforms and spending cuts. ((

… As if to say to his fellow countrymen: “Sorry about the economic measures I’m taking. Here, let’s expel some immigrants to make up for them.” This tactic doesn’t seem to be working terribly well.

As it happens, although Romania experienced a period of economic growth between 2003-08, the economic recession did not miss that nation either, and beginning in the fourth quarter of 2008, economic activity decreased significantly. Here’s a summary from World Bank. ((

As their native country continues to struggle from economic stagnation, Roma are scattered throughout portions of Western and Eastern Europe, as the map to the right shows.

We can, I think, point to various similarities between the dilemma of Romanian emigration across Europe with that of Mexicans and others Latinos seeking to come to the U.S.

First, and perhaps most obvious, is the issue of discrimination and human rights. This article from The Economist addresses some of those concerns regarding Romania:

An ingrained underclass, Roma are the victims of prejudice, often violent, at home in eastern Europe. Thousands have migrated westward to seek a better life, particularly as the expansion of the European Union has allowed them to take advantage of freedom-of-movement rules. Yet although conditions may be better in the west, the reception has rarely been friendly and politicians like President Sarkozy have ruthlessly exploited hostility towards the newcomers. ((

This “exploitation” of newcomers we know all too well here in American. From the near 400-year struggle of blacks to integrate as free people in America, to the denigration, and in some cases, dehumanization of Irish immigrants in the 19th century, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the denial of citizenship to Chinese residents already living in America at the time, our history is rife with a near ubiquitous hostility toward newcomers.

Second, as an astute reader of The Daily Beast wrote, Roma exodus across Europe is most likely economically driven, not cultural, for it makes little sense to claim that Roma or Hispanics or any other immigrant would prefer another culture to their own. Immigration is almost always driven by a) economics or b) oppression or nearly unlivable conditions in the homeland. This applies to European immigrants as well as those who seek to come to America from Mexico or elsewhere.

Whipmawhopma had this to say in response to The Beast article on Roma immigration:

I am under the impression that generally speaking most (worldwide) are economic immigrants rather than cultural ones, and bring their own culture and keep it, while making some adaptations. Many only stay for a while and then once they have made enough of a fortune (relatively speaking) they then go home. Many like the hybrid cultural they live in and stay. Some adopt the local culture. Some hate the local culture – meaning how they are treated – so much that they set fire to cars and make much riot if they happen to be in France.

Last week’s The Economist had an article on this. President Nicolas Sarkozy is very unpopular and he’s playing the anti-immigrant card to make himself less unpopular, which isn’t really going to work since the real uproar is about the mild austerity program he’s attempting to put in place.

Third, and perhaps most profound, immigrants, by and large, will do whatever it takes to attempt to escape the economic trappings of their homelands, if it means a better life for their families and their progeny.

Here’s how The Economist article sums up the issue Roma dilemma:

Europeans would be swift to condemn the plight of the Roma were they in any other part of the world. However, eastern European governments are unlikely suddenly to tackle a problem that dates back centuries just because Brussels tells them to. Perhaps self-interest may prove a more powerful motivator. Roma families are far larger than those of the mainstream population: the pool of deprivation is only going to grow. In addition, a recent World Bank study estimates the annual cost of the failure to integrate Roma in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and the Czech Republic at €5.7 billion ($7.3 billion). As the report notes: “Bridging the education gap is the economically smart choice.” If humanitarian arguments fail to carry the day, perhaps economics and demographics might.

Review of Keegan’s ‘The First World War’

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Within the last year or so, I decided that I wanted to try to read at least one book on each of the major wars this country has been involved in since the American Revolution. In recent months, I have undertaken David McCullough’s elegantly written “1776” and James McPherson’s expansive “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”. After just finishing John Keegan’s 1999 book, “The First World War,” I will probably continue and read his other one, “The Second World War.”

On the back cover of Keegan’s account of WWI, a review by The Boston Globe reads,

Keegan has the rare ability to view his subject from a necessarily Olympian height, and then swoop down to engage the reader with just the right detail or just the right soldier’s voice…. In the field of military history, this is as good as it gets.

Other reviews have described the book as “magisterial,” “quietly heart-rending” and “a masterpiece.” The New York Times got it right when it called the book, “omniscient.”

