Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category.

Winter will be warm

It is easy to engage in generalities; it is risky to make firm predictions. In the first case there is no reckoning; in the second one the actual events can prove you wrong for everyone to see.

I am taking the risk. Here is my prediction: Putin’s energy blackmail (Western Europe will freeze this winter!) will fail. We’ll have some trouble but by and large we’ll be OK.

The basic reason is simple: great idea (from the blackmailer’s viewpoint), terrible execution. (Do we see a pattern there?) If you are going to freeze Europe by cutting off gas, you keep the suspense until the last minute and shut off the valves in October, leaving your targets no time to react.

Instead they did it all wrong! They started making noises in the Spring and cutting off supplies in August. The result: people listened. Governments and technocrats got to work, with some time to get organized. A company such as EDF in France is sometimes criticized as too big and monolithic, but they know their business, which is to provide energy, and are pretty good at it. I would bet that they and their counterparts in the electricity and gas industries all over the continent are working day and night to find alternative sources.

In addition, no day passes without some announcement of new energy-saving measures. Some may seem like for show only but the accumulated result will be significant. Recently everyone (for example the usually better inspired Guardian) was mocking Macron’s prime minister Borne and her ministers for showing up to work in padded jeans and sweaters to save on heating, but that kind of message can be influential. (Almost a half-century ago Jimmy Carter was telling Americans that instead of turning the temperature to 19 degrees C in summer and 21 in winter they should do the reverse. He too was derided. But he was right and that kind of advice will finally come to pass. One of the few positive outcomes of the current tragedy.)

So yes, you succeeded in making yourself a big nuisance. And no, it won’t destroy us. It will make us stronger — also warmer.


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Hilbert spaces

In the heavy context of current news I hope it is permissible to engage in lighter observations. Some time ago I was briefly in Dresden, in the midst of a mayoral election campaign, and I noticed posters for this candidate:


Dirk Hilbert, Competent For Dresden”. Apparently it worked since he is now mayor, but do you not find the motto a bit on the bland side?

If anyone knows who will be doing his campaign’s PR for the next election, please put me in touch. If my name were Hilbert and I were running for office, I would demand better slogans from my team. Even if I were so power-hungry as to want to appeal to both sides on controversial issues.

Immigration for example:

  • Pro-immigrant: Dresden hat Raum für mehr (Dresden has room for more!).
  • Anti-immigrant: every spot is  already occupied!

On the environment too, one can, as any good politician, adapt to the audience:

  • Animal-rights: Mehr Löcher für mehr Tauben (more holes for more pigeons!).
  • Anti-animal-rights, pro-hunting-lobby: “We could kill half the pigeons, no one would notice!”. (Two thirds! Ninety-nine percent!).

Lots of potential on environmental and business issues as well:

  • Pro-growth, pro-business: Extra rooms without the extra cost!
  • Anti-growth: Dresden braucht kein neues Hotel! (Dresden does not need any new hotel.)

I can also see possibilities in inspirational-style slogans:

  • Yes, I Can More Than I Can!
  • Make Dresden Great Again! (Without Actually Changing It.)
  • Build Back Infinitely Better.

Or a simple one focusing on the candidate himself:

  • The natural and rational choice.

The possibilities seem limitless, although I hesitate to say innumerable. As always in politics, the hard part will start when things get real.

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Mr. and Mrs. Bei Uns

It is customary for an article to carry some kind of lesson or moral. This one does not. Or to be more exact it does have a lesson, several perhaps, but they are left to the reader to draw.

It is also customary, for an article that is written as a tribute to deceased people, that the writer would have known them. I never knew the protagonists of my chronicle. But my sister and I — along with a dear cousin, and I hope her children and grandchildren — are among the few people who still know they existed. Hence the need for a tribute lest the last traces of their stay on earth vanish forever.

They were German: Louis Bernheimer, born on 5 December 1875 in Issenhausen in Alsace, then part of Germany, and his wife Paola, born in Bayreuth on 12 February 1879, yes, that same Bayreuth where Wagner had premièred his quintessential German opera, Das Rheingold, three years before. They were German and seemingly, as we shall see, very German.

I know little about them, nothing else in fact than reported in this little note. One thing I do know is the nickname by which people in Paris called them behind their backs: “Mr. and Mrs. Bei Uns”. I know it because my father mentioned it to me. Just once, a long time ago, but I remember.

We need a bit of context. Herr und Frau Bernheimer flew Nazi Germany in the thirties with their son Fred, a young professional photographer, and settled to a safe place, or a place they thought was safe: Paris. There Fred met my father’s sister Éliane and married her; they had two children, my cousins. Now we are talking about the only people in this story whom I did know. Éliane was a strong personality, a dedicated feminist and activist. When her husband was hit with cancer and she abruptly found herself a widow with two young children and no resources, she took over his photography studio, learned the trade — about which she had known nothing — and made the business prosper. After the war, Studio Bernheim (the name shortened so that it would sound less German) became one of the fashionable addresses in Paris, thanks to both Éliane and her son Marc who trained himself to become its chief photographer while still a teenager.

Bei uns in German means the same as “chez nous” in French and translates as “at our home”, although that is not a good translation because English lacks a preposition that would accurately reflect the French “chez” or (in that sense) the German “bei”, which mean something like “in the home of”.  “Home” in a very intense and cozy sense, not just the physical house, but encompassing culture, country, community. Russians similarly say “U Nas”, literally “at ours” and, when talking about people, “Nashi”, literally “ours”, our people that is. In a Chekhov novella entitled  A boring story (full text available online here), when the antisemitic narrator wants to mention that at the theater last night the person seated in front of him was a Jew, he says that he was sitting behind an “iz nasikh”, a deformation with a fake Jewish accent of “iz nashikh”, one from our own, to suggest — ironically in light of the rest of my own boring story — a member of a tightly knit community.

It seems that the Bernheimers (to come back to them) were seen by their new extended family as stuffy Germans fitting the stereotypes. Not just stuffy: critical. Apparently, they went around commenting that whatever was being done in their new French surroundings was not being done right, and explaining the way it was done back home, “bei uns”. If so, it was perhaps not the best way to ingratiate themselves with their hosts, and it is not surprising that people in the family started referring to them acerbically, according to my father, as Mr. and Mrs. Bei Uns.

As noted, I never knew the Bernheimers, although in a different turn of the story I would — I should — have known them as a child. Therefore I cannot guess whether I would have yielded to family opinions and found them insufferable, or liked them as delightful, exotic older relatives having gone through hard times and now doting on their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Maybe both. I feel a certain remote sympathy for them in any case, having probably been resented, like anyone who has lived in countries where people insist on the “korrekt” way of doing things and comes back to more lackadaisical cultures, as a bit of a Mr. Bei Uns myself.

