Jan 30, 2011

Davos man (2)

So, Samuel P. Huntington discovered the Davos Man in the '90s in his article (later book) on the Clash of Civilizations, an answer to Fukuyama's book The End of History. Fukuyama had ventured that the end of the cold war implied the world's ascent to a plateau of civilization characterized by representative democracy, market economy, and other features mostly associated with the developed western world (earlier post here).

World punditry was shocked, shocked, that history could come to an end like that. I've actually seen not a single pundit recalling the simple fact that Fukuyama wasn't the first to propose the end of history, and that one Georg W.F. Hegel had already proclaimed it in sight of the Prussian state in its emanation of 1830 (semi-constitutional monarchy with strong feudal elements, early capitalism)---a fact that should have served as warning (in my days, the "end-of-history" hypothesis was one of the first things one would know about Hegel, and Hegel was one of the first philosophers one would know, but never mind). The idea in itself is much older, of course; Jesus himself believed that his father had sent him to alert the world to the impending last judgment.

So, Huntington disagreed with Fukuyama. History would continue, and it would do so through a clash of civilizations, the most important one being the conflict between the West and Islam. Very prescient! A few year later, NineEleven.

a second before NineEleven; plane hits the World Trade Center

And the Davos man? Well, the Davos man did not know. The Davos man represented the new world elite, which, according to Huntington, was highly westernized (Harvard, The Economist, Davos World Economic Forum), and so full of itself (the elite) that it was unable to recognize that under its thin veneer of 55 million people (Huntington's estimate), other human layers were actually making up a world population more than 100 times as large. And these people could have very different ideas, and no commitment to the ideals of modern liberalism at all (liberalism here in its European meaning; the American meaning of "liberal" was introduced by FDR, who sought to take a middle ground with his auto-qualification ("I'm a liberal") by distinguishing himself from "radicals" on the one side and "conservatives" on the other). And while the Davos man continued to agree with himself, the rest of the world wouldn't, and could do funny things, like stoning adulterating women, dreaming of a new caliphate, hating minorities, and so on. (Just in case you don't know: Restoring the caliphate is the corporate goal of Al Quaida).

We know now what the Davos man does when he's not in Davos---he runs the world. But what does he do when he is in residence? Good question. Stay tuned. Thread continues here (in a sense).

PS: A propos caliphate: now we have it, ISIS proclaims itself as such with a new Caliph in charge.

Jan 29, 2011

News from Kazakhstan

The washed-up scriptwriter sends this picture...

The Operating Room, by Jose S. Perez

...and writes: "Found this picture while searching for images of operating rooms that I need as mental models for the next scene in the Freedom Fries novel, where Brüno (you haven't met Brüno, but anyhow) is going to be brainwashed in a serious way with novel equipment invented by Alberrt."

And he continues:

"I've always found writing difficult, and remember my dear father, who tended to complain: 'I'd be a great poet if mother would only let me and stop clanging with the pots in the kitchen.' In fact, I remember him vividly right now, my father, as the students outside in the street are trying to storm the palace of President Breftzerk. Breftzerk called me this morning (remember, I have been appointed court poet), via the secret telephone line that still works, and urgently requested new hymns on his presidency that are to be read from the palace balcony to sway the revolting masses, but I have a writers block.

Jan 26, 2011

Davos Man (1)

We witnessed the rise and fall of the Essex Man in my days---or was it Sussex Man, a glimpse at Dr. Alzheimer’s portrait on the wall, no, Essex Man is right---the man who brought about Margaret Thatcher.

Although supposedly a statistical construct made to stand for newish demographical strata (sort of blue collar but supporting the anti-elitarian version of Thatcher’s conservativism), the Essex Man was invariably depicted as a party-going multitude engaged in lewd behavior, notably group sex. I always doubted the sex talk and attributed it to the circulation-seeking behavior of the publishing classes, but am now wondering whether any Essex man ever fantasized about Thatcher while engaging in the sort of behavior that made him famous.

Essex men

Margaret Thatcher was defenestrated in an intra-party struggle in 1990 ---I attended a conference in Brussels that day, and will never forget a remark by Dana Scott, the mathematician (Scott provided the first semantics that justified the use of real numbers in computer languages; since Scott you can sleep soundly while your computer does, say, calculus), who said that definitions are usually more important that proofs: I suddenly came to understand the importance of Immanuel Kant---anyhow, Thatcher was gone, and so was the Essex Man.

