Archive for June 2024

Descente aux enfers

[English version forthcoming.]

Que peut-on faire ? Un pays vieux d’un millénaire et demi est en train de se suicider. Pour tentant que soit le désespoir, il est encore temps d’agir.

Le pire scénario, c’est la menace de la gauche. Ce qu’il restait de sociaux-démocrates s’est prosterné devant une bande d’extrémistes décidés à détruire toute structure sociale, défendant ouvertement les terroristes les plus sanguinaires, et conduits par un apprenti dictateur assoiffé de pouvoir absolu et de vengeance dans la pure tradition stalinienne. Les contrer est la priorité absolue : faire barrage à la gauche.

Ceux d’en face, s’ils sont moins immédiatement dangereux, ne valent guère mieux. À peine dégagés de leurs origines pétainistes, ils sont soudoyés par Moscou et leur arrogance n’a d’égale que leur incompétence. En faisant chavirer la France ils risquent d’entraîner l’Europe dans le naufrage, ouvrant la porte à l’agression russe. D’abord les pays baltes, puis la Pologne, et qui ensuite ?

Pour la première fois depuis des décennies la France avait un président et un gouvernement dévoués, honnêtes et compétents. Des gens sérieux, éduqués, mus par le souci du bien public et décidés à résoudre les problèmes structuraux du pays, ayant déjà en peu d’années vaincu le cancer du chômage, rééquilibré un régime de retraites voué à la catastrophe, rétabli la crédibilité internationale de la France, rendu le pays attractif pour les investisseurs, géré efficacement la crise sanitaire, assaini les conditions de l’immigration, attaqué l’islamisme et évité les attentats des quinquennats précédents… La liste pourrait continuer longtemps. Face à cette action massivement réussie les moyens d’information privés et publics, bien pires que les réseaux sociaux tant décriés, se sont déchaînés contre ce président et son gouvernement année après année, mois après mois, jour après jour. Les historiens qui analyseront la débâcle sauront faire la part de la presse dite de référence, et d’une grande partie des intellectuels, ceux-là même qui auraient dû être le rempart de la raison et n’ont su être que les acteurs d’une impardonnable trahison des clercs.

Aberrant, impensable et abominable.

Toute indulgence vis-à-vis des extrémistes du pire bord ou de l’autre vous rendrait complice de l’inévitable débâcle historique qui suivrait leur élection. Pour éviter le désastre absolu, chaque personne sensée doit voter dimanche pour le candidat local de la liste Renaissance.

 

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Upside down

What is going on?

In the US, the leading presidential candidate is a vulgar crook, a serial business failure and convicted business fraudster; more ominously, he acts like a vassal to Putin. His first term was an endless string of catastrophes, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his compatriots through gross mismanagement. And yet he mesmerizes the entire Republican party and half of the population, which despises his adversary, one of the most skilled presidents ever, surrounded by an A-team of aides, who brought back financial stability  — taking the Dow to unheard levels  —, defended Israel’s right to exist against the extremists in his own camp, and re-established respect for the US. But no, the electorate is ready to elect again the sinister buffoon and thereby to bring to an end the longest-running democratic run in the history of the world.

Have the American people gone mad?

France has its best government in 50 years; a young, energetic, smart president, he too surrounded by an incredible team of passionate men and women dedicated to the public good and to solving the country’s ills, one at a time. And whom does the common folk, for once united with a large segment of the educated class, deeply hate? That president and his team. Whom do they idolize? The extreme right, led by Kremlin-funded ignorant demagogues, unable to manage anything but prompt to fan any discontent anywhere. Also the extreme left, which has turned into the official antisemitic party in the hope of winning the vote of the banlieues by pronouncements that seem to come out of der Stürmer. In-between, the moderate left and the moderate right are representatives of the governments which for decades have not dared to address any of France’s structural problems. The press and mass media, including the previously neutral references of record, eager to prove their independence, savage the government day in and day out, good initiatives and bad. (Mostly good actually, but who cares? Nasty headlines make you look cool.) For the European elections of next Sunday, Macron has fielded an outstanding slate of determined professionals in his image; and yet all the polls suggest a landslide for the extreme-right list, led by a know-nothing who in years at the European parliament missed most sessions and did not produce a single law, report or result.

Have the French people gone mad?