The irony is that in the eyes of many people, including many who would never consider themselves antisemites, Jews still have the reputation of harboring a feeling of  solidarity with their own kin that transcends borders and trumps national allegiance. Here we have the reverse. Highly assimilated families on both sides, French Jews and German Jews, getting into a cultural conflict because some were French and some were German. Ever since the revolution emancipated French Jews, they have been passionately French. German Jews were just as passionately German (in the style of Heinrich Heine’s I think of Germany in the night, the poem entitled Nachtgedanken, written in exile in Paris, see its text here).  French Jews do not ask themselves how French their are, since their Frenchness is as obvious to them as the air they breathe; it’s others who want them to prove it again and again — something that no one ever seems to require of people from certain regions of France such as Brittany whose inhabitants have a loudly proclaimed attachment to their terroir of origin. Unbelievably, the question still resurfaces regularly; it is even a theme in the current presidential campaign.

Why did I never get to decide by myself who Mr. and Mrs. Bei Uns really were: chauvinistic scolds, or a charming old-world couple? If they thought of themselves as German, as part of “uns”, the “uns” ruling Germany had a different understanding. When Germany invaded France in 1940, the Bernheimers flew, like many others, to the South of France, which until 1942 remained a supposedly “free” zone. Then the Germans invaded the “free” zone too. In August of 1943 Mr. and Mrs Bei Uns were rounded up near Bayonne. The town is close to the Spanish border; I do not know if they had hoped to cross over, as others managed to do. They were interned in the Mérignac camp, where Bordeaux airport lies today. From Bordeaux they were transferred to the infamous camp at Drancy, near Paris. From there they were put on convoy number 26 to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.

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The extremely bizarre idea of an inauguration

Could someone please explain what there is to celebrate when a candidate is elected to a political function? The grotesque ideas of a victory rally or an inauguration ceremony defy common sense.

An election success is an opportunity to start doing something good. It is not an achievement; it is the promise of possible achievements to come. Someone should hand the successful candidate the key to his office and wish him good luck. His supporters should go home and start thinking of how best to help him. He should get to work. End of that part of the story. There is by definition nothing to celebrate.

The time to hold a celebration, if any, is when a politician completes her term. At that stage there exists a clear basis for one of two outcomes: either a shameful, stealthy, miserable exit in the frosty predawn fog of a deserted airfield (as happened on Wednesday at Andrews); or a lavish, joyful party to extol and relish the brilliant successes of the last few years. Then, but only then, does a celebration makes sense.

Out with inaugurations, in with outaugurations!

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L’appel du 19 juin

Vous souvenez-vous de ce discours ?

Françaises, Français, mes chers compatriotes,

Je voulais vous parler hier mais on m’a dit que l’expression  “appel du 18 juin” était déjà prise et j’ai décidé d’attendre jusqu’aujourd’hui, 19 juin 2020. Un jour ne devrait pas faire une grande différence.

Mon message à toutes et à tous est simple :

Ne partez pas en vacances cette année.

Je sais, c’est dur. Pour les Français, les vacances sont sacrées depuis 1936. Toute l’année vous parlez essentiellement des dernières et des prochaines vacances. Mais cette fois-ci ce n’est vraiment pas le moment. Même si vous ne partez pas à l’étranger, avec la meilleure volonté du monde vous allez quand même vous entasser sur les plages et dans les hôtels. Vous essayerez le masque mais il suffit de se promener dans la rue pour voir combien sont au-dessous du nez ou au-dessus de la bouche ou les deux, ne servant strictement à rien.

Si nous partons comme tous les ans, imaginez la situation qui s’ensuivra inéluctablement. Projetez-vous quelques mois en avant ; le 28 octobre, pour choisir une date au hasard. Êtes-vous prêts pour 35 000 cas et 240 décès par jour, en croissance sans fin prévisible ? Pour un retour de l’engorgement des hôpitaux ? Pour — j’hésite à prononcer le mot honni ! — un nouveau reconfinement, celui que nous avions promis d’éviter mais qui serait devenu inévitable ? Et tout ce qui en découle — faillites, licenciements, séparations ? Sans même mentionner des fêtes de fin d’année sinistres sans la moindre lumière au bout du tunnel.

Non, j’en suis sûr, tout cela est impensable et n’est pas ce que vous voulez.

Alors, sacrifiez vos vacances cette année pour ne pas avoir à sacrifier bien plus les mois et les années qui suivront. Restez chez vous. Économisez votre argent, ne serait-ce que pour vous offrir d’excellentes vacances l’année prochaine. Lisez des livres, regardez des films, faites votre gymnastique, mais évitez déplacements et rencontres. Arrêtons-nous pour mieux rebondir ensuite. Si vous travaillez dans le tourisme, la passe sera difficile, et l’État vous aidera, mais céder à la facilité ne ferait que rendre vos perspectives pires encore.

En ces derniers jours de printemps, où tout semble vous sourire, vous n’en avez peut-être pas entièrement conscience encore, mais bientôt la bise sera venue : ne risquez pas, pour le bref plaisir d’un bel été, un automne et un hiver pires que ce que notre époque a jamais connu.

Pas de départ en vacances à l’été 2020.

Pour ma part, je ne m’en souviens pas.

D’autant plus qu’il n’a jamais été prononcé.

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The fool wants nothing

Another completely unexpected gem from the Viaje de Turquia (see the previous article on this blog): a 16-th century statement of the Dunning-Kruger effect!

An effect, of course, which has never been more visible than today (just watch the news).

Against Pedro, who narrates his travels and travails, the dialog sets two other characters, friends from his youth. They serve both as foils for Pedro, enabling his cleverness to shine — they are themselves not the brightest candles on the cake —, and as the embodiment of conventional wisdom. He occasionally gets really impatient with them, although always friendly, and at some point cites this ditty that he remembers from his youth in Spain:


Blind people want to see,

The deaf man wants to hear,

The fat man wants to slim,

The lame man wants to run.

For the fool there is no remedy:

Since he fancies that he knows,

He does not care to learn more.


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A retort that we could use

At this gloomy moment it is good to find a gem in an unexpected place.

I am reading (in translation) the Viaje de Turquia, or Turkish Voyage — literaly, Voyage of Turkey — a 16th-century epic dialog, whose authorship is disputed. It is a precious source of information on the period and rings throughout like a true story. The hero, Pedro, tells of his time as a prisoner of war of the Turks and the ignominies he had to suffer for years. He is a doctor, if a self-taught one, and has cured many members of the Pasha’s entourage, but at some point the Pasha, out of spite, sends him back to the harshest form of manual labor. One of his former patients, rich and high-ranked, spots him, the intellectual struggling to move heavy materials in the dirt and under the whip, and mocks him:

Hey, all the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, all the medical science of Galen, all the eloquence of Cicero and Demosthenes, how have they helped you?

To which Pedro, having put his sack on his shoulder and wiped the tears caused by this pique, answers, looking him straight in the eye:

They have helped me live through days like this one.

Pretty good, I thought. Not just the sense of repartee, but the sentiment itself (echoing by the comments of many a mistreated intellectual in later ages including ours).

