“You fascist!”

….No, no, no, the post title doesn’t mean I’m calling *you* (friendly reader/ visitor) a “fascist.” Please don’t misunderstand. I used it because that (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) accusation is hurled in Passports during a morning, uh, “friendly exchange of views,” between Isabelle and Uncle Bill at Bill’s Rhode Island coastal cottage:

Next Bill called to the dining room. “Isabelle, toast and eggs?” Unexpectedly, he expanded the menu choices. “Want anything else? If you were being polite last night, don’t be. This is a continental house. Feel free to smoke.”

Despite being unsure if she had again misunderstood Bill’s English, Isabelle nonetheless dived in.

“White coffee and toast please, Uncle Bill. That will be lovely. Thank you.” Both feet on the floor now, she crossed her legs and pushed aside hairs hanging down on her forehead. “And so you know,” she added, “I don’t smoke. You think all the French are the same? We all smoke?”

“Well, all the French I know seem to smoke like chimneys,” Bill maintained as he advanced to the table and chose the seat across from her. Next he changed conversational topic mid-paragraph as he often did. “So what about that Mitterrand? He’s done over there soon, isn’t he? Who’ll be the next president?”

James sat on a longer side of the slightly rectangular table, between them, as if positioned inadvertently to referee. Taking some toast, he joked, “Uncle, you been watching the news on public television again?”

Isabelle responded from across the table without hesitation, “Balladur or Chirac, of course.”

Pouring orange juice, Bill questioned, “Who?” He moved the toast plate closer to Isabelle. “Please, have some more. You know, I sensed it last night. You’re a Gaullist. You fascist! Gaullists hate Americans!”

“No, they don’t,” she answered softly. “They love France. It is the Socialists who hate Americans. Mitterrand has been a disaster for France.”

Bill smiled broadly and looked over at James sitting to the side. “Nephew, you sure can pick ’em.”

“Okay,” Isabelle began to question Bill mockingly, and a bit flirtatiously, “who should be President of France, as you sit here, great American writer, judging the world from, ooh, what little state is this again? Uh, Delaware? I forget.”

Bill lobbed a calculated grenade at Isabelle. “Whoever the Socialist is. We need socialism in the U.S.”

“Bah!” she dismissed that out of hand. “You have not lived under socialists. I know communists, yes, but I do not want them to rule France. You have been with Spanish writers and Cubans. They do hate America. I bet they are communists. We thanked God that Mitterrand had to spend so many years sharing power with Chirac.”

Ignoring her charges, Bill went another route. “God? I thought young Europeans today were a lot smarter than our Bible-thumping Americans?”

Isabelle was at a loss. “Aren’t you Catholic like James and your family?”

Taking a breath, he explained, “Right. You know, Isabelle, I think of myself as a Unitarian.” Seeing her appear to go blank at the word, Bill appended, “We believe in sort of everything.”

Isabelle was underwhelmed. She knew what a Unitarian was. “But do not Unitarians believe in God?” she grilled him pointedly while grasping her coffee mug. “And to say one believes in everything is to hold nothing sacred.”

Bill pronounced, “Nephew, she is definitely French!”

James complained, “Uncle, I didn’t think I was in this breakfast debate?”

Had enough? As James has? What? You mean that back and forth didn’t cause you as a conservative to turn socialist, or vice-versa?

I follow many of you who are also authors – or musicians, or actors, or you travel blog, or you’re interested in cultural issues, or you’re just sharing thoughts with us. It should go without saying I’m flattered if you follow me. In organizing my followings here deliberately along mostly “apolitical” lines, WordPress has become for me a welcome island of friendliness, learning and calm compared to much else out there in major media.

As we know, nothing exists in isolation. In recent days I’ve been surprised by several generally “non-political follows” who’ve suddenly taken to mounting Everest-height soapboxes. They’ve filled posts with barrages of heavy-handed political invective. (That’s being “charitable” in describing the content. I could use stronger language.)

If you wish to read diatribes from those who support your “worldview” (whatever it is), it is usually easy enough to find out there. Follow a few of the crazies on Twitter. Or just click over to commenter cesspools that are found on sites like CNN’s.

In a friendly Twitter exchange I had had with a CNN.com producer about so many of the incredibly nasty online comments, he noted that he simply tells op-ed contributors not to read the comments below their pieces. Can you imagine? Yet it’s easy to understand why: the bigotry and viciousness some spew via keyboard is appalling – and, one has to believe, mostly also from those who would likely never be so rude to someone’s face.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

I know I have on occasion blogged here on somewhat contentious issues. Amanda Knox, Devyani Khobragade, and immigration, immediately come to mind. But when I do, I try to do so with moderation, within the framework of my own knowledge and experience, and while remembering my self-imposed guidelines for this blog. (See the top banner.)

