Our Warmest (And Coolest) Feelings: 25 Countries

USA Today tweeted this yesterday:

USA Today screen capture.
USA Today screen capture.

I enjoy polls such as that one. And that one makes for something of a change too. Usually it’s about who hates us. ;-)

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Admitted Adulterers Around The World

February is ending. Spring approaches (in our northern hemisphere). And a bit of interesting “research” has come to light in recent days:

Screen capture of the UK Independent newspaper.
Screen capture of the UK Independent newspaper.

Thailand by a mile? And the following nine are all European countries? Topped off by Denmark?

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And Something About Llamas?

While I was working yesterday, I did what I normally do: I had Twitter open to the side on my iPad. I check it occasionally. Usually I do so when I stop for a writing break, but sometimes I just glance over at it.

That latter is a bad habit.

What a strange “social media” day yesterday was (to me, anyway).

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That Awful Mr. Grey

Happy Sunday! I stumbled on this yesterday. Back on Friday, a 21 year old commentator in Britain’s Independent newspaper shared this Fifty Shades analysis:

Screen capture of the Independent.
Screen capture of the Independent.

Evidently this now needs pointing out: both Mr. Grey and Anastasia are – let us recall – fictional. That means they are not real people. Insofar as I understand it, the books are novels, not biography.

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#JeSuisCharlie In Corsham

Monday, news outlets here in the United Kingdom reported that Wiltshire (our English county) police had “investigated” a newsagent in the small town of Corsham. The shop had sold copies of Charlie Hebdo, and an officer had visited and requested the names of customers who’d bought it. The Guardian explains:

Wiltshire police confirmed that one of their officers visited a newsagent in Corsham, Wiltshire, to ask for the names of four customers who ordered the commemorative “survivors’ issue” of the magazine.

The incident came to light when Anne Keat, 77, who bought the special issue from that newsagent, wrote a letter to the Guardian to warn people that wearing badges emblazoned with je suis Charlie may attract police interest….

We live just down the road from Corsham. We have to drive through it to get to London. It’s a rural, even picturesque, place.

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What Qualifies Someone To Be A Cable News “Expert”?

In the past, I know I’ve taken good-natured jabs at U.S. morning television, especially ABC’s Good Morning America:

Good grief, have you seen it? I mean really watched it? No wonder half of Americans think Beirut is in Northern Ireland.

One minute of frenzied “news” every half hour. Darting from Story A to Story B to Story C in seconds. Bells and whistles. Flashing graphics. Hurrying to get to the latest cat video.

We understand why. The more we have at our wifi’ed, iPad’ed fingertips, the tougher it’s assumed to be to hold all of our attention. That belief’s no doubt now impacting even how novels are written.

U.S. 24 hour cable news is in its way worse in that regard than even network morning TV. For it purports to be able to provide grounding and more in-depth “analysis.” Yet in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders this came out of the mouth [starting at about 1 min 15 sec] of a Fox News “expert”:

“I’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq, Kashmir, India. At times it [Paris] felt like that.”

L.A. resident Parisian cook and food writer, Cécile Delarue, ridicules his take. (I had never heard of him before reading her tweet.) And reasonably so: image

In a full response to that “expert,” Muslim Parisian Sened DHAB composed an actually serious and thoughtful analysis. If you’re interested, have a click over.

Fox may have apologized for that “expert’s” comments by now. They seem to be apologizing all over themselves during the last couple of weeks. But it’s unlikely to be the last time we’ll be confronted with a mile wide and a quarter inch deep being passed off by cable news as “expertise.”

* * *

His “expertise” is apparently amply demonstrated to us viewers by his offering the most basic of factual errors. An egregious example: he states France is “10-12 percent” Muslim. Almost no one reputable believes the percentage goes that high. Okay, perhaps that’s debatable. Yet he himself also notes it having “5 million Muslims.” Presumably, he also knows its total population is about 66 million, so simple arithmetic therefore tells us that’s nowhere near “10-12 percent.”

