"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."
- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)
"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."
- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"
Thursday, 25 December 2003
Topic: Bush Americans and the French: Is George Bush "Forrest Gump with rockets?" On Sunday, 21 December I commented on an item from The Economist which seemed to be an analysis of what passes for humor in France. See this: Jerry Lewis, Monty Python and ? Le P?re No?l est une Ordure ? - The reason we don't get along with the French? Our sense of humor.
Name: Michael Padnos Hometown: Vauvenargues, France
As an American living in France, I am always astonished to read the American press on the subject of the frogs. What, precisely, was the point of the article about "Do the French have a sense of Humor?" Was it to prove that the word "humor" did not exist in the French language until recently? The writer seems to think the French have never had any funny films with an int'l reputation: has he ever heard of M. Hulot? How about batches of Depardieu films, and "The Tall Blond man with One Black Shoe", just to mention a few that come to my mind in an instant. The French satirical TV program "Les Guignols," which the author does mention, is about 100 timnes funnier --and more popular -- than any American equivalent; Fench satirical magazines and newspapers, of which he mentions only a few, are VERY funny --and v. popular; there is no equivalent for this massive outpouring of ha-ha anywhere in American culture.
America seems to think that the best way to view the world is through the eyes of a moron - hence Forrest Gump. For me, one of the pleasures of living in France is things here are seen as endlessly, hilarously funny, and nothing is as funny to the French as the French themselves. The French, in my experience, love to laugh at almost everything, starting with themselves. Indeed if you want to see the difference, just step into a restaurant in the U.S. and listen to the silences, or the pompous businessmen busy one-upping one another; and then step into any restaurant in France and listen to the level of laughter.
To a person used to living in France, the country that invested joie de vivre, America seems like a grim and terrified place, and its leader like Forrest Gump with rockets.
Please, spare us all that sniggering at the French. I find it so false, and so tiresome, and so uninformed, and so jingoistic, and so smug - I'll stop there. I trust you get the point.
Forrest Gump? The movie America loved, about how a man with no education, no experience in the world, no social skills and the intellectual capacity of s seven-year-old was somehow better than everyone else, and more worthy of our admiration and his success than those who value such silly qualities? The simple, innocent man.
Curious. This American living in France is onto something.
Forrest Gump may have been the movie that made the election of George Bush possible. It posited the virtues of 1.) knowing nothing, 2.) being unable to really learn anything, and 3.) being utterly incapable of seeing any complexity. Gump was cute and endearing, and saw only simple truths. And only good things happened to him. We all loved Gump. So we elected one.
Topic: Photos The new guy... Nicholas James Cook arrived at ten in the evening on the 20th - so Christmas Eve meant little to him. He slept a lot. For Michelle and Neal (my godson), this is their first. And Nicholas James seems happy and healthy. When he wakes up later we'll all try to explain Christmas to him.
Topic: Bush Friends and Allies: Does One Ever Really Need Them? "... we have changed from the flawed but generous nation that we are into a mean and paranoid country that lashes out at friends and enemies alike." I let this sit for a few days. I saw it cited a few places and thought little of it, as the source, the Sunday Mirror (UK) is almost the sleazy tabloid its sister the Daily Mirror is. But it is getting a lot of play. I suspect people feel that it feels true, so they want to believe it. They want to believe Tony Blair is fed up with George Bush.
It all may be wishful thinking, even delusion - the Brits and the dissident Americans believing Bush is a crude manipulator who has no use for Blair and has discarded him now that he's no longer useful.
What is reported is that 1.) Bush has forbidden Blair visiting British troops in Iraq over Christmas, as he planned to visit our troops himself and didn't want Blair stealing his thunder, and 2.) in retaliation for Bush banning the Blair trip Blair announced the capture of Saddam Hussein before George could, which really ticked off Bush, and 3.) these two are now at odds and the alliance breaking down.
See BUSH AND BLAIR: THE BIG FALL-OUT Relations in 'deep freeze' since Saddam caught Chris Mclaughlin, Political Editor, The Sunday Mirror (UK), December 21, 2003
Here's a bit of it:
Tony Blair and George Bush's love-in has collapsed over the rebuilding of Iraq. The two leaders have fallen out over plans for the reconstruction of the country and the heavy-handed action of American troops against the civilian population.
