Category Archive • Cultures
March 13, 2004
Allez France! - "... everything in one sentence ..."

A comment has appeared, on what is so great about France. It is very good, but if I don't stick it on top of the pile, nobody except me will see it. So here, at the top of the pile, just for now, it is:

French thinkers have a talent for producing startlingly concise and aphoristic writing in unexpected places, on the most unexpected subjects. Where an Anglo-Saxon thinker might "introduce" and survey his topic before getting deeply into it, a French thinker will distil everything into one sentence, throw it at you, and leave you to ponder it. I think this is indicative of their enormous self-confidence. They know they're right, so why beat around the bush about it? I'm not claiming this is a universal trait, but I have noticed it in a wide range of French intellectuals: in their philosophers (Camus), their historians (Pirenne) and their social scientists (Aron and Tocqueville). Not to mention a mathematician (Pascal) who is famous among literary types for writing a whole book of aphorisms.

En effet.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:34 PM
February 13, 2004
What is so great about France (1): Intellectual Abstractions and spreading Intellectual Abstractions

That is not a sneering question, it is a statement, from a devoted admirer. I love France. I love its beauty. I love its ability to do beauty. And one of my most favourite intellectuals now alive, anywhere on the planet, is an extremely French Frenchman by the name of Emmanuel Todd of whom much more, in other postings between now and my death, but probably not in this posting.

Today I met up with another Cecile, French Cecile, Cecile Philippe of the Institut Molinari (link will follow), and we got to talking about France, as you do when you talk with French people. Cecile is a libertarian activist, or trying to be, but is still finding her feet, as it were. She is in the slightly arkward position of needing to press ahead with her efforts, while nevertheless not being fully in command of her strategic aims. Like building a house where you aren't sure of the foundations, that kind of thing? Yes, she said. Like that.

I began to orate not about libertarianism, but about France, the object of her attentions, and she seemed sufficiently impressed with what I was orating to encourage me to write some of it down, which, in a very slap dash way, I will now attempt. Since a lot of it – France being France – is "cultural", and since I don't yet feel good about exposing all this to the glaring light of the Samizdata commentariat, I will make use of Brian's Culture Blog to do my thinking aloud. As so often, my most important reader here is me. You can skip this if thinking aloud – very nicely and politely by the way – about France is not to your taste.

What follows is overwrought (partly due to lack of sleep last night – I had to be up early) and partly due to excitement and unchecked hypothesising. Several contentions that follow are bound to be rubbish. Severe first-draft-itis from now on, in other words. You have been warned.

Still with me. Then I'll begin.


If you want to persuade someone of something you have to show that you are on their side, and a libertarian trying to turn France libertarian is very easy to see (if you are French) as a traitor. Libertarianism means turning beautiful, beautiful France into an Anglo-Saxon dump of mindless commerce and disgusting fast food factories, and ultimately conquering the ruins on behalf of the USA. N'est ce pas? Well, that is a typically French assumption, I'm guessing. I don't think I need elaborate on that.

Ergo, a libertarian French person should ask herself the question: What Is Great About France? To prove that you love France, Mademoiselle Cecile, say what you love about the place. That way you avoid coming across as a nag (stop doing this - do that instead – do like Thatcher – stop being so French - how many times do I have to tell you? - blah blah) and prove that you are not a traitor.

Say, in particular, what kind of Great Future you think France has. I surmise that an awful lot of French people now fear that France has no Great Future at all, just a Great Past. France is now beautiful, and the future is nothing but slowly spreading ugliness, and nothing else. Again, I need not elaborate, and more to the point I don't want to. My aim here is to get stuck into the positives?

So: what are the enduringly great things about French culture? What do French people do best, and what can we confidently expect that they will continue to do?

The French do Intellectual abstractions very well. Thinking of them, analysing them, and perhaps above all, persuading others of the truth and importance of whatever intellectual abstractions France has come up with lately. At these things they are world class, and will always remain so, I believe.

Maths. I'm guessing that France has always been great at this. Descartes. Poincaré. Can't think of others, but I am certain there are many more and that it hasn't stopped.