Civility and respect: where have you gone? If you want to scribble vitriol online, of course you are free to do so; but I did not follow YOU to read that. I firmly believe that chest-thumping, name-calling, and jumping up and down usually wins no friends who don’t already agree with you, and rarely changes minds.

Upstate New York’s Guillotine

July 14 is “Bastille Day.” Saturday, the Rockland County village of Piermont commemorated it. A photo gallery from LoHud newspaper captures some of the event, including its display of the French Revolution’s most enduring and infamous symbol:

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In stumbling on that photo while clicking through, I found it jarring and somewhat off-putting to see even a fake guillotine on a street amidst a party atmosphere. I suppose sticking your head into one is now considered a lot like allowing yourself to be locked into “the stocks” or “the pillory.” The real guillotine, though, was assuredly a heckuva lot more final than those.

The article led me to recall this I’d written back in March:

….when it comes to the Revolution, non-French are best advised to be cautious before shooting off their non-French mouth about it among French new acquaintances. Probe a little first, and make sure of where everyone stands, before you take to proclaiming how the Revolution was “fantastic” and that Robespierre is sadly misunderstood.

Years ago, a French inspiration for one of my characters told me, point blank, that she was never pleased when Bastille Day rolled around. To be clearer: she despised it. And why did she feel that way?

“They cut off my ancestors’ heads,” she seethed.

In 1789, the Revolution had begun seeming to be much like the American Revolution, causing Americans there at that time, such as Thomas Jefferson, to applaud it. However, he departed for home within a year, and other Americans in France looked on in horror as the Revolution descended into a chaotic, bloodthirsty mess. It did not produce many “heroes.”

Indeed, another French character inspiration pulled me up squarely on this suggestion of one perhaps vaguely arguable “hero”:

“Napoleon was a butcher, like Hitler,” she decreed.

Okay, I’ll be quiet now. And there were absolutely no George Washingtons. So while it has become France’s “national day,” underneath it all a disquiet remains: “Bastille Day” is not quite the “unifying” holiday in France that the “4th of July” is in the U.S.

After U.S. independence was recognized by Britain in 1783, those Americans who had opposed it often emigrated to Canada or other British territories, or even to Britain itself. (For example, one of Wellington’s officers killed at Waterloo in 1815 was a New York-born DeLancey, whose prominent family had opposed U.S. independence.) Or they simply stayed in the new U.S. and reconciled themselves to it – and they were allowed to do so. There were not thousands of executions of American “counterrevolutionary” loyalists who had supported remaining part of the British Empire.

The guillotine strikes me as similar to the electric chair. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive? I suppose 220 years since the Terror is deemed enough time to have passed for the guillotine to be confined safely to the realm of Renaissance fair-style history.

A U.S. World Cup To Remember

You may know by now that the U.S.A. went out of the World Cup Tuesday in a thriller, losing to Belgium 1-2 in extra time.

Had a late corner kick while the game was 0-0 landed in front of world-class striker Clint Dempsey (instead of someone else who proceeded to make a meal of the best goal scoring chance the U.S. had had all game), it would almost surely have ended up in the back of the net – and the U.S. would have been improbable 1-0 winners. For through 90 minutes goalkeeper Tim Howard had kept the U.S. in the game. If he had not made the saves he had been forced to make by a lackluster (and at times simply outplayed) defense, the U.S. might have lost by a lot more than one goal.

Throughout the tournament, playing every game hard until the last whistle, the U.S. team had kept American fans in their seats. The country clearly appreciated the effort and entertainment. The U.S. Embassy in London even tweeted this today:

U.S. Embassy London says "Thanks."

U.S. Embassy London says “Thanks.”

The growing U.S. interest in soccer is not being lost on marketers and companies. They see it; that’s their job. For instance, if you had looked yesterday to a book a flight on Emirates, this was the U.S. homepage that greeted you:

Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.

Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.

That’s not something you see every day. One suspects quite a few other advertisers might also like to see the next U.S. men’s World Cup broadcast on free-to-air U.S. network TV, rather than niche sports ESPN. Uh, and by “network TV” I mean not just in Spanish. ;-)

Favorite News Sources

I saw this asked on Twitter yesterday:

What are some of your favorite sources for trusted news?