Hitler interrupts Obama's speech (reposted)

Jan 23, 2011

À la recherche du temps perdue

We post comments to New York Times articles on their web edition fairly frequently ("follow me, follow me"), and today we posted a brief comment (no. 64) to Krugman's blog post on relative employment figures comparing the US and France. And so we invoked Marcel Proust, since Proust must have been an expert on unemployment. You've read Proust, right? À la recherche du temps perdue? Do you remember anybody ever holding down a daytime job there, except for the occasional domestique? That's what we were trying to get across to Krugman, although we doubt he will ever read our comment.

Now, this brings to mind a short episode at the FNAC, the leading French bookstore with outlets all over France, including Cannes. Our collection of À la recherche du temps perdue is incomplete, and so we travel to Cannes to buy more Proust, and we enter the book store, and climb to the third floor (all other floors have been taken over by flatscreens (the largest on offer: 99,999 EUR (I'm not making this up)) cell-phones, blue-rays [sic], blue-rays disks [sic], I-tunes, I-pads, I-phones, A-gizmo's, C-gizmo's, etc.. Sokrates, who opposed the newfangled fashion of literacy in his day ("κακή για τη μνήμη κάποιου"), would have been disoriented, Sokrates.

We make it to the third floor and ask a salesperson about Proust. We say "bonjour" first (we've learned our lesson: you don't say "bonjour" first, they will say "bonjour" to you in a way you won't forget), and then inquire about Proust. Marcel Proust. Sure, the salesperson replies, and takes us to the comic book counter. All thirteen volumes. Here's Volume Two:

Good Night and Good Luck (Olberman got fired or something). Bye now.


Jan 21, 2011

Plateau de Calern above Grasse

North of Grasse, at ca 1200m altitude, the Cote d'Azur features a plateau of surprising dimensions, built into the mountains, as it were, and split by the Gorges du Loup, the local version of the Grand Canyon. We've never heard of it, but Doris & Dirk, who own a house just above our's in Le Trayas, go there at least once a year. 

The plateau hosts the French Astronomical Society and its telescopes, which are now used for the detection of stray asteroids (that could hit the planet on a bad day), and the eponymous gamma bursts, the most violent events in the know cosmos (one telescope can swing to any part of the sky within 10 sec, which is important since the gamma bursts don't burst very long).

"As much as I appreciate the cosmological dedication to Gamma Bursts," Doris comments on the spot, "I do regret that black holes are apparently low on the astronomical shopping list." And then she goes on and tells about a friend of her's, Monica, who got almost caught by a black hole in the vicinity of Willem-Voltaire on the Swiss border. As Doris elaborates further on Monica's sex life, her emigration to Texas, her disappointments in Texas, more on Monica's sex life---especially during Monica's travels to Africa where she meets extremely shapely Kenyans whose skin glistens in the sunlight when they are aroused---as Doris elaborates further, the elves of the plateau conspire into fluffy gray clouds and dance across the sky.

Jan 13, 2011

Joanne and Robert Hall, murder at the chateau (2) (Jacky, Sacha)

Robert Hall
Robert Hall, murderer to his beloved wife, Joanne, went without a picture on the internet. How suspicious (even yours truly has one). But Jacky heeded our call, and found a picture in the Local West Yorkshire News, together with more dirt about Robert.

This brings to mind Miss Marple. Somewhere in her novels she observes that newcomers to St. Mary Meads would never have been complete strangers in the old days -- somebody in the village would know them at least indirectly, through cousins, lawyers, or former prison guards -- and she bemoans modern times where new people could be completely anonymous. But things have changed again, thanks to the internet (and to Jacky).

Meanwhile, Sacha sent this link, which speaks for itself.

A lesson in bureaucratology (Sacha)

Senior moment - A 98 year old woman in the UK wrote this to her bank:

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my cheque with which I endeavoured to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the cheque and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honour it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my Pension, an arrangement, which, I admit, has been in place for only thirty eight years. You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account £30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank.