Science. France punches way above its weight in Nobel Prizes, I'm guessing. Cecile said yes, especially now in biology and biochemistry, genetics, etc. The current French lament, she adds, is that all those wonderful French scientists have to go to America to find decent financial support and decent working conditions. But the positive side of it is that France cranks out these great scientists in the first place. America can't produce all the scientists it needs. So: a French export triumph.

As I said, not all French social scientists are to be despised. See Todd above, a genius whose particular genius is in teasing out how Intellectual Abstractions impinge upon every day life in the form of the varying rules of family life in different parts of the world.

And as for the French social scientists – and especially literary theorists of the post-Modernistical persuasion - who are bullshit artists of the top rank, well, my point is exactly that. French has the best bullshitters in the world. They have utterly conquered American academia, and the achievement is all the more impressive given that it is all such complete bullshit. Persuading someone of the truth can be hard, but it is basically an unimpressive achievement, for in the end the truth speaks for itself. But to foist a pack of lies on a generation of American intellectuals, well, that takes some doing. Lies do not speak for themselves. French lies, on the other hand, have a habit of being believed. French intellectuals, perhaps because they always obey persuasion rule number one (first convince yourself), are hugely persuasive and have immense intellectual self-confidence. Their entire demeanour, when they are foisting one of their Great Intellectual Abstractions on you, says: we are French, so it is impossible that we could possibly be mistaken. It is true. If you do not accept it, this is your loss. Take it or leave it.

This works, again and again.

What French intellectuals think, right or wrong, is a fact in the world of collosal importance. When French intellectuals thought Soviet Communism was good, Soviet Communism was untouchable. As soon as the French intellectuals decided, in the late 1970s, that Soviet Communism was foolishness, it was doomed. That is a simplification, but not nearly as much of one as you might suppose. The French are simply the world champions in this kind of thing, i.e. anything ending in "-isation" or "-ism".

Which by the way means that no matter how hard it might be to ever convert the French intellectuals into libertarians, it is still worth the effort, because the rewards will be literally world historical if we can pull it off.

From truth (and lies) to the other great French genius which is for Beauty.

But now I'm thinking I have to stop, because I'm off to hear Cecile give a talk about Intellectual Property. I'm expecting it to be excellent, Intellectual Property being a classic Intellectual Abstraction of the sort that a French person is liable to be very profound about, far more so than your average English speaker in such circumstances. So I have to stop now. So I will. I'll try to do Beauty tomorrow. Failing that, I'll do it Real Soon Now.

Apologies for whatever ill-thought-out not-thought-through rubbish there may be in any of the above. Comments, no matter how dismissive of what I've put will be very welcome. BUT, negative Frog-bashing is extremely unwelcome. If you think France is crap and doomed, etc., fine, and I can't stop you putting that if you really want to, but although I almost certainly won't delete things like that I really don't want to hear about such things now, thank you. That is not my question. I'm asking: What Is Great About France? And: What will go on being great about France? If you have answers and additional suggestions in tune with that optimistic and positive agenda, I'd love to hear them. (This is actually the big reason why I haven't put this on Samizdata. The Samizdata commentariat is just too mindlessly and ignorantly anti-French, and I just don't want to hear all that crap just now, thank you.)

If, having nothing nice to say about the future of France, no one here comments about this at all, I intend to bash on with this line of thinking regardless, in case you were wondering.

Sorry I had no time to include any links. I may correct this later.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:46 PM
February 11, 2004
Stylish Michael Blowhard comments at Alice's

Alice Bachini ruminates about style, saying that Brits who try to be stylish are more stylish than Americans ditto. What do I know? (Or, to be honest, care?) But my real point is that there is a Michael Blowhard essay there too, disguised as four comments. Excerpt:

Many Americans consider making it to be the main thing, and that doesn't lend itself to playing with styles for its own fun self. We're also a world unto ourselves. It's possible to live in the Upper Midwest and take no note of what the rest of the world's up to. This produces tons of provincial cluelessness – Midwestern guys who don't know that the moustaches they're wearing scream "I'm gay," for instance.

A commenter at our blog came up with a good explanations for Americans' ambivalent feelings about high art that may apply to style too. It's that many Americans are descendants of people who were either trying to get away from something (perhaps even Euro culture), or who were peasants, and hence suspicious of high-cult things. Style as a conscious thing? We're skeptical.