I had never really considered that systematically before. I read lots of sites, so I had to think on it carefully; and I tweeted back several. Here is a fuller list of my “go to” regularly sites:

CNN
BBC
France 24
CBS News
VOA
RFE/RL
LBCI
The Christian Science Monitor
ANSA
SABC
The Times of India

Looking at those again now I’ve just realized that only one – the Times of India – appears to be an outright “newspaper.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a man reading a newspaper on a bench.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a man reading a newspaper on a bench.

Taking matters to another level, how about this? “Favorite” correspondents? Mine are:

1) “International”:

Hala Gorani (CNN), Vivienne Walt (Time, etc.), and Anne-Elisabeth Moutet (The Telegraph, France 24, etc. – and who follows me on Twitter!).

2) “U.S. national”:

Mark Knoller (CBS), and Brooke Baldwin (CNN…. who also follows me on Twitter!).

3) Extremely “U.S. local” (meaning the Catskills, in upstate NY):

Watershed Post (and which also follows me on Twitter, and is in my sidebar here).

I could go on and add some others – media outlets and individuals – but I’m sure you get the gist. Everyone has their preferences of course, and likely you have yours. Oh, and being followed on Twitter does not necessarily impact my preferences! ;-)

Saved By Univision

Although it had shown the Algeria v. South Korea match earlier, ABC in the U.S. chose not to broadcast the U.S. v. Portugal game. Thus U.S. television network priorities. It relegated the U.S. game to cable sports channel ESPN – which is majority-owned by the Disney Company, which also owns ABC.

Our rental house does not have ESPN, so we watched the game on free to air, Spanish-language, Univision. Thank God for Univision. Our Spanish isn’t great, but you did not have to be Spanish-fluent to have understood what was going on when “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!” was screamed out by the play-by-play guy.

Speaking to my Dad in Pennsylvania yesterday, he said the coverage on ESPN – a supposedly cutting edge sports channel – was itself irritatingly subpar. He told me the announcers’ voices were not even in synch with the action on the pitch for the entire game. Frankly, if we had had ESPN I might have watched the game on Univision anyway…. just to not give Disney/ABC’s ESPN the rating.

Sunday seemed to demonstrate that while increasing numbers of Americans now do get soccer, U.S. network TV executives clearly still don’t see it as mainstream. While the game did garner big ratings on their ESPN, it would have of course drawn even a larger audience on free to air ABC. They had this generation’s U.S. 1980 Winter Olympics hockey team playing World Cup soccer on Sunday at 6pm ET, and they didn’t realize it:

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Then again, maybe ABC’s “World News” got the network more viewers at 6pm? Based on what I’ve seen of it, though, that program has not contained much that could be honestly termed “world” or “news” since Peter Jennings. It’s little more than a couple of quick headlines followed by vacuous gossip and tabloid features that is passed off to viewers – and presumably the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – as “news.”

When “I’ll Write Soon” Meant Actually Writing

CNN quoting first lady Michelle Obama in Beijing earlier this week, praising studying abroad as “citizen diplomacy”:

“I’m here today because I know that our future depends on connections like these among young people like you across the globe,” the first lady told an audience composed of Chinese and international students at Peking University.

“We believe that relationships between nations aren’t just about relationships between governments or leaders — they’re about relationships between people, particularly young people.”

She points out also that:

“You don’t need to get on a plane to be a citizen diplomat,” she said. “If you have an Internet connection in your home, school or library, within seconds you can be transported anywhere in the world and meet people on every continent.”

CNN notes that the first lady said she had never considered studying abroad. Yet she omits there that pre-internet “citizen diplomacy” had never been a choice between only study abroad or doing nothing. Apparently, she didn’t do this?

True, I suspect the internet must have largely undermined this among younger people today. But even if she has forgotten ye olden days, us other “older” folks vaguely remember them. Pre-internet, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, there was something called “pen pals.”

Gather ’round, young people, and I will share a small memory of decades ago. There was once a time teens and young adults wrote letters, usually long-hand, and on paper, to each other in distant lands. Usually they had found each other by registering their name, address and country, and interests, at agencies that facilitated pairing them up so they could get to know each other that way.

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When one of them wrote a letter, he or she would head for the local post office, and mail it. About a week or so later, their “friend” in a foreign country would find their foreign postal service had left it in the mailbox, or had slid it through the letterbox. After opening that letter and reading it, he or she would then compose a letter in response, go to the local foreign post office or postbox, and mail that letter.