Meanwhile top universities in Western Europe, the US and Australia fall prey to supporters of terrorism, defenders of the rapists and killers and butchers of women and children. The oh-so-nice bourgeois leftist press publishes ignoble articles glorifying the enemies of peace who advocate of the destruction of the only democracy in the Middle East. (The Guardian, the favorite reading of intellectuals in the English-speaking world, deserves a special mention in abjection. Its uppity journalists cannot  let Rishi Sunak state that two plus three equals five without firing a volley of attacks and mockery. And as soon as an anti-Israel bigot makes a statement, they religiously amplify it, shedding any semblance of a critical mindset and rational analysis.) Young people are being brainwashed with words like Apartheid (they apparently do not know that one fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs, most of them Muslim or Christian, with a strong place in society, representatives in Parliament and at the Supreme Court) and Genocide (they apparently do not know that Israel voluntarily relinquished Gaza, removing every reluctant Israeli by force, and that the Palestinian population has grown by a factor of five since 1950). Disinformation generously fanned by authoritarian regimes relentlessly tries to convince us that the aggressor is the victim and the victim is the aggressor. To make us forget that the terrorists immerse themselves in the civilian population, so as to maximize casualties which they then attribute to Israel. That they bar those civilians from their immense underground network, reserving it for combatants and hostages. That in cold blood and out of sheer hatred they tortured and murdered hundreds of innocent civilians, gang-raping the women with proud sadism. That they refuse to release those they are still holding. That they relied on the world’s compassion and subsidies to plan and implement their murderous rampage. They hide the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forcibly expelled from Arab countries (any “right of return” there?) and had to find new countries and build new lives. And yet from Columbia in New York to Sciences Po in Paris, activist students insult democrats and promote obscurantism. (One of the most extreme examples, which would be funny if it were not tragic, is the “LGBTQ for Gaza” movement, apparently oblivious to what happens to homosexuals in Gaza: torture first, then usually being thrown from the roof. As someone wrote, the slogan evokes notions of “Turkeys for Thanksgiving”.) The truth is that the Israelis, by defending themselves, are defending us from fanatics who want to bring the Western world back one thousand years, to a society of religious absolutism, power of the warlords, constant fear of violence and abuse, subjugation of women, and absence of any form of freedom.

Have the supposed future elites of the West gone mad?

Others too are defending us by defending themselves: the Ukrainians. Resisting the savage onslaught of a neighbor many times bigger and richer, they are shedding their blood to defend their right to freedom and democracy, values that we in the West have taken for granted. And yet many people in that same West grumble about the money that we are giving them and the risk of provoking Putin. (As if he needed provocation to launch what we thought would never happen again in Europe, an imperialistic attack motivated only by a thirst for power and domination.) The West’s mixed reaction is emboldening China’s own tyrant, intent on destroying a thriving democracy. Republicans in the US, egged on by Trump, delayed by half a year the provision of supplies needed as a matter of survival (even though much of that money comes back to the US in the form of weapon purchases!). Here too Macron, today’s European statesman  in the lineage of Adenauer, Monnet, Schuman and de Gaulle, is showing the way, along with the leaders of Eastern Europe an countries (the Baltic republics, Czechia, Poland, who on top of all their existential issues have to cope with the systematic obstruction of Hungary). The miserable German chancellor is, for his part, scared of his own shadow. Germany, with its addiction to Russian oil stemming from an idiotic and criminal rejection of nuclear power two decades ago, was a significant enabler of Putin’s ability to start monstrous war, but today it refuses to play its part in coping with the consequences.

Have the Germans gone mad?

The world seems to be upside down.

This blog started out as a “technology blog” and branched into “technology+” as I started including topics from other domains, but mostly I have stayed away from politics. One major exception was an
extensive article about Europe twelve years ago, to which I would not change anything today, especially days before crucial European elections. I prefer to write about what I know best: programming languages, programming methodology, software engineering, with occasional incursions into music, and once in a while some observation about the little ironies of life. But there are circumstances under which anyone who has had the benefit of learning to think — we do not even need the word “intellectual” — has to raise the alarm and explain that we risk losing everything.

Yes, we are at risk of losing everything that we have gained in the past millennium and which (along with economic progress, which it has enabled) makes life worth living: freedom of thought and action, tolerance, respect, democracy, generosity, protection of the weakest members of society, the prevalence of reason over arbitrary might, checks and balances on every kind of power, gender equality and other forms of giving everyone a chance. In the 1930s Julien Benda talked of La Trahison des Clercs, the treason of the educated, when he saw his peers endorse authoritarian (and ultimately murderous) theories from the left and the right. Something similar is happening today. We have been spoiled by those very advances of freedom, spoiled into thinking that we can show off by smugly promoting contrarian ideas, without realizing that they are not clever retorts in fancy conversations but part of a demolition process. Something like this happened in a previous generation: in 1968, it was fashionable for bourgeois youth to advocate Trotskyist or Maoist precepts. That was a lot of fun and made you look cool for a few years, before you became a professor, a middle manager or a capitalist. Today the stakes are much higher because the ruthless adversaries are at the door, with considerable means of physical destruction, threatening the very basis of modern, stable, pleasant society. They do not tolerate us, actually they despise us, but they have noticed that we tolerate them and they take every advantage of our cherished tolerance.