And the rift has been deepened by a Washington ban on a proposed morale-boosting visit by the PM to British troops in Iraq during the Christmas holiday.
... According to diplomats, relations between the allies have gone into "deep freeze" since the capture of Saddam Hussein last weekend.
President Bush was incensed that Mr Blair stole Washington's thunder by being the first Western leader to confirm that the former dictator had been arrested by US troops.
Downing Street rushed out Mr Blair's announcement before he had spoken to the American leader early last Sunday, when Mr Bush - six hours behind London - was still in bed.
Whitehall insiders confirmed that Mr Blair's decision was partly out of anger over a US veto on his proposed visit to British troops in Iraq during the Christmas holiday.
... Mr Blair and Mr Bush have had at least three phone conversations during the past seven days which Whitehall officials described as "increasingly terse".
A Downing Street insider said: "Relations between the two are at the lowest ebb since they first met.
"The PM is not happy at having to deal with Britain's European partners who have been left out of the rebuilding contracts. Of course they are still talking - but the diplomatic temperature is in the deep freeze."
Ah, it may not be true at all, and if true, may be nothing much.
But why does it feel right?
Kevin Drum, has this to say about it, which seems right to me:
I think there's a genuinely interesting dynamic at work here: Tony Blair supported the war on Iraq because he genuinely believed in it, but at the same time he also has an internationalist vision that is increasingly at odds with George Bush's.
... But in the end, Blair really is an internationalist. He wanted to get UN support, he was genuinely sorry that he couldn't convince Germany and France to get on board, and now that the war is over he truly wants to rebuild the old alliances. Bush, on the other hand, never really cared about that stuff and still doesn't. His instinct is to act alone.
Back in March I suggested that the Bush-Blair alliance wouldn't hold up forever, mainly because I didn't think that Bush would demonstrate any serious loyalty to Blair for the genuinely brave and risky stand that he took on the war. Blair is too canny a politician to ever publicly break with Bush, I think, but it wouldn't surprise me if their private relationship is getting increasingly testy. In the end, Bush doesn't really care about Blair except insofar as he supports what Bush wants, and there's only just so much of that that Blair can take.
What Blair is learning is that loyalty is a one-way street with George Bush: it's there as long as you support him unreservedly, but step out of line even for an instant and it's gone in a flash. As Fareed Zakaria put it just before the war, "should the guiding philosophy of the world's leading democracy really be the tough talk of a Chicago mobster? .... I can report that with the exception of Britain and Israel, every country the administration has dealt with feels humiliated by it."
But we humiliate others for the best of reasons - to separate the good from the bad and to bring order to the world. Funny how other nations resent us just trying to do good. And they did have their chance to choose sides. (And I'm getting tired of being ironic about it.)
The Zakaria item is here, by the way: The Arrogant Empire America's unprecedented power scares the world, and the Bush administration has only made it worse. How we got here - and what we can do about it now Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, Updated: 4:30 p.m. ET Dec. 10, 2003
Back then Kevin Drum said this, which seems even better now:
Time and again, when I try to figure out what is happening in America, I keep coming back to the palpable sense of fear that seems to envelop us. We are seemingly afraid of everything: child molesters, terrorists, street crime, sharks - in a way that is wildly out of proportion to the actual danger they present.
... Our reaction to 9/11 has been the same. Instead of making use of the outpouring of support that we got in its aftermath, we have turned in on ourselves, and in the process we have changed from the flawed but generous nation that we are into a mean and paranoid country that lashes out at friends and enemies alike.
But we are not a cornered animal, and I hope that someday soon we will begin to peek out from our self-imposed isolation and realize it. The world is a dangerous place, yes, but it is far less dangerous when you face it with your friends at your side. We have many such friends in the world today, if we would only open our eyes long enough to see them.
Well, we have decided we don't need them.
Well, if others do just what we say and don't ask questions, and never raise issues, then they may be useful. I guess that's what it called the "coalition of the willing." That would be "willing" as the in behavior of sniggering sycophants, or of submissive, demoralized children. Zakaria has the wrong model. The "Chicago mobster" is slightly off. Think rather "stern father who accepts no excuses or explanations." And in such a family there can be only one father, and no excuses. That's the way it is.