Not only that, but it worked, at least for a while. So astounded was the persecutor by the retort, that he took Pedro’s sack to carry it himself, and convinced the Pasha to relieve Pedro from hard work and give him money.

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Serious newspapers: now is the moment to unlock Coronavirus material, or incur eternal shame

In my last article, time to live up to the boasting, I pointed out how bewildering it is to see that top newspapers around the world, the supposed “papers of reference”, continue both to:

  • Extoll their grandiose proclamations of supposed devotion to public service.
  • Charge for access to the epidemic that is scaring the world.

In a meeting I recently attended, someone was saying that “the media has hyped the crisis”. About the mainstream media, this reproach is incorrect and unfair: articles have generally been measured and informative, explaining the situation and calling on experts.

But such solid content sits behind paywalls! Free sources, particularly on social networks, are where you find the hype, the crazy theories and the lies.

Rightly or wrongly, many people around the world are panicking. They need a serious source of information and they are not all able to pay for it, especially if it comes from many sources to which one must independently subscribe.

Newspaper owners, this is your moment of truth, or of eternal shame. Free Covid-19 content now and without restrictions until this crisis ends.

We are fed up with your self-professions of sanctity and want you to fulfill your elementary social duty. You should have started to do this weeks ago already.

It’s not even bad for business — it will attract new, grateful, supportive subscribers who will stay with you for a long time.

The simple, obvious, honest thing to do.

I, for one, pledge never in the future to give one cent, peso or kopeck in the future to any publication that continues its current selfish and abhorrent policy of charging for life-and-death information that the world craves and needs.

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Time to live up to the boasting

The decent media is not modest these days. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” says the excellent Washington Post, intimating, if I understand it right, that the only way for the US to avoid dictatorship is that I pay subscription fees. Maybe I would if they just stopped devoting every single one of their articles to King Ubu. La Repubblica tells us that it will “always fight for the defense of freeedom of information, for its readers and for all those who have in their hearts the principles of democracy and of civil coexistence.” Beautiful (and behind a paywall).

The epidemic expert Jonathan Quick, interviewed by the Guardian, had this remarkable observation, talking about Covid-19: news tends to be behind paywalls, while fake news is free. The Guardian is in a way the right place to make this comment, since it remains, admirably, free-access with voluntary subscription (and all the same does not seem to be doing too poorly). But everywhere else there has been no change of policy. Whether you are looking at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Tages Anzeiger (“Dieser Abo+ Artikel ist exklusiv für Abonnenten”), La Repubblica, La Stampa, the kind of reputable press organs to which we would naturally turn, all have their more in-depth analyses reserved for subscribers. (The Russian Vedomosti seems to be an exception.)

Granted, every company (except maybe the Washington Post, since I have a feeling I am ordering enough from Amazon already) is entitled to earn money. But not all companies claim that their business model is about saving the world. My dear self-praising press, if you are really as generously public-minded as you are, here is a good way to demonstrate it. People around the world are genuinely worried about the Coronavirus epidemic and eager for serious information, if only to counter rumors and conspiracy theories. They eagerly seek credible, validated information that has gone through professional vetting, but many of them cannot afford to subscribe to all the relevant sources.

A few days before and after major elections, outlets such as the NYT and Wapo generally make their political articles free-access. The current health scare is an even more serious occasion.

This is the time for all serious news media around the world to show that their grand declarations of philanthropy are not just words.

We, the readers, should vociferously demand that as a public service these press organs immediately make all Covid-19 news, reports and analyses free-access.

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La folie française

Nulle part, dans la cohue des exégèses du mouvement des « gilets jaunes », ne trouve-t-on l’explication pourtant évidente : c’est pour partie une affaire de droit commun et pour le reste un coup de main proto-fasciste. Rien d’autre.

L’aspect le plus clair est celui de la délinquance. Dans quel autre pays civilisé des énergumènes se mettent-ils, pour clamer leurs frustrations, à opprimer leurs concitoyens en paralysant la société par la violence ? Dans un seul. La France. Et c’est en France seulement que l’on ne trouve rien à redire. En France et dans tous les pays du monde, si vous bloquez l’entrée d’un rond-point avec votre voiture, les gendarmes arrivent et vous emmènent au poste. En France seulement, si vous faites la même chose avec trente de vos acolytes, tout le monde compatit, le préfet vient repectueusement palabrer avec vous, et Le Monde convoque un professeur de sociologie pour expliquer combien vous avez raison de souffrir du mépris des élites. Absurde et inouï. Si le gouvernement Macron a fait une erreur, c’est celle-là : au premier péage bloqué, au premier radar neutralisé, il fallait dans les dix minutes coffrer les délinquants et les déférer à la justice – quitte à elle, dans la meilleure tradition d’un pays démocratique, de les juger sans passion en écoutant leurs doléances. Mais se plier à la morgue de ces gens qui utilisent la force pour empêcher les autres de vivre leur vie et d’assurer leur subsistance ? La suite était à prévoir : l’illégalité étant officiellement sanctionnée, tout ce qu’un pays compte d’extrémistes de gauche et de droite, et de simples malfrats ravis de casser et de piller, s’engouffre dans la brèche. Mais c’est hypocrite de regretter les malheureux débordements. Avant même l’entrée des casseurs professionnels, la violence était dès la première heure la définition même du mouvement. Il ne s’agissait pas de plaintes, de pétitions, de manifestations ; il s’agissait de saboter le fonctionnement le plus élémentaire d’une société civilisée. D’empêcher les citoyens de circuler et de travailler. Dans tout autre pays les voyous se retrouvaient immédiatement en prison. En France, on les invite à la télévision.

L’illégalité de droit commun n’est que le début. L’idéologie et surtout la pratique de ces gens rappellent de plus en plus le fascisme. Le fascisme est, pour une large part, le triomphe de la force brute sur la légalité: la prise de pouvoir d’une minorité par la violence, et l’imposition par la violence de ses valeurs au reste de la société. Les 250 000 bloqueurs du premier samedi représentaient moins d’un pour cent de la population adulte. De quel droit s’arrogent-ils l’autorité de décider qui passe et qui ne passe pas ? De tabasser un jeune homme et sa compagne, partis pour le cinéma, parce qu’ils refusent de klaxonner leur approbation ? C’est pour ne pas avoir arrêté dans l’œuf ce genre d’action brutale et illégale que l’Allemagne, l’Italie, l’Espagne, le Portugal et d’autres se sont retrouvés dans les années trente sous le joug de dictatures sanguinaires. Le semblant bonhomme et sincère de certains bloqueurs de ronds-points ne peut faire illusion. Il ne s’agit ni plus ni moins que de l’attaque de la force brute. Celle qui ne s’embarrasse pas d’arguments et qui se contente de vous asséner : vous ferez ce que vous dis, car je suis fort, vous êtes faible, et vous êtes en mon pouvoir.