My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters, but when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become. From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan payments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank by cheque, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate. Be aware that it is an offence under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope.

Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Solicitor, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof. In due course, I will issue your employee with PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modelled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press buttons as follows:

1. To make an appointment to see me.
2. To query a missing payment.
3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.
4. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.
5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.
7. To leave a message on my computer (a password to access my computer is required.
A password will be communicated to you at a later date to the Authorized Contact.)
8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through to 8.
9. To make a general complaint or inquiry, the contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service. While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous, New Year.

Your Humble Client

Jan 11, 2011

Michael Williams

We had met him the day before at dinner with Cliona, our neighbor, and Yael, a friend of Cliona. We are all invited over for drinks at his place and will have dinner later at l'Air du Temps, which is halfway between his house and the mansion of Pierre Cardin on the water.

Clockwise: Michael, Pierre Cardin's place, Michael's place, outside, with Yael and Chang

Michael ran a few advertising agencies and is now in charge of his own brand-positioning shop, London, Sydney, the works. The pacific rim is indispensable. The living room is pictured below, including Cliona.

Jan 9, 2011

Joanne and Robert Hall, murder at the chateau (1)

You study philosophy at the Free University of Berlin, and you see yourself as a midrange intellectual all your life, and you cringe at the notion---what are the professional expressions?---sex, drugs, and rock'n roll?---no, not quite---blood and bosom?---doesn't sound right---boobs on the third page?---no, sounds wrong, too---anyhow, you get the gist, we mean the notion that sex and crime sell, and nothing else.

chateau in France where Joanne Hall got murdered by her husband Robert
Château de Fretay

And then you start a blog, and you have these meters installed that tell you which search terms work, and it takes only a few days to discover that sex is infinitely more attractive than your musings about the weather. And it takes a few month to discover that crime also works. Now we have Mark Weinberger on our right column, nothing more than a malpracticing nosedoctor from Illinois, and he is almost outdoing the naked girls (also working: politicians who are "not gay", or Arab princes who rape their servants to death, but are "not gay" either).

Time to turn the page to another episode, Murder at the Chateau, and it's really quite a story. Joanne and Robert Hall are involved, he as the murderer, she as the murderee (we mean, you know, like invitee, but when it ends badly), and it happens in France, and it's all very French, in particular because the couple are English.

Joanne and Robert arrived 10 years ago with a dream: create a golf course in the lovely French countryside. They buy the chateau (looks more like a big farmhouse, but that's OK, the French call any larger private dwelling a "chateau," especially when it has a tower, which this one doesn't, OK, bear with me) with its 100 acres of grounds (ca. 41 ha). Robert never learns French, also quite typical. They are very much liked in the community. That's non-standard for non-speaking Brits who linger too long.

Let's stir some blood now (from the Guardian story):

On the evening of 4 September, Sourdain [the local mayor] got a call from the gendarmes – something had happened at the château. It is a French custom for the gendarmes to call the mayor, as the representative of the people, to the scene of a crime or a terrible accident. He arrived to see the oldest son, Christopher, 22, with the gendarmes as they stood in protective suits breaking up a big block of concrete. Robert Hall was inside the house, crying.

"After 24 hours, concrete is like biscuit," Sourdain explains. We're sitting in his office in the village of Le Chatellier, two miles from the chateau. "So the gendarmes were crumbling it with their hands. And after a while they discovered a ring. They asked Christopher, 'Is this your mother's ring?' He said, 'Oui.'"

Robert Hall had told the gendarmes that 24 hours earlier he'd had a drunken argument with Joanne during which she accidentally fell, hit her head, and died. Then, during the hours that followed, he set her body on fire, put her remains into a builder's bag, poured in concrete and hauled it on to the back of a lorry. All this happened behind the house, near the back gate, next to a row of half-built holiday cottages.

Then he stopped. He telephoned Christopher. He said he was going to commit suicide. Christopher called the ambulance, who called the gendarmes, who called the mayor.