Me too. Like Americans I am partly descended from religious malcontents, in my case Huguenots who fled religious persecution in France, and came to … London.

So what am I doing running a "culture" blog? Maybe it's because we puritans (if that's what I am) object to people being stylish, but have no problem with objects being stylish. It's the difference between an arrogant swank-about-town and a humble artist or art worshipper. I believe in whatever is the Devout Atheist equivalent of the Greater Glory of God. (With maybe just a little basking in His reflected glory.)

See also Michael's latest piece about "gals" with lots of go-go-go but not as much depth as they might be needing, once their looks begin to go. Lots of good comments there too.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:19 PM
December 03, 2003
Filling the void

Armed Liberal (The War on Bad Philosophy 2) had a fascinating post and comment string, way back in March, on the central philosophy of the Islamist suicide bombers and their clerical guides. In the course of it, he quoted Isiah Berlin:

Suppose you went and spoke with …

[long list of European Romantic intellectual figures, including Hugo, de Staël, Schlegel, Goethe, Coleridge, Byron] …

Suppose you had spoken to these persons. You would have found that their ideal of life was approximately of the following kind. The values to which they attached the highest importance were such values as integrity, sincerity, readiness to sacrifice one’s life to some inner light, dedication to an ideal for which it is worth sacrificing all that one is, for which it is worth both living and dying. You would have found that they were not primarily interested in knowledge, or in the advancement of science, not interested in political power, not interested in happiness, not interested, above all, in adjustment to life, in finding your place in society, in living at peace with your government, even loyalty to your king, or your republic. You would have found common sense, moderation, was very far from their thoughts. You would have found that they believed in the necessity of fighting for your beliefs to the last breath in your body, and you would have found that they believed in the value of martyrdom as such, no matter what the martyrdom was for. You would have found that they believed that minorities were more holy than majorities, that failure was nobler than success, which had something shoddy and vulgar about it. The very notion of idealism, not in its philosophical sense, but in the ordinary sense in which we use it, that is to say the state of mind of a man who is willing to sacrifice a great deal for principles or some conviction, who is not prepared to sell out, who is prepared to go to the stake for something which he believes, because he believes in it ... this attitude was relatively new. What people admired was wholeheartedness, sincerity, purity of soul, the ability and readiness to dedicate yourself to your ideal, no matter what it was.

No matter what it was: that is the important thing.

And the "void filled with Byronic passion" is what the Islamists mean to fill.

Cultural studies meets counter-terrorism.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:49 PM
October 25, 2003
Another Charles Murray accomplishment

This is a book I'm going to have to get my hands on. Charles Murray, it would appear, is up to his usual tricks.

To judge by this New York Times review he is, as now seems to be his habit, drawing attention to his central and somewhat mundane thesis by decorating it with a few contemporary debate bombshells, calculated to (or just happening to) poke some burning sticks into a few vocal interest groups. The thesis is that the West has been more creative than the Rest, and one contemporary debate bombshell is that Europe in particular is in headlong creative decline because of the headlong decline within it of Christianity. So, many anti-Christians will queue up to denounce it. Murray also makes a stab at measuring creativity. With numbers. The cultural critics, who generally prefer to judge creativity by deciding how good they personally think this or that cultural object or enterprise is, rather than to measure it by bean counting other people's opinions and reactions, will be incensed at that.

Which means that I won't be the only person reading the book.

Some Q&A here, with Steve Sailer Q-ing and Murray A-ing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:15 PM
October 17, 2003
Alice Bachini on how different language equals different person

There's an absolutely brilliant piece over at Alice Bachini's about how talking in a foreign accent makes you into a different person. Commenter number one is me saying do please finish this because it's terrific, and introducing a few changes of subject by way of encouragement (I hope). And commenter two is saying how right it all is, with examples, this time of people who are switching entire languages. Even if this piece ends now it will still be wonderful.

UPDATE: She finished it, with a description of the specific vibes given off by an American accent, welcoming, optimistic, confident, etc. Another commenter agrees.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:56 PM
July 20, 2003
Rejection – hatred – imitation

This is only a press release about a TV programme, a documentary about US cultural penetration of the Islamic world. But it's interesting:

Muslim countries are increasingly saturated with American-produced films and television programs. These countries are struggling to cope with a cultural phenomenon that continues to seep into even the most protected markets via American movies and television. In a riveting and revealing documentary, AMC probes a variety of Muslim viewpoints on this issue to share them with American audiences.