Let us not help them. If you ever feel tempted to forget our own collective interest, please remember that the surest feature of rational thinking (I do not even need to say “intelligence” is the ability to distinguish the auxiliary from the essential. Today:

  • Biden is old: auxiliary. (He is as sharp as ever and has a brilliant team to support him.) Trump is unhinged and eager to become a dictator: essential.
  • Macron is arrogant: auxiliary. (Also, not true. He is just smarter than most and does not quite know how to hide it.) Le Pen, Bardella and co. are incompetent and nefarious: essential.
  • You do not agree with everything that Macron or Biden does: auxiliary; in a way, comforting. (Only in dictatorship is the Supreme Leader always right, supposedly.) Trump wants to ban abortion to please the most extreme religious absolutists in his camp: essential.
  • The clever columnists from the Guardian and Le Monde find something awful in every carefully thought–government initiative: auxiliary. The French extreme left and extreme right want to jeopardize the incredibly successful European project and pave the way for hostile, autocratic foreign powers: essential.

We cannot stay away. You cannot stay away. If you are in the US, a vote for Trump (as I have heard otherwise serious people advocate, out of absurd arguments seemingly meant to make them sound cutely contrarian), or some boutique competitor, is a catastrophe; it is crucial that you go cast your ballot for Biden and for other rational candidates. If you are in France, go vote for the Macron list this Sunday. In those countries and everywhere else, support politicians who are not subservient to an authoritarian regime.

Do your part. Vote for the competent and level-headed candidates against the crazies of all hues. Explain patiently to less educated and less informed people what is at stake and where right and wrong, evil and good truly lie.

Treat the defense of reason and freedom as if it were a matter of life and death, because it is.

 

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Horribly transparent

A few years ago I was driving on a freeway in France and turned on the radio, chancing on France-Culture. (In passing it is fair to note the abundance of quality programs on that station. It has its share of empty Parisian intellectual chit-chat but much of the time I learn something interesting.) I was lucky: it was the start on a long discussion with Daniel Barenboim. Ever since, I have wanted to listen to it again but had forgotten the details, including the name of the program. I did remember that at some point the interviewer had found Barenboim in his hotel room, smoking a cigar and rooting for Argentina in its game against Switzerland at the beginning of the FIFA World Cup  it almost won; the latter detail helped find the date (thanks, Wikipedia) and, from it, the recording: here for part 1 and there for part 2.

On the side (again), Barenboim’s French is amazing. Even more so that YouTube has a multitude of interviews of him in just as seemingly perfect Italian, German, Spanish (his native language) and English,  and he is also fluent in Hebrew. Hearing him in French, one needs a while to realize that he is not a native speaker; his almost imperceptible accent could be just from some province. At some point he reveals himself through a trifling mistake that a French person would normally not make, like using “opéra” in the feminine as in Italian. (As an aside in the aside, I may be deluding myself in thinking that by default native French speakers know the word “opéra”, other than maybe as the moniker for a metro station in Paris. For one thing, under-40 Italians I meet usually know the latest Taylor Swift “song” but could not name a single Rossini aria, assuming they have even heard the name “Rossini”, other than maybe as the moniker for a meat dish. But let us not get dejected.) Ignoring these rare and small slips his French is elegant if slightly passé (who says “peu importe” nowadays?).

(For an earlier article in this blog involving Barenboim — as well as Arthur Rubinstein — see here.)

The most fascinating part of the interview is the beginning, where the interviewer quizzes him on Mozart, of whom Barenboim is one of the best performers in modern times. He quotes Arthur Schnabel:  “Mozart is too easy for children and too hard for adults”. (Schnabel’s actual  quip has “artists” for “adults” and there is this variant:  “Children are given Mozart because of the small quantity of the notes; grown-ups avoid Mozart because of the great quality of the notes”.) Professional artists, explains Barenboim, strive to reconcile the depth that they now perceive with the naïve pleasure they were  finding in the same music as children. Mozart’s music “weeps when it laughs and laughs when weeping”. Barenboim has this formula, which would be worth a treatise: Mozart’s music is “horriblement transparente”, horribly transparent.

Later in the recording he states that the 20th century distinguished itself by a tendency to deconstruction and fragmentation, and expresses the hope that the 21st will reconstruct and reunify. It is not taking that road.

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