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Such exchanges sometimes went on for years. “Pen pals” might also send each other photos (that were taken by cameras, using film; but that is a subject for another recalling ye olden days blog post), cassettes (again, for another post), (printed) books, (printed) newspapers, (printed) magazines, and even remember each other’s birthdays (using paper cards). They might eventually talk on the (landline) telephone, and perhaps, on very rare occasions, have even someday met in person. :-)

U.S. Diplomacy: 1793 v. 2014

First, a brief recollection of an infamous early event in U.S. diplomatic history. In 1793, while William Short and Gouverneur Morris were negotiating in France and Spain, across the Atlantic the (mis)behaviors of one Edmond-Charles Genêt were besetting the new American republic at home. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, France’s representative in the U.S.:

….soon exceeded his diplomatic authority. Hailed as “Citizen Genêt” by Americans who favoured the French cause, he conspired with those who opposed Pres. George Washington’s policy of neutrality. (See Citizen Genêt Affair.) His efforts to bring the United States into the war [France was fighting against Great Britain] and his high-handed arming of privateers in American ports to operate against the British brought relations between the United States and France to the brink of war and risked the loss of France’s sole source of credit abroad. In August 1793 Washington, who was firmly committed to a policy of neutrality in the European conflict, requested that Genêt be recalled. Realizing that he faced arrest [due to shifting revolutionary power struggles] if he returned to France, Genêt chose to remain in the United States; he married the daughter of George Clinton, governor of New York, became a U.S. citizen, and settled down to farming.

Fast forward to our 2014. The Guardian:

An Indian diplomat was re-indicted Friday on US visa fraud charges that touched off an international stir after she was arrested and strip-searched last year….

Perhaps worth noting: that diplomat, one Devyani Khobragade, India’s then deputy consul general in New York, did not even try to involve the U.S. in a war either.

….The episode roiled US-Indian relations, with India taking such steps as removing concrete traffic barriers around the US embassy and revoking diplomats’ ID cards. After being indicted, Khobragade complied with a Department of State request to leave the US, and the Indian government then asked Washington to withdraw a diplomat from the US embassy in New Delhi. The US complied….

Which is where matters realistically should have been allowed to rest. As with Genêt’s seriously overstepping diplomatic bounds, diplomats have always been ejected for real, or trumped up, reasons. One would have expected roughly this chain of events in reaction to Khobragade’s alleged actions: she is expelled from the U.S.; the U.S. pays a small price in kind so India can save face; behind the scenes discussions are held emphasizing that we all – Americans and Indians – don’t want this endangering relations, and don’t want something like this occurring again; and everyone agrees to move on.

Matters did not take that course. Federal domestic U.S. prosecutors secure a re-indictment of that now deported Indian diplomat. She is vociferously defended by the government of India, so will in all likelihood never set foot in the U.S. ever again because India will almost certainly never hand her over to the U.S. to face that re-indictment in court anyway.

Nevertheless, in Washington, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf stated on Friday that the department had opposed dismissing the charges:

“….Our position regarding immunity, that the U.S. Government took in the brief opposing the motion to dismiss, was that she had full immunity only for a very brief period, a day….”

Yet in the wake of her arrest and “strip search,” we also saw a State Department scrambling to contain the diplomatic fallout. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “regret” at Khobragade’s treatment in custody. Shortly after that, we heard the same Ms. Harf explain the department wished India to understand it was “an isolated episode,” and that the U.S.-India relationship “….is an incredibly important relationship. That has in no way changed.”

However, Indian officialdom appeared to feel decidedly otherwise. And this re-indictment in March merely re-fans the flames. So State officials may soon revert to fretting publicly as they had initially in December.

We know already of diplomatic headaches arising from non-U.S. citizens facing the death penalty in U.S. local jurisdictions that appear indifferent to “international law.” In this case, the damage the federal Justice Department’s ongoing pursuit of Khobragade is doing to what had been increasingly warm U.S. relations with India appears considerable. Evidently uneasy about that, referring to the case’s top Manhattan prosecutor (an India-born immigrant to the U.S.), one foreign service professional is anonymously quoted as saying, “….he’s not the one who will be serving in missions in India.”

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Indeed currently the U.S. is up to its eyeballs internationally. With Russia annexing Crimea and its intentions toward the rest of Ukraine unclear, the Syrian civil war raging, Iranian nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s intermittent sabre-rattling, China threatening Japan, and innumerable other global challenges, India – “the world’s largest democracy” and an important U.S. trading partner – is an invaluable friend to have. But what had been a slowly healing diplomatic wound has had its scab ripped off, and with Khobragade’s re-indictment obviously re-infuriating the Indian government that wound is unlikely to heal fully anytime soon.