Et leurs revendications ? Tous les conservatismes, tous les refus de raisonner, tout le fiel des envieux s’y retrouvent. Le mouvement, on ne le dira jamais assez, est d’abord celui des chauffards. Qui fréquente la France des provinces sait quelle haine a suscitée l’une des réformes précédentes, la limitation à 80 km/h. La raison était pourtant simple : les ingénieurs ont calculé qu’on pouvait sauver 300 vies par an de cette façon. Les chauffards — qui fréquente la France des routes départementales les connaît bien — n’accordent aucune attention à cet objectif de salut public : non, prétendent-ils, ce n’est qu’un prétexte pour nous ponctionner un peu plus. D’ailleurs l’ire des chauffards, des gilets jaunes, se concentre sur tout ce qui améliore la sécurité routière, comme les radars. La hausse des taxes sur les carburants n’est que le prétexte suivant pour se mettre en colère, prétexte d’autant plus absurde que cette hausse survient à un moment où les prix de base chutent. Quant à la transition énergétique, personne n’y prête attention non plus. Là aussi pourtant, les scientifiques s’époumonent à nous avertir : il est minuit moins une pour faire quelque chose, sinon le monde court à la catastrophe ; accidents climatiques constants, îles englouties, migrations cette fois-ci par dizaines de millions. Vous pourrez bien bloquer les ronds-points alors. Mais non, ce sont encore ces technocrates de Paris qui veulent nous prendre notre argent.

Le problème politique est profondément et exclusivement français. Les Français sont uniques, y compris parmi leurs voisins d’Europe occidentale. L’exception française a ses attraits : le goût, la tradition, l’élégance (pas chez les gilets jaunes), l’amour pour une langue d’une beauté sans égale. Mais elle se manifeste aussi par des défauts indéracinables. Dans tous les pays du monde, le citoyen moyen comprend que pour que quelqu’un reçoive de l’argent quelqu’un doit en produire. L’état c’est moi, et toi, et elle, et lui. Pas en France (et l’on peut avoir fait Polytechnique sans que jamais on vous ait expliqué ce qui ailleurs relève de l’école communale). En France « L’État » c’est quelqu’un d’autre. Il nous prend notre argent, toujours trop, et il est tenu de nous en donner, jamais assez. Il est de bon ton de se moquer des Américains qui croient que le monde a été créé tel quel en six jours, mais les Américains, jusqu’au moins instruit, comprennent les rudiments de l’économie. Les Français non. D’où les revendications conjointes de moins d’impôts et de plus d’aides. On ne peut sous-estimer ici l’influence de la gauche à la française. Cent ans de gauchisme primaire ont profondément corrompu le conscient et l’inconscient collectifs. Les patrons sont des exploiteurs, les salariés des exploités, révoltez-vous !

La deuxième catastrophe va avec la première : l’incompréhension des règles de la démocratie et l’imputation au gouvernement en place (dans le cas présent, en place depuis à peine un an et demi) de tout ce qui va mal. Gavroche le chantait déjà : Je suis tombé par terre / C’est la faute à Voltaire / Le nez dans le ruisseau / C’est la faute à Rousseau. Il ajouterait aujourd’hui :

J’en ai pris plein le front
C’est la faute à Macron

La démocratie, comprise à la française, ce sont tous les privilèges et aucun devoir. C’est le droit inaliénable de la minorité à se venger de son sort sur les innocents. Titre du Monde : « En occupant le rond-point de Gaillon, dans l’Eure, des manifestants forgent leur conscience politique et s’exercent à la démocratie ». Remarquable. On imagine les variantes : « En tirant au bazooka sur mes voisins, je m’exerce au pacifisme ». « En volant des voitures, je m’exerce au civisme ». « En trichant à l’examen, je m’exerce à l’honnêteté ». Invraisembable inversion des valeurs : l’arbitraire et le règne de la force brute érigés en morale.

La troisième catastrophe française est le recours immédiat et constant au sabotage et à la violence. Qui vient régulièrement en France de l’étranger est habitué au phénomène, que l’on pourrait appeler, si c’était drôle, le syndrome des Galeries Lafayette : il se passe toujours quelque chose. Parfois tragiquement venu de l’extérieur, comme dans le cas du terrorisme. Mais le plus souvent interne : grève du rail, grève d’Air France, grève des contrôleurs aériens, manifestation violente, incendie de voitures (dans quel autre pays le nouvel an signifie-t-il qu’on brûle chaque année des centaines de voitures ?), blocage de l’approvisionnement en essence, grève des « intermittents du spectacle » (parce qu’on ne les paye pas assez quand ils ne travaillent pas). Résultat : dans tous les pays voisins, on peut tranquillement planifier un voyage ; en France c’est impossible, on ne sait jamais ce qui va se produire. La violence en particulier est indigne d’un pays démocratique. De ce point de vue les gilets jaunes et leurs coups de main fascisants ne font que suivre une tradition ininterrompue, et largement impunie par crainte des conséquences (toujours le règne de la force) : séquestration de patrons, occupation illégale des universités avec dégradations en millions d’euros et représailles physiques contre ceux qui osent essayer de passer leurs examens, tabassage des responsables des relations humaines d’Air France par des syndicats de type quasi-mafieux. Au-delà de la violence, le dérèglement continuel est la source principale du retard français. La France est aujourd’hui le seul pays d’Europe où les vendeurs par correspondance ont cessé de garantir des dates de livraison, pour cause de troubles. Comment accepter une situation aussi humiliante ? Si les Suisses, les Allemands et d’autres réussissent tellement mieux, ce n’est pas qu’ils soient particulièrement plus intelligents. (D’intelligence et de créativité, la France n’en manque pas, du reste elle en exporte de plus en plus, comme elle exporta ses Huguenots après 1685.) C’est tout simplement qu’ils travaillent dans un environnement stable.

Le résultat récent le plus clair et le plus tragique est l’échec de ce qui aurait pu être une chance majeure pour la France : la récupération de l’industrie financière britannique pulvérisée par l’imbécile Brexit. Paris avait tous les atouts : la magie de la ville (vous iriez vivre à Francfort, vous, si vous aviez le choix ?), un gouvernement jeune et dynamique. Mais les banquiers ne sont pas fous. La banque a besoin de calme et de stabilité. Pas d’occupations, de grèves, de blocages, de déprédations et d’émeutes. Partie perdue, irrémédiablement.

Les destructions ne sont pas des débordements du mouvement : elles sont le mouvement. Dès le début, dès le premier automobiliste empêché de se rendre à son travail, il ne s’agissait pas de protester : il s’agissait de casser l’activité économique. Déjà les commerçants, pour qui novembre et décembre sont les mois clés, annoncent la pire saison depuis des années (et demandent bien sûr des dédommagements à l’État, c’est-à-dire une ponction supplémentaire). Une conspiration au seul bénéfice d’Amazon ne s’y serait pas prise autrement. Qui ne peut voir qu’il ne s’agit en aucun cas d’une protestation politique respectueuse de la démocratie, mais purement et simplement d’une tentative de destruction du pays ?