As satellite television and movies invade the homes of Muslims in the Middle East, many perceive it as an insidious cultural invasion by the U.S. -- overt propaganda created to undermine their religious and cultural identity. From the overt homosexuality of Will & Grace, to the exaggerated violence of American action films, these powerful images project a value system that can inspire, as one Egyptian television executive states, "a kind of shock and rejection and hatred."

Yet many Muslims can't take their eyes off these images, as they've become virtually impossible to ignore. In Kurdistan, students say that American films reflect a people with greater freedom of expression and choice. "Our youth are being affected by these media products. They are enjoying it, they are consuming it, and they are imitating what they see," says Angy Ghannam, a news editor for Islam Online in Cairo, Egypt.

Which of course will only make the disapprovers all the more disapproving.

But all will eventually be well. They'll make their own shows, that satisfy their young, but deflect the complaints of the complainers.

And then we'll watch their shows too.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:09 AM
July 14, 2003
Life in the American Melting Pot

I've had a busy blogging day today, and there's going to have to be more to come, but I'd be very surprised indeed in anything I do is remotely as good as me merely having provoked this comment, in response to a Samizdata posting on the subject of immigration. I said something along the lines of "multi-culti isn't nearly as strong as the cultural DNA of the USA". And Jim (of Jim's Journal fame) immediately came back with this personal description of what that very USA-DNA consists of, which is so good you can hear the Aaron Copland trumpetting away in the background of it. Seriously, we've all read this kind of thing before, but have you ever read it better? Once the comments have died down over at Samizdata, I'll probably stick it back up there as a separate posting, assuming no one else does. (By the way, I've removed one paragraph, which was in parentheses in the original, and which consists of a question about Britain rather than of any addition to Jim's main theme.)

Brian, I think you are right about "multi-culti diversity crackpottery." That is something for fuzzy liberal college administrators, Democratic politicians, and professional do-gooder types.

I grew up in a very Italian neighborhood in a small city in upstate New York -- my friends' grandparents spoke heavily-accented broken English, some spoke only Italian; my friends' parents spoke English, some with accents, some without, seasoned with a few Italian words or phrases; my friends all spoke standard unaccented English (well, yes, the accent of an upstate New York blue collar neighborhood, but no Italian accent), and only used Italian for cursing.

That is the exact pattern followed by every immigrant group in the U.S. Sometimes it takes a bit longer, sometimes a bit shorter.

America has been called a "melting pot" for the way a multitude of foreign cultures merged together. Oh, we keep our unique cultural heritages, but we share them with everyone. When they paint a green stripe down the middle of the street for a St. Patrick's Day parade in a U.S. town, it's not just the Irish who are celebrating -- the saying is that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day. And a Greek Orthodox church may have a huge Greek festival weekend, attended by thousands of non-Greeks to enjoy the music and the dancing and the food (and the church may be able to cover its mortgage payments for the year with the income from that weekend festival).

I now live in Rhode Island where it seems as if every week there is some ethnic group having a festival -- last week I think there was a big festival celebrating the Cape Verde Islands independence day -- but we're all Americans.

And we all inter-marry and end up as members of many ethnic groups. I'm part English, part Irish, part Scot, part French, part Dutch, and maybe a couple of other things... my wife is half Irish and half German. One of the current debates is over census statistics -- people had always been asked to select a racial category, which upset many people of mixed racial background -- but allowing people to identify themselves as "mixed" upset the professional politicians who wanted to be able to proclaim themselves as leaders of large communities of whatever racial minority. What is Tiger Woods' ethnicity? More and more Americans are of mixed racial backgrounds and don't want to have to pick one kind of "diversity" label.

We're all Americans.

Sometimes we've had strife to end injustices. We fought a bloody civil war to end slavery. In my youth we went through civil unrest to end segregation and then to secure civil rights for all Americans. I knew that battle would be won the day I walked into our living room and saw my father cursing at the television news program that was showing the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama. My father (a man nobody would ever call a left-winger) was saying "They're Americans demanding their right to vote and that's their goddamned right to do that!"