And now lets stir some more blood. Flashback. Joanne is still alive, it's 2008, and they have an appointment with Fabrice Fourel (recall the couple wants to build a golf course):

Fabrice Fourel works in a bright office in the nearby village of Saint-Étienne-en-Coglès. Posters advertising successful Brittany tourist endeavours line the walls. I am sitting, he says, exactly where Robert and Joanne Hall sat when they came to him in a flap regarding their golf project, in September 2008.
"They were lost," he says.
Fabrice's job is to be the middle man between prospective tourist businesses and the labyrinthine French bureaucracy.
"What were the problems?" I ask.
Fabrice sighs as if to say, "Where do I begin?" "They wanted to clear some trees. French law says you have to plant three trees for each one you cut down, not necessarily on your property, but in the region." He pauses. "It was a big problem. In fact, the administration was angry with the Halls because they didn't follow the procedure. We had to calm everything."
 "How many trees would they have needed to plant?" I ask.
"Around 20,000," Fabrice says.
Fabrice says people basically already have all the trees they want. If you go to people and offer them trees, they tend to say no. And that wasn't the only problem. The Halls needed sprinklers, enough electricity for thousands of visitors…
"We quickly noticed a gap between the financial needs for such a project and what they had," Fabrice says. "A project like that could cost €20m (£17m)."
"Was it a big gap?" I ask.
Fabrice indicates with his hands a very big gap.

It's getting unbearable now, so we have to stop. Stay tuned.

PS: We can't find pictures of the tragic couple on the internet, please help.

PSS: Now the washed-up scriptwriter from Kazakhstan chimes in:
-"I tell you, my next novel will be titled: 'Murder at the Chateau'."

Jan 5, 2011

Prince Charles and Camilla in mortal danger (2)

We've posted on this before. FF's position is unambiguous: a Rolls Royce is the only proper car for an evening out at the opera, in particular if it's a Phantom Mark IV from 1976. And while the Waleses are on their way, properly attired (how does one call the fact that one is properly be-car-ed?), the students---who are so blind-sighted not to understand that the tripling of tuition fees is in their own best interest since the bonuses of the Financial Sector have also tripled---the students are making threatening gestures towards the future sovereign and his consort, and we are appalled, and the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) has now identified two or more anonymous terrorists, and asks for your help, as the British Telegraph reports. If you have any clues, please contact Buckingham Palace at +44 (0)20 7766 7300

This brings to mind a report in the Dutch Telegraaf (a Dutch down-market imitation of the Telegraph) from a long time ago, I would say late 70's (this is all from memory, no internet backup) as to the adventures of the Dutch Princess Christina, who had married the Cuban Jorge Guillermo a few years earlier, and was now chauffeured by him in a Rolls Royce into downtown Salzburg, Austria, during the Salzburg Festival, in order to attend the opera, and the police stops them because downtown Salzburg is closed to cars during the festival, and we (the Telegraaf) are shocked, shocked, how a Dutch Princess could be encumbered by the police in her operatic pursuits while being chauffeured  in a Rolls Royce by her consort, and he, stopped  by the police now, is forced to explain that we are a Dutch Princess, and it's all so embarrassing, especially for the cops, to learn that they've just encumbered a princely couple in their operatic pursuits, and one officer drops dead out of pure shame, and the Princess is also embarrassed but keeps her cool and says, "let them eat cake," and the Austrian Minister of the Interior (responsible for the police) apologizes to the Dutch Crown, and the Dutch Queen gracefully acknowledges the apology.

Princess Christina der Nederlanden
Princess Christina

A second officer drops dead after having been force-fed some Austrian cakes that Marie-Antoinette had left behind when moving to France to wed Louis XVI (we know how that ended), but eventually everything is forgotten, until we learn 20 years later that the Princess and her consort are no longer on speaking terms, and he grabs the behinds of the catering ladies, and chides her for her awkwardness in public (she is practically blind since her mother had contracted German measles during the pregnancy), and the whole nation feels terrible about it, and they sleep in separate bedrooms, and even highbrow broadsheets like the NRC (don't ask) now allude to the suspicion that he married her for her money,* and a divorce is eventually arranged, and he gets a huge settlement, perhaps more than Guy Richie, and no reference is ever made to the Salzburg event 20 years earlier. And, oh yes, we love monarchy.

* which, as we are learning now, she is prudently keeping out of reach of the Dutch taxman in the offshore jurisdiction of Guernsey.
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