On s’arrêtera à la quatrième catastrophe française : la démission des clercs. C’est toujours très bien vu en France de s’enthousiasmer pour des idéologies rutilantes et généralement meurtrières. C’est très, très mal vu de soutenir le pouvoir, même quand il représente la raison, le droit et l’avenir. Mais où sont donc les fameuses élites (celles contre qui, selon les poncifs, le peuple est censé se révolter) ? Elles sont occupées à trouver des excuses aux vandales. Le Monde, auto-proclamé « journal de référence » (traduction : le New York Times sans les prix Nobel et sans les correcteurs d’orthographe), a passé tout l’été sur un scandale qu’il avait monté de toutes pièces, et sacrifie quotidiennement la vérité à une espèce de bonne conscience gauchisante sans aucun souci de l’avenir du pays. Le Figaro, au lieu de rallier la bourgeoisie au seul garant possible de l’ordre, se perd en élucubrations identitaires. Libération se croit toujours en Mai 68 et ne suit plus très bien ce qui se passe. Le Canard Enchaîné, vestige de la presse à chantage des années trente, dont on ne saurait sous-estimer dans le paysage français la puissance ricanante, méprisante, délétère et invincible, propage un peu plus chaque mercredi (entre ses contrepèteries obscènes) l’image du « tous pourris ». Pour soutenir Macron, personne.

Les élites devraient pourtant se rallier en masse ; non que Macron et Philippe soient infaillibles (ils ont fait des erreurs et ils en referont) mais tout simplement parce que dans la situation politique française actuelle ils sont le seul espoir crédible d’éviter le désastre. Le désastre, c’est la tiers-mondisation accélérée, l’écroulement de l’économie et le glissement vers le totalitarisme. D’un côté, un démagogue avide de pouvoir, suppôt de toutes les dictatures, admirateur de Chavez et de Maduro (qui en quelques années ont fait d’un des pays les plus stables de l’Amérique Latine, producteur de pétrole de surcroît, un abîme de pauvreté où les enfants meurent faute de médicaments et l’inflation mensuelle est à 94%, et qui serait pour nous le modèle ?) ; de l’autre, une extrémiste incompétente, issue d’un clan familial corrompu qui n’a jamais complètement renoncé à ses sources idéologiques des années trente. Macron est jeune, intelligent, compétent, calme et veut réformer la France là où elle en a le plus besoin, pour le bénéfice même de ceux qui n’ont rien trouvé de mieux pour progresser que de faire du chantage au reste du pays. Il a été démocratiquement élu, par une majorité sans ambages. La simple éthique démocratique appelle à le laisser faire son travail. Le simple souci du salut public appelle à le soutenir.

Tous ceux qui croient en la démocratie ; qui ont confiance dans l’énorme potentiel de la France ; qui savent qu’il faut en finir avec les lourdeurs et incongruités qui la paralysent ; qui perçoivent le risque énorme de totalitarisme ; et qui refusent que la violence d’une minorité l’emporte sur l’état de droit ; tous ceux-là doivent mettre au vestiaire le cynisme et l’éternel moquerie française pour s’engager publiquement et sans réserve, sans complaisance mais sans états d’âme, derrière l’unique force qui peut éviter la descente aux enfers.

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The coming European renaissance

The unspeakable in flight of the uneatable. One of the sad scenes of today’s Europe does not even take place in continental Europe, and does not even look sad. It happens every Friday afternoon at London’s Saint Pancras railway station as young expats from the continent joyfully board the Eurostar train on their way home for the week-end. They are all smiles, but the scene is nonetheless heartbreaking: why did these young and energetic graduates, some of the best the continent’s universities have trained in science, technology, finance and entrepreneurship, feel compelled to cross the Channel to deploy their talents? Sure, it is a great idea to try your luck abroad, but then the flux should be symmetric. Today, it is largely one-way.

That flux will stop. With Brexit, Britain has condemned itself to irrelevance. What a mournful end for one of the greatest civilizations in the history of humankind, which gave us both Newton and Darwin, as well as habeas corpus and the concept of individual liberty [1]! Faced with an obvious choice between grandeur and decline, a majority of Britons voted for decline and there is no going back. The word “Brexit” was coined to mean “British Exit”; there is no mention of Europe in it, an appropriate omission since Britain did not really choose to exit Europe, it chose to exit the modern world. The best that can now happen to it is that Britain keeps its oil and becomes something like Norway. Even that is not certain; the Scots may decide otherwise.

For a while I felt awfully sorry for my British friends and colleagues. They do not deserve this. Of course they did not vote for Brexit — no one with an ounce of reason did — but they have to suffer the consequences. On the other hand things may not be so bad in the long term. Many of them are Europhiles already; they will just move to more auspicious climes. Already the British are pumping up Paris real estate [2].

In the US, the tragic buffoonery goes on. Some days are more buffoon, others more tragic, but the destruction of one of the most successful societies on earth has started, and even though a majority of Americans are horrified with what is happening to their country the movement seems impossible to reverse because of the particular political system to which the US has now arrived. We may call it gerrycracy: democracy bridled by gerrymandering  (plus the Supreme Court). This system, although a recent invention in its current form, is designed to be self-reproducing, a phenomenon compounded by the evolution of the dominant party, which seems to have lost any sense of decency. The country’s greatness will not disappear in one day or one year; all that the world admires in the US, from Stanford and Harvard and MIT to the Metropolitan Museum and the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Review of Books to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Silicon Valley and Tesla is still up and churning. But the trajectory is set: downhill.

The programmed self-immolation of these two intellectual and economic powerhouses, depressing as it is, provides an extraordinary opportunity for Europe [3]. Here is a mosaic of democracies sharing an acute determination to do everything in their power to ensure that the horrors of their past will never occur again. People in Europe (not just the French) complain all the time, but they have, overall, the best deal in the entire world. Bewildering cultural riches, a non-extreme climate at least so far, decent economic standards, good-quality and largely free education, well-functioning basic services, a social safety net, tolerance for minorities, recognition of private enterprise, the rule of law… Where else on earth?

Europe has its challenges. Those of us who admire Macron’s bravado in inviting (in English) US scientists and engineers to come to France, and who also know how things work in European universities and business, are a little nervous. Convincing as the appeal is, it requires a serious redesign of the European university system and a concerted attack on the bureaucratic shackles and societal pettiness that stifle European creativity at all levels. It is doable. If someone like Macron could overcome the assault of demagogues and defeatists from the left and the right to get elected, he can start, with his counterparts in other European countries, to address the structural problems that hinder European progress. The context is right: the main countries have adults at the helm (in Germany this will remain true whether we get Merkel or Schulz) and the winds of optimism are blowing again. While Europe faces other major issues, present in the headlines everyday and hard enough on their own, the main challenge is economic: Europe needs to get richer. It is remarkable how much more smoothly a society functions, and how much happier people sound, when there is enough money going around. Just look at Switzerland. Macron and some of his international colleagues are the kind of strong and pragmatic leaders who understand this goal. They will also benefit, if Europe does not falter in its collective negotiating strategy, from a welcome windfall: the many billions that the UK will have to pay to disengage from its obligations. They should invest that money where it can make a difference: not the traditional European pork barrels, but science and technology, where it will catalyze Europe’s growth and wealth.