I mentioned that I live in Rhode Island. Providence is by far the largest city in the state and it has a population from an amazing variety of ethnic and national backgrounds. The current mayor of Providence is half Italian, half-Jewish, fluent in Spanish, and openly gay. He was elected by a landslide vote.

I once met an Iranian who lived in Oslo. He was an educated computer professional who spoke excellent English (I couldn't say if his Norwegian was accented or not) and had a good job with a good company -- but he didn't feel at home in Norway and said his wife was really unhappy living there. Go back to Iran? No, that was out of the question; what he wanted to do was to emigrate to America.

Jim

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:44 PM
July 01, 2003
Strike by French arts workers brings French economy to a standstill

So I'm in a hurry, facing a busy evening, and I type "Culture" into google, and this from the International Herald Tribune comes up:

PARIS It is a time-honored summer ritual in France: a marathon of culture in cities and towns throughout the country.

But this year's performing arts festivals are in jeopardy because of strikes by workers in the arts over tougher regulations for unemployment benefits.

Already the Montpellier Dance Festival, which was scheduled to run through this week in that southern French city, has been canceled. So have performances at the Comédie-Française and several other Paris theaters.

At dawn on Monday, the police stormed a theater in Caen in Normandy and evacuated 100 strikers who had staged a sit-in since Friday. In Marseille, organizers of the city's eighth annual arts festival called it off rather than risk the unpredictability of wildcat strikes by unhappy workers. The 18-day festival involved the production of 14 plays and expected 17,000 visitors.

"I don't want to take risks," Apolline Quintrand, the Marseille festival's director, said at a news conference. "It is out of the question for me to enter into a fratricidal war with the crews."

Whatever happened to the idea that culture is supposed to be about taking risks?

Summer festivals in France and throughout Europe have become big business. Last year about 900,000 spectators attended a staggering 650 music, dance and theater festivals across France. French tourism has already suffered this year from the sharp drop in the value of the dollar, the political fallout from the war with Iraq and fears of the SARS virus. In cities like Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, festival organizers and local businesses rely on income from the summer festivals, and the cancellations could be financially disastrous.

Singers, dancers, actors, choreographers, technicians, circus performers - all sorts of people with seasonal employment in the arts - have united in protest. The object of their wrath is a deal signed last week by three unions with the French employers' association that would reduce unemployment benefits to eight months from 12 months a year for workers who do not have full-time work.

The agreement also requires workers in the arts to work 507 hours in 10 months rather than over the course of a year before they are eligible for the benefits. A hundred arts workers, including prominent performers and directors, sent an open letter last week to the center-right government supporting the protests and objecting to the new rules.

"We are witnessing today a swift degradation of French political cultures, of which the change of compensation for seasonal workers is only one facet," the letter said. Calling the labor agreement an "unacceptable policy of the right," the letter demanded that the government reject it and called for a national and Europe-wide debate on the subject. Jean Voirin, an official with the hard-line union CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), one of the two main unions that did not sign the agreement, was quoted on Monday in Le Parisien as saying, "This is a catastrophic agreement that will not resolve the true problems." ...

This is like a British coal miners sttrike.

But Daniele Rived, an official with the union CFDT (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail), which was one of those that signed the accord, told Le Parisien, "By signing, we feel like we have saved a system that was in jeopardy." The unemployment system for these workers has suffered enormous losses in recent years.

Other commentaries predicted that the disruption of the festivals would damage France's cultural standing in the world. "One of the best images of France's trademark - the liveliness of its culture, its creativity, its diversity - is seriously threatened," said an editorial in the Tuesday issue of Le Monde. "The craft of the artist has always been precarious because it's haphazard and uncertain."

The culture minister, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, met with festival directors and has urged arts workers to go back to work. He said the agreement offered "considerable advances." He called the strikes irresponsible.

But the director of the Montpellier festival for the last 20 years, Jean-Paul Montanari, said: "I support the workers. Otherwise why would I have canceled my festival?"

In Britain, a strike by "arts workers" would be greeted with guffaws of laughter. "Britain's theaters closed. British economy brought to its knees. Government acts to avert crisis." I don't think so. And as if to prove my point, I just told my friend Chris Tame that there was a strike by French arts workers, and what did he do? Correct. He guffawed with laughter.