Even if Khobragade was not (and is not) immune from U.S. prosecution for her alleged crimes in the U.S., noticeably lacking has been a visible U.S. exercise of wider good judgment about how to deal with her without poking India repeatedly in the eye. Instead India is lectured highhandedly by domestic U.S. law enforcement about how she “was treated no differently than others who are arrested,” and even supposedly received “courtesies” – when, as a diplomat, and even if not immune, she was definitely not like “others.” Worst of all, we see the prestigious State Department, whose first secretary was Thomas Jefferson, and which is tasked with spearheading U.S. diplomacy around the world, essentially finding itself suddenly relegated to the tail of the Justice Department’s domestic prosecutorial kite.

In long ago 1793, the U.S. federal government was not even five years old and the State Department was similarly brand new. Consisting then of Attorney General Edmund Randolph and a few clerks, the “Justice Department” as we now understand it did not really exist. Had it, the U.S. might well have ended up at war with Genêt’s France.

Shortwave For The Eyes

This is a somewhat longer post than usual. I just think the topic is fascinating. And it seems to fall within the self-created remit of this humble blog. ;-)

You may have heard by now how Liz Wahl, an American newsreader for RT-America, resigned on air as she was concluding her 5 PM newscast on Wednesday. RT-America is part of the larger Russia Today (RT) cable TV channel that is funded by the Russian government. (The channel is seen in the U.S. mostly on the internet.) Wahl quit so publicly following a report that stated Ukraine’s new government was composed mostly of fascists and neo-Nazis.

Here’s CNN’s video of Anderson Cooper’s interview with Wahl. (A “non-major media” video I had previously thought to use for this post has been removed from YouTube.) It includes the final portion of her resignation:

Unsurprisingly, Wahl’s resigning in the manner she did caught many people’s attention. Young journalists, and uncountable others, have been assailing each other on Twitter and elsewhere on the net…. over Russia Today, its Ukraine and other reporting, and TV news “bias” generally. She’s thoughtful and honest to some; she’s a disingenuous, imperialist tool to others. Etc., and so on….

The 28 year old Wahl has since defended her action, also stating it was not about self-promotion. And this post is not about arguing about the propriety of the Russian intervention in Ukraine. Rather it is about how this debate on TV news “bias” that was set off partly by Wahl’s resignation sounds (no pun intended) all too familiar.

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Creativity From Anger?

You may not have considered this, but it may be worth asking it of yourself. Do you find you write better when you’re feeling generally contented? Or does it come easier when you’re irritated, down, and even angry?

I suspect the latter may provide a burst of extra creativity over a short-term which likely cannot – indeed, should it? – be maintained throughout an entire work. Meaning a brief keyboard-thumping literary tantrum might be helpful … up to a point. For if you do have one, you may have also accidentally produced an outline for something which, after a good clean up (and a few deep breaths) may result in a sharp (and perhaps unexpected) story-point.

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Why do I raise this? Personal experience. During mid-2013, I found myself increasingly infuriated as I became aware of fawning news coverage granted to a certain individual. For several weeks, the incessant media background noise seemed inescapable.

One morning, with Twitter open on my PC next to Word (as it usually is when I write), some tweet I saw jolted me into realizing that person’s stupid and immature behaviors years earlier provided story material. It was like the proverbial light bulb going off above my head. It was too good to pass up: I found myself weaving in a subplot revolving around the troubles caused by, uh, a tearaway, self-absorbed U.S. college student in Italy who makes life extremely unpleasant for her English roommate.

Once again, from where “fiction” sometimes comes….

The World’s Most Popular Tourist City Is….

….not Paris. It’s London.

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The capital of the United Kingdom has apparently seized the top spot. So reports CNN:

….Proclaiming “London dethrones Paris,” the conservative daily Le Figaro had compared London’s projected 16 million visitors with a 2012 figure of 15.9 million visitors to Paris….

The article duly notes the statistics may not represent a true like for like comparison. Greater London is much larger geographically than Greater Paris. Or maybe London got a temporary boost from the London Olympics. Or the birth of the future heir to the British throne could have drawn in more visitors than usual.

Or perhaps it has something to do with, as Paris deputy mayor Anne Hidalgo noted, “London aggressively” selling “itself … in a way that goes beyond the truth.” Or maybe, as Hidalgo has also said, Parisians “could be a bit more amiable.”

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Regardless, let the fireworks begin. Thus opens another chapter in the London v. Paris rivalry. Indeed, I’m sure some of our novel friends here would have rather strong personal opinions on this subject. :-)