While the US and the UK are wasting their time, energy and money on non-problems, unimportant problems and self-inflicted problems, on building Maginot walls, on investing in technologies of the past and on closing themselves off from the sources of their own future, Europe should work on what matters. It should, and I think it will, at least as long as the King Ubu in the White House doesn’t get us into WW3 in response to some disagreeable tweet.

In forthcoming articles I will provide more detailed analyses of the various points sketched here. And yes, I know this venue started out as a technology blog and I will continue to talk about void safety, effective concurrent programming and how to verify programs. But the stakes are too high for scientists and engineers to stay neutral. Through what we know, see and understand, it is our duty to help Europe and with it the rest of humankind.

It could just work. I cannot wait for the scene at Paris’s Gare du Nord, a few years from now, on the typical Friday evening: lads and gals from London and Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent, eager to go home and get their hands on some fish and chips, but ready to return on Sunday night to resume their cheerful part in the new European renaissance.



[1] A remarkable  symbol of personal liberty is Blonde’s answer to Osmin, the head of the Janissaries who attempts to subdue her in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio (from 1782, seven years before the French revolution!): Ich bin eine Engländerin, zur Freiheit geboren (I am an Englishwoman, born to freedom). Blonde is not even the opera’s heroine but her servant.

[2] Brexit and the “Macron effect” are attracting the British to Paris (in French), in Le Monde, 31 May 2017, available here.

[3] Britain having officially thumbed its nose at Europe, we should from now on use the term to denote the continental part.

[4] Macron’s speech is available here, particularly from 1:34.

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From our “Problems you would like to have” department

Headline of a recent article in the Financial Times, part of a supplement on “Investing in Germany”:

Germany’s coffers are overflowing but optimism is wearing thin

Oh, the humanity!

On reflection, though, better than the other way around.

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Ubu Roi

The character of Ubu, created by Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), deserves to be better known. The Wikipedia entry on Jarry’s 1896 play Ubu Roi (Ubu the King) explains:

According to Jane Taylor, “the central character is notorious for his infantile engagement with his world. Ubu inhabits a domain of greedy self-gratification”. Jarry’s metaphor for the modern man, he is an antihero — fat, ugly, vulgar, gluttonous, grandiose, dishonest, stupid, jejune, voracious, greedy, cruel, cowardly and evil …

“There is”, wrote Taylor, “a particular kind of pleasure for an audience watching these infantile attacks. Part of the satisfaction arises from the fact that in the burlesque mode which Jarry invents, there is no place for consequence. While Ubu may be relentless in his political aspirations, and brutal in his personal relations, he apparently has no measurable effect upon those who inhabit the farcical world which he creates around himself. He thus acts out our most childish rages and desires, in which we seek to gratify ourselves at all cost”.

The derived adjective ubuesque is recurrent in French and francophone political debate.

An English translation of the play can be found here. The original French text (two versions of it) is available here.

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In English this time: a Marseillaise for our age

Sometimes it is better not to know French. You will never quite get what Voltaire, Molière, Beauvoir, Zola, Hugo and Proust really mean and what Carmen and Faust really sing. But at least you will not find out what the Marseillaise really says. It is France’s national anthem and, according to a site dedicated to it,, “believed by many to be the most stirring of all anthems“. Stirring, sure. Until you pay attention to the words.

I wrote an article on this blog, in French, proposing to shed the Marseillaise from its worst parts. A few people asked me to provide an English version; here it is. A rendition rather than a translation.

July the 14th, “Bastille day”, was France’s national holiday, and the opportunity for singing the Marseillaise. Politicians in towns large and small make a point of intoning it, in tune or (more often) out of it. One assumes — rather, one hopes — that occasionally they feel some embarrassment. You see, they understand French. The rest of the world hears the music, apparently good enough to have led such diverse composers as Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Beethoven to cite it in their own works, and has the luxury of ignoring the words. Better so. Here are some of the gems (in my almost literal translation, all those I found on the Web are awful):

It’s us versus tyranny
We have raised our blood-stained flag


Do you hear, in the countryside,
The howling of these ferocious soldiers?
They come to snatch our sons and wives from our arms
And slit their throats

and the triumphal part of the chorus:

Let’s march, let’s march!
Let an impure blood
Soak the grooves of our fields!

So kind and welcoming.

What makes someone’s blood so impure that every patriot must take as his sacred duty to spill floods of it?

As a matter of fact, it happened, three quarters of a century ago. Hundreds of thousands of French people learned that their blood was now officially non-conformant. There are a few more episodes of that kind in the country’s history. They are not, to put it politely, the most glorious, and not the most appropriate to recall for celebration in the national anthem.

In the days before the festivities, hearing a 7-year old sing (in tune) the impure blood that must soak the grooves, I wondered what kind of thoughts such slogans can evoke among schoolchildren, who are instructed to memorize them and sing along. What about the blood-stained flag? What about the tyrants (Matteo Renzi? Mario Draghi?) who unleash on us their ferocious soldiers, not only to howl, but to snatch, from our arms, our sons and our wives, and slit their throats?

It is time to reform this racist and hateful song.

We need not quarrel about history. The song had a role. The revolution faced enemies, it was defending itself. When we commemorate that revolution today, we think not of Robespierre and the murder of Lavoisier (the creator of modern chemistry, whose executors famously explained that “the republic has no use for scientists“); we think of its message of liberty and fraternity. Enough blood, battles, ferocity. Sing what unites us today.

A national anthem should not, of course, be changed every year as a response to changes in fashion. By nature, it will always be a bit off. But after two hundred and thirteen years of existence, including one hundred and thirty-six of service as national anthem, it is time to shed the Marseillaise of the most shameful remnants of its original text. The music will stay; but the words must adapt to today’s France, which does not whine about a troubled past but looks forward to a bright future.

Only weak peoples seek unity only through the detestation of others. Their songs are full of rejection and negation. Strong peoples, for their part, invoke positive images. Which phrase better projects the proud attitude of a nation that believes in its destiny: “it’s us versus tyranny“, or “with us, marches democracy”? “Their impure blood” or “our pure hearts”? “Slit throats” or “admire”? Be the judge.

There have been proposals for alternative Marseillaises before, but they tend to be mirror images of the original, falling into their own excesses, such as a rabidly anti-militaristic version which can only exacerbate divisions. We will not gain anything by replacing ancient grievances by modern insults.

The following version, illustrated below by the first verse and the chorus (and given in a literal English translation not meant for singing, whereas the French text respects the prosody and versification of the original Marseillaise) pursues a different goal: not antagonizing people, but uniting them; highlighting not differences, but affinities; and allowing everyone to bellow it: with no shame; instead, with pride.

Children of the fatherland, come along
The day of glory has come
With us, marches democracy
We have raised our shining flag.
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The murmur of those envious peoples?
They come to our towns and mountains
And cannot stop admiring them.