As history books go, I sometimes find myself being frustrated by being supplied with vastly more detail than I often require. I stopped midway through The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade for this reason. And for another reason: it was pretty dryly written. I’m vastly interested in that particular subject, but on page after page, the reader is inundated with, for example, the number of pints of rum on board such-and-such ship or the record of how many bushels of corn, etc. The number of slaves on certain ships is important, for instance, but not how much liquor the crew had on board.  At least I can’t imagine how that would be important information. I hope to try the book again in the future. Perhaps I’ll do some “smart” reading and sort of skim over the minutiae.

Regardless, Keegan’s book, as well as McPherson’s 800-page volume, while offering us some of those types of “omniscient” details that we may or may not want, suffer not from such tediousness. Keegan, in a masterfully written style, takes us through Austrian archduke and heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, Serbia’s “complicity,” the Austrian empire’s declaration of war, Germany’s entrance and straight to the trenches and no man’s land through four years of fighting that would eventually lead to revolution in the Soviet Union and Germany, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, the formation of modern Europe and, of course, the end of 10 million lives.

WWI was called The Great War, in my view, because it not only was waged by all of the vast empires of the world at the time (the United States played a limited, but important part in 1918 by overwhelming the German military conscious with millions of fresh troops that would prove too much for the often underfed and tramped down Triple Alliance forces), but because it was a decisive moment in history that carved up what we know of Europe today and razed the very idea of vast and sprawling empires that had so gripped most of the world for thousands of years prior. Hitler, of course, would attempt to resurrect this idea two decades later.

In recounting all this in a masterful literary style, Keegan gives us maps of the major battlefields, photos of sinking ships and lumbering soldiers and head shots of some of the key players on both sides of the conflict that in the first sentence of the book, he dubs “tragic and unnecessary.” Ending with a chapter titled, “America and Armageddon,” he sums up that much of the commanders’ actions, particularly on the alliance’s side, was a mystery. For instance, the Kaiser’s attempt to contend with Britain, a clear naval superpower at the time, for seas between Norway and the United Kingdom. On the Kaiser, Keegan notes,

Had he not embarked on a strategically unnecessary attempt to match Britain’s maritime strength, fatal hostility between the two countries would have been avoided; so, too, in all possibility, might be been the neurotic climate of suspicion and insecurity from which the First World War was born.

He goes on to describe the mystery of Ludendorff and other German officials insisting on continued military operations despite troop conditions and being outnumbered as “selfish and ultimately pointless military ambition.”

The legacy of the war’s political outcome scarcely bears contemplation: Europe ruined as a centre of world civilisation, Christian kingdoms transformed through defeat into godless tyrannies, Bolshevik or Nazi, the superficial difference between their ideologies counting not at all in their cruelty to common and decent folk.

At 427 pages and with often challenging vocabulary, this is not an easy or quick read, but one well worth the effort. Of course, Keegan ends by looking forward to what would become another episode of egregious loss of life during World War II and backward to the trenches, in which he notes, with untold irony, soldiers existing where love and compassion were all-but vacant, the friendships that inevitably developed as soldiers fought with, and for, each other:

Comradership flourished in the earthwork cities of the Western and Eastern Fronts, bound strangers into the closest brotherhood, elevated the loyalties created with the ethos of temporary regimentality to the status of life-and-death blood ties.

Indeed, for many soldiers, their fellow men in arms would be the last family, and sometimes, only family they would know.

Men whom the trenches cast into intimacy entered into bonds of mutual dependency and sacrifice of self stronger than any of the friendships made in peace and better times. That is the ultimate mystery of the First World War.

When thinking of military history, or history at all, one often thinks of tedious and an uninspired presentation. And indeed, while readers may feel the need to re-read more than one sentence in this book because of  sometimes complex structures, this is the anti-thesis to dry historical studies. If not for its obvious factual nature, I would be inclined call this historical-literature, the difference between literature and mere fiction being that literature is art. And that’s how I would describe this work.

Ridin’ the Sporcle bandwagon

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Ok, I admit it. I’m quite addicted to, a site of which you best bring your A-game. Here, you can play any number of games that will test your knowledge of geography, music, politics, religion and other subjects. Recently, I have been playing some geography and have, subsequently, learned all countries in North America and Europe (It isn’t as easy as you think, and there are actually 23 countries in North America, not three.)

If you are interested in getting a firm grasp of the world as we know it, in all subjects, this is a wonderful resource that will, both challenge your knowledge and your patience. Next, I plan to tackle Africa and learn all the countries there, and then on to South America, Asia and Oceania. My friend, Blake, has done all the above and is now attempting, maybe at this point, succeeding, in correctly identifying all 195 countries on the planet. Here are records of my recent conquests. Allllright!, as Quagmire would say.

23 countries

23 countries

Countries of Europe

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