But I told him: no. Over there, this is serious. The French economy depends on this stuff. The fact that French arts workers can stop working and thereby stab the French economy in the heart, shows you how seriously they take their culture over there.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:27 PM
June 07, 2003
French connections to Samizdata

Not a lot here today. I have, however just done a piece about a car advert, cultural nuances etc., for Samizdata, which explains a lot, in a roundabout way, about why I started this blog. I didn't say that there, and link to here, because this isn't looking pretty enough and organised enough yet, but now that you're here, and if you want something which is both me and cultural, read that.

If more Frenchness appeals, there's also this, posted just before my bit. David Carr and I wrote independently and posted at almost the same time.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:29 PM
May 12, 2003
France - pretty as a picture

Today my host and I visited a delightful French seaside town, called Collioure. All that I've been saying here about the pleasures of vernacular architecture applied to this place. Cute or what.

There were, of course, many shops aimed at tourists, selling trinkets, food and drink of all kinds. In particular, there were a number of "art" shops.

Coullioure is one of a number of towns in these parts which are famous for their association with artists, rather in the way that the town of St Ives in Cornwall is, although that's not somewhere I've been so I don't know how exact the comparison is. But whereas St Ives is merely a quaint oddity in terms of its place in the life of the British nation, it is no exaggeration to say that France itself actually defines itself as an aesthetic enterprise.

Remember that film called The Train, the one with Burt Lancaster playing a French railway worker in the French Resistance, who gets embroiled into supervising a daring scheme to divert a bunch of French paintings which evil Nazi Paul Scofield is trying to steal and take back to Germany. True, this film was made by an American, John Frankenheimer, who also directed another favourite film of mine, The Manchurian Candidate. Nevertheless, I think this film captures something very basic about post World War 2 France, which is that France now defines itself as an aesthetic enterprise. Those paintings - the names picked out in big letters, "PICASSO", "MATISSE", "VAN GOGH", and so on - now are France, in a way that nothing else is.

I live in a country, Britain, which defines itself as its history, as its constitution - unwritten but proud, as its institutions, as its procedures. Insofar as Britain is the way it merely looks then that look would be the English countryside and a manner of occupying it both of which are now rapidly fading into history, and being buried under agribusiness and concrete and general modernity.

In France, it's the opposite. The national political history of France is a mixed story at best. They brag about "gloire", but they have precious little of it really to boast about. What they still do really well is this beauty thing. The place just looks so damned nice, almost everywhere you go.

So these art shops are not mere side shows; they are the equivalent of those many, many souvenir shops in Britain which celebrate the continuity of our political institutions (personified by the members of the Royal Family), the decency of our policemen, the honesty of our cab drivers, and the excellence of our Parliamentary system of government.

And I hate these French art shops in much the same way that I hate those ghastly London souvenir shops. Both these institutions are cashing in on something real, by selling trash which is the bastard cousin of these realities. These French art shops are crammed with faked up impressionism by the square yard, with mass produced Cezanne rip-offs, with pictures of pin-up girls done with Van Gogh clouds in the background, with stuff that is just not real. It would be okay if they sold photos and posters of the real stuff, the way lots of real art shops in places like Paris do. But what they sell is not the honest reproduction of art but the illusion of art itself. In fact, thinking about it some more, I think I probably hate these places more than I do those damned souvenir shops.

Everything else about this national aesthetic project seems to me to be working, at any rate aesthetically. But the important thing to get is that this is what is going on. If you want to understand French foreign policy, you have to realise that their anti Anglo Saxonism is not "political", it is aesthetic. The French are anti-American because they are anti-ugly.

There are, of course, lots of French people who wish France could be a bit less beautiful and a bit more, well, interesting - a bit more aimed at the future and aimed at making money and doing stuff not already done. Lots of young French people would love to live in a country where, even if you have crap qualifications, you could get a job with a future without travelling to ugly little Britain or ugly great America.