Together, citizens!
Let us make our union stronger!
Let our pure hearts
Vibrate in unison.

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A Marseillaise for our age

[This blog is normally in English, but today’s article is particularly relevant to French speakers. The topic: freeing a national anthem of its hateful overtones.]

Mardi dernier quatorze juillet, une fois de plus, la Marseillaise a retenti un peu partout. C’est le jour où les hommes politiques s’essayent à l’entonner, juste ou (plus souvent) faux. On peut s’imaginer, en fait on espère, qu’ils sont ici et là un peu gênés. “D’un sang impur, abreuve les sillons!“. Vraiment ? Qu’est-ce qui rend un sang si impur que tout bon patriote ait le devoir de le faire jaillir ?

Certes, c’est arrivé, il y a trois quarts de siècle, quand on a soudain avisé des centaines de milliers de Français que leur sang était désormais classé non conforme. Il y a quelques autres épisodes de ce genre dans l’histoire du pays ; ce ne sont pas — pour dire les choses poliment — les plus reluisants, et certainement pas ceux que le chant national devrait glorifier.

À entendre ces jours-ci une petite tête blonde de sept ans chanter (juste) le sang impur qui doit abreuver les sillons, je me suis demandé quelles pensées ces slogans pouvaient bien éveiller pour les enfants des écoles à qui l’on enjoint de les répéter en choeur. Et l’étendard sanglant ? Et les tyrans (Matteo Renzi ? Mario Draghi ?) qui nous envoient leurs féroces soldats non seulement mugir mais, jusque dans nos bras, égorger nos fils, nos compagnes?

Il est temps de réformer ce chant raciste et haineux. Qu’il ait joué son rôle n’est pas la question. La révolution avait ses ennemis, elle se défendait. Quand nous l’invoquons aujourd’hui, cette révolution, ce n’est pas à Robespierre et à l’assassinat de Lavoisier (la république n’a pas besoin de savants) que nous devrions faire appel, mais à son message de liberté et de fraternité. Assez de sang, de batailles, de férocité. Place à ce qui nous définit vraiment aujourd’hui.

Il ne s’agit pas de changer tous les ans d’hymne national en réponse aux modes. Il sera toujours, par nature, un peu déphasé. Mais après deux cent treize ans de Marseillaise, dont cent trente-six ans de service continu comme chant officiel du pays, il est temps de se séparer des relents les plus honteux de son texte d’origine. La musique restera, assez bonne pour avoir été reprise par Schumann, Tchaikowsky, Beethoven, Rossini et bien d’autres ; mais les paroles doivent être adaptées à ce qu’est la France moderne, tournée vers  l’avenir.

Seuls les peuples faibles ne savent s’unir qu’à travers la détestation des autres. Leurs chants sont emplis de rejets et de négations. Les peuples forts s’appuient, eux, sur des images positives. Quelle formule projette le mieux  l’attitude fière d’une nation confiante en son avenir : “contre nous, de la tyrannie“, ou “avec nous, la démocratie” ? “Un sang impur” ou “nos coeurs purs” ?  “Égorger” ou “admirer” ?Jugez-en.

Il existe des Marseillaises alternatives, mais souvent elles ne sont que le miroir de la première, avec leurs propres excès ; voir par exemple cette version sympathique de prime abord mais d’un anti-militarisme qui ne peut que diviser encore. Point n’est besoin de remplacer les anciens cris par des insultes nouvelles.

La version qui suit — chantable, respectant la métrique,  et dont je fournirai les autres couplets si elle provoque autre chose que des invectives — a un tout autre but : non pas diviser, mais réunir ; attiser non pas les différences mais les affinités ; et permettre à chacun de la chanter à pleine voix : sans honte ; au contraire, avec fierté.

Allons enfants de la patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé
Avec nous la démocratie
L’étendard vaillant est levé (bis)
Entendez-vous, dans les campagnes,
Frémir tous ces peuples envieux ?
Ils viennent, jusque sous nos cieux,
Admirer nos villes, nos montagnes.


Ensemble, citoyens !
Renforçons notre union !
Que nos cœurs purs
Vibrent à l’unisson.


Résidence de l'ambassade de France, Berne, 14 juillet 2015

Résidence de l’ambassade de France, Berne, le 14 juillet 2015

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The biggest software-induced disaster ever


In spite of the brouhaha surrounding the Affordable Care Act, the US administration and its partisans seem convinced that “the Web site problems will be fixed”.

That is doubtful. All reports suggest that the problem is not to replace a checkbox by a menu, or buy a few more servers. The analysis, design and implementation are wrong, and the sites will not work properly any time soon.

Barring sabotage (for which we have seen no evidence), this can only be the result of incompetence. An insurance exchange? Come on. Any half-awake group of developers could program it over breakfast.

Who chose the contractors?

When the problems first surfaced a few weeks ago, anyone with experience and guts would have done the right thing: fire all the companies responsible for  the mess and start from scratch with a dedicated, competent and well-managed team.

The latest promises published are that by the end of the month “four out of five” of the people trying to register will manage to do it. Nice. Imagine that when trying to make a purchase at Amazon you would succeed 80% of the time.

And that is only an optimistic goal.

The people building the site do not have infinite time. In fact, the process is crucially time-driven: if people do not get health coverage in time, they will be fined. But what if they cannot get coverage because the Web sites do not respond, or mess up?

Consider for a second another example of another strictly time-driven project: on January 1, 2002, twelve countries switched to a common currency, with the provision that their current legal tender would lose its status only a bare two months later. The IT infrastructure had to work on the appointed day. It did. How come Europe could implement the Euro in time and the US cannot get a basic health exchange to work?

Here is a possible scenario: the sites do not work (cannot handle the load, give inconsistent results). A massive wave of protests ensues, boosted by those who were against universal health coverage in the first place. Faced with popular revolt and with the evidence, the administration announces that the implementation of the universal mandate — the enforcement of the fines — is delayed by a year. In a year much can happen; opposition grows and the first exchanges are an economic disaster since the “young healthy adults” feel no pressure to enroll. The law fades into oblivion. Americans do not get universal health care for another generation. Show me it is not going to happen.

The software engineering lessons here are clear: hire competent companies; faced with a complicated system, implement the essential functions first, but stress-test them; deploy step by step, with the assurance that whatever is deployed works.

The exact reverse strategy was applied. As a result, we face the prospect of a software disaster that will dwarf Y2K and other famous mishaps; a disaster that software engineering textbooks will feature for decades to come.


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Memories of a dark time


A few years back my mother started writing her memoirs. She only completed a few chapters, hand-written, and I offered to type them up. There was not enough material to approach a publisher (my fault, for not pushing her to write more); the text has remained unpublished. I am making it available now: see here.

It is in French; if there is enough interest I will translate it. (Although the text is not very long, it is well written so the translation should be done carefully.) For reference I have included below the entry about my mother in one of many books about the period.

Here as a taste of her text is a translation of a short extract from chapter 5 (Grenoble, 1942, where her mission in the resistance network was to find safe havens for Jewish children):

 Along with hosting families there were religious boarding schools, and I should pay homage to a young Mother Superior, whose name I unfortunately forgot, who accepted some of our little girls cordially and without any afterthoughts. From schools for boys, however, how many rejections we had to suffer!

I also have to evoke that other Mother Superior, stern and dry, who after making me languish for several days while asking for the approval of her supervisors finally consented to see four or five little girls. I arrived with five of my charges, whom my neighbor had brought to me after their parents were arrested on that very morning. I can still see the high-ceilinged parlor, the crucifix on the wall, the freshly waxed and shining floor, the carefully polished furniture and a tiny figure with curly brown hair, all trembling: the eldest girl, who at the point of entering stepped back and burst into tears.  “One does not enter crying the house of the Holy Virgin Mary”, pronounced the Mother Superior, who had me take my little flock back to Grenoble, without further concerning herself with its fate.

And this note from the final chapter about the days of the Liberation of France, when under a false name she was working as a nurse for the Red Cross in the Limoges area:

This time it was the collaborationists’ turn to flee. I almost became a victim in a tragicomic incident when once, doing my daily rounds, I had to show my papers to a young FFI [members of the internal resistance army], aged maybe eighteen, who claimed the papers were fakes. Indeed they were: I still had not been able to re-establish my true identity. I tried to explain that as a Jew I had had to live under a borrowed name. He answered that by now all the “collabos” claimed to be Jewish to escape the wrath of the people…

 To understand the note that follows it is necessary to know a bit about the history of the period: the Drancy camp, OSE (see the Wikipedia entry), the Garel network. For the 100-th anniversary of OSE a documentary film was produced, featuring my mother among the interviewees; see a short reference to the movie here.

Biographical entry

From: Organisation juive de combat — Résistance / Sauvetage (Jewish Combat Organization: Resistance and Rescue), France 1940-1945, under the direction of Jean Brauman, Georges Loinger and Frida Wattenberg, Éditions Autrement, Paris, 2002.
Comments in brackets […] are by me (BM).

Name: Meyer née Kahn, Madeleine
Born 22 May 1914 in Paris
Resistance networks: Garel
Resistance period: from 1941 to the Liberation: Rivesaltes (Pyrénées-Orientales), Font-Romeu (Pyrénées-Orientales), Masgelier (Creuse), Lyons, Grenoble, Limoges
: Andrée Salomon, Georges Garel

In July of 1942, Madeleine Kahn was sent by Andrée Salomon and Georges Garel to work at Rivesaltes [a horrendous “transit camp”, see here] as a social worker. She worked there for several weeks and helped improve the life of people interned there; she managed to extricate from the camp a number of children that she took to Perpignan and moved to several hosting places such as Font-Romeu and Le Masgelier. In Le Masgelier [a center that hosted Jewish children], she was assigned the mission of convoying to Marseilles, for emigration to the United States, Jewish children who were of foreign origin and hence in a particularly dangerous situation. [These were children from Jewish families that had fled Germany and Austria after Hitler’s accession to power and were particular sought by the Nazis.] The local authorities had put them up in the castle of Montgrand, already used as a hosting camp for elderly Austrian refugees. The Germans’ arrival  into the Southern half of France [until 1942 they were only occupying the Northern half of the country] abruptly stopped the departures for the US, and the authorities changed the children’s status to prisoners, held in appalling conditions. Madeleine Kahn remained alone with the children. All escape attempts failed. They were only freed after a long time, and sent back in some cases to their families and in others to Le Masgelier.

In November of 1942, Georges Garel and Andrée Salomon put Madeleine Kahn in charge of organizing the reception and hiding of children in the Isère area [the region around Grenoble], which by then was still part of the Italian-occupied zone. [Italian occupation was generally felt much lighter than the German one, in particular regarding persecution of Jews.] The mission was to find hosting families or religious institutions, catholic or protestant, and in advance of such placement to prepare the children to their new [false] identities and help separate them from their parents [when still alive and not deported]. It was also necessary to obtain the support of some authorities, such as Mme Merceron-Vicat from the child support administration and Sister Joséphine of Our Lady of Sion. After a while Madeleine was joined by Dr. Selinger and Herta Hauben, both of whom were eventually deported. Later on she collaborated with Fanny Loinger [another key name in the Jewish resistance], who for safety reasons took over in Isère and particularly in the Drôme.

After the departure of the Italians [and their replacement by the Germans], the situation became extremely dangerous and she had constantly to move the children around.

Warned that she was being tracked, Madeleine Kahn hurried to reclaim two babies that had been left in the La Tronche nursery. The director refused to give her Corinne, aged one, as earlier on three Germans had come for her, wanting to take her to Drancy [the collection point in France for the train convoys en route for Auschwitz], where her parents were being held. Upon seeing the child’s age, the Germans had left, announcing they would come back with a nurse. Instantly, Madeleine summons her friends in various [resistance] organizations and the process sets into motion: produce a fake requisition order in German with a fake seal stenciled from a war prisoner’s package; hire a taxi; make up a nurse’s uniform for Renée Schutz, German-born in Berlin as Ruth Schütz. Equipped with the requisition order, the false German nurse arrives at the nursery while Madeleine acts as a sentry to stop the Germans if needed. Corinne, the baby, is saved. [I became friends with her in the nineteen-seventies.]

The duped Germans were enraged. From an employee of the nursery they obtained Madeleine’s address, but she had left. The landlady gave them the address of Simone, Madeleine’s sister. [Simone was not a member of the network but knew all about it.] Interrogated under torture, she gave nothing away. All attempts to free her failed. She was deported to Auschwitz from where [adopting along the way an 8-year-old girl whose parents had already been deported, who clung to her, causing her to be treated like mothers with children, i.e. gassed immediately] she never returned.

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The most beautiful monument of Europe


The most beautiful of all monuments in Europe is not the palace of Versailles, notwithstanding the Hall of Mirrors with its endless reflections of chandeliers and pillars, notwithstanding the fairy-tale grace of the Trianons, notwithstanding the sumptuous Hall of Congresses where the 1919 peace conference put a formal end … read the entire text. Le plus beau des monuments d’Europe n’est pas Versailles, malgré sa Galerie des Glaces où se reflètent à l’infini les lustres et les pilastres, malgré ses Trianons, malgré son imposante Salle du Congrès où prit officiellement fin, en 1919, … lire le texte complet en français.


Yes, I know, this is supposed to be a technology blog.

There are, however, times like right now when intellectuals should not remain silent — especially engineers and scientists.

I wrote the text referenced above several years ago; I don’t remember the exact date but it sounds very much Maastricht-aftermath. I have circulated it to a few friends, but think the time has come to publish it.

I am quite aware that unfolding events may make it look ridiculous. And then what? I will have done my tiny bit to bring people back to reason.

Note: I do not remember the provenance of the photograph. If informed, I would be happy to add the proper acknowledgment.

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