Will France be able to keep this aesthetic enterprise going? I doubt it. The way they are heading now is that they are well on the way to turning their entire country into a huge retirement home for the rich middle classes of the world. Will they settle for this indefinitely? My guess would be not. But it will be very pretty for as long as it lasts. Apart from those art shops, I mean.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:05 PM
May 09, 2003
Northern France versus southern Spain

Today we took a trip into Spain, and the contrast was not that great, but nevertheless definite. The part of France where my hosts live has the air of a place where old people outnumber most others, and of being a place where things are accordingly done for the convenience and entertainmet of old people. So for example, yesterday, when we visited a French seaside resort, the most striking sight was a bandstand next to which elderly couples were dancing old fashioned type dances to old fashioned type tunes. Most tellingly of all, there were even some young people doing olden type dancing. All the virtues that old people value, like peace and quiet, architectural cuteness, politeness when greeting strangers in the street ("Bonsoir, monsieur!" even from the most scarily dressed and forbidding looking people), and so forth. Is France all of it like this? Is its current foreign policy the diplomatic equivalent of a batty old great grandmother shouting illogicalities from the far corner of the room in response to half heard snatches of conversation among the still definitely functioning? Probably France is not all like this, but a lot of it seems to be. If you want to do anything economically dynamic or different, your best bet is to move to England or America. French society seems to be going nowhere, but very prettily. On the other hand, maybe that will be France's economic future. Maybe it will be a pretty place for old people to live in, just before they die. Well, it's a living. Sort of.

But in northern Spain things are different. Spain is on the up and up. Spain in thirty years time will be very different, and a lot richer. The town of Figueras, which we drove to today, is full of young women pushing prams, and has an altogether livelier feel to it than southern France.

Figueras is the world headquarters of the Salvador Dali industry, but I'm afraid Dali is not an artist whom I much care for. All those bendy clocks, and broken feet, and suggestively meaningless landscapes. Well, correction, I'm sure if I dropped everything and studied Dali for a decade I'd find that it all means a tremendous amount, but my heart sinks at the thought. The museum which is the centre of the Dali cult is an entertaining building, though, even if it is decorated in little repetitive gobs of what appear to be little deposits of dog crap. I kid you not. There is a tower with giant eggs on the top, which looks amusing, and a big geodesic dome on top of everything. I didn't go inside. I didn't fancy the price, it wasn't convenient, and I didn't want to give the ghost of the old fraud the tiniest speck of further satisfaction. But the outside is fun, and far more good humoured and less self-important than the object of its devotion.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:27 PM
April 07, 2003
The Amerikahasser invents itself approximately around the globe – The Fantasmen of the Baathisten

Culture definitely includes language, and language remains one of the biggest barriers to a truly global culture. Anglosphere yes. Francophonia, yes again. Hispanosphere, Hindusphere, and the rest of them, yes, yes, yes. But great big single Everyonesphere, not quite yet, I'm afraid.

Instapundit links this afternoon to a google translation of a Die Zeit piece. I realise that most of you have surely seen such stuff many times before, but to me, as it happens, this is a first, and maybe to a few of you also. If my experience is typical, the translation link actually does the job again, each time you follow it. Odd. Anyway, here is what I got for the first two paragraphs.

In this, the real world the USA are to be defeated at present not. Therefore the Amerikahasser invents itself approximately around the globe simply another world. Everything in front the Iraqi regime, which is under the impacts of the allied troops in the last courses. That US troops penetrated in Bagdad, a "propaganda lie" is, bruestete itself an Iraqi "information Minister" on weekend. In reality the aggressors of the Iraqis are struck into the escape and "crushed"; one the US Besatzer on the Bagdader airport "slaughtered".

The offering no prospects the situation of the regime, the more zuegelloser and savages become its propagandistic Fantasien. The boldness, with which the communist manifestos reality is denied and turned in the opposite, certainly probably hardly rises from the almost insanity; it is calculated obvious. The Fantasmen of the Baathisten is purposefully directed toward the broad Arab public, which wants to betaeuben their pain over the own faint by conceited victory messages. We experience a frightening further schraubendrehung in the collective Psychose of the Arab nationalism: Still during the current events material history is replaced by a mythische Gegenwelt. Thus, if disappearing the regime Saddam Husseins will not have sometime to be denied no more, nevertheless the impression clinging to remain, it supplied a heroischen fight connected for the Americans with devastating losses to the USA with.

More research is needed, as they say. But, equally important point, it's definitely a start. I mean, you do get the gist of it. The Everyonesphere can't be all that far away.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:57 PM