If an “expert” gets something so elementary so wrong right in front of us, frankly I’m going to be very suspicious of just about everything else he has to say. We all should be. And that’s even leaving aside his opening by ridiculously stumbling over a vital – in the realm in which he is sharing his “expertise” – French word, which as an “expert” surely he should have been able to pronounce without having to apologize for possibly mispronouncing it.

Watching the video, I wanted to turn down the volume and look away. He’s like an undergrad doing a weakly prepared presentation in a Politics of Western Europe class. I found myself almost feeling sorry for him, and wishing someone would please get the hook and pull him off the global stage because he’s embarrassing himself.

image

Moreover he’s also greatly embarrassing that news channel; but evidently that channel isn’t easily embarrassed. It is also exceedingly fond recently of citing a July 2014 ICM survey that claimed some “16 percent” of French citizens supported the terror group Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS, and ISIL in English-speaking lands; in France, it’s referred to mostly by its derogatory shorthand in Arabic: Daesh). That poll is, unsurprisingly, dutifully once again referred to during his segment.

However, the accuracy of that poll has also been reasonably questioned elsewhere. Fox News here, perhaps unsurprisingly also, says nothing about that. Neither does its “expert.”

* * *

Sadly ignorance, exaggeration and errors do not make that “expert” unique on U.S. cable TV news. There’s just too much airtime to fill and all channels (even my preferred CNN) seem to rely heavily on way too many “talking heads” whom harried producers know are readily available to rush before cameras within the next hour. (Full disclosure: a relation of mine is a producer on a well-known U.S. news program.) Yet what truly forms the underpinning for their expertise is often anyone’s guess. Sometimes you suspect you would learn more from a well-sourced Wikipedia entry or two.

It’s no laughing matter either. Disinformation and ignorance enters routine discourse all too easily. Suddenly someone has a new “fact” which gets shared and shared and re-shared: “Darling, my father was watching Fox yesterday. He said they had an expert on who explained how Paris is now almost run by ISIS. The girls want to go there on vacation?”

A rule I try to live by in our media-saturated world: if it sounds outlandish, count to ten. As viewers, we don’t have to have an opinion immediately. Seek a “second” or “third” unrelated source before quoting it to anyone else, because what you just heard may well have been sloppy half-truths at best, and quite possibly outright garbage.

* * *

To end on a lighthearted note, Cécile is “French and perfect” …. you understand. She is also self-deprecating, witty and entertaining. This is one of her YouTube videos, in which she demonstrates how to make mousse au chocolat:

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Hope you are having a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Calming The Storm

It was 1998. I remember it happening like this.

A woman friend and I weren’t sure about having lunch at what was a non-descript, although decent looking, roadside diner/restaurant we happened to be driving by. It sat just outside of Swellendam, near Cape Town, South Africa.

It was a sunny, warm day. We pulled in, parked and started to amble to the restaurant door. Even as we walked towards the building we were still unsure if it was where we wanted to eat; but the parking lot was pretty full, and the place seemed to be buzzing. We shrugged, it would probably do.

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Thoughts To Start This Week

You may have noticed the new template. I really like how “clean” this one is. It’s very easy to read, and the rotating banner photographs make for a nifty feature.

Just saw this myself the other day. Given recent events, that “France” has moved up to be my top tag is probably not a huge surprise:

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It’s been a tough couple of weeks. Let’s have a moment of photographic serenity:

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Anna Maria, Florida. [Photo by me, 2013.]
Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Anna Maria, Florida. [Photo by me, 2013.]
Hope you had a nice weekend. On Saturday evening, our overnight-visiting friends (on both arrival and departure, she hugged and kissed me on the cheeks; he shook my hand) were pitching plot ideas at me over gin and tonics. Alcohol seems to bring out the potential author in everyone. ;-)

That said, unrelatedly (or perhaps somewhat relatedly, given in “relaxing” with them maybe my mind “opened up” a bit), I had a “major idea” knock me over last night.

As I have the main plot for the third book already laid out, it’s a great addition. It was one of those light bulb going off over your head moments that includes chastising yourself: “Rob, why the heck didn’t you think of that before?” It led “naturally” – and that’s what I love: I hate when subplots seemed “forced” or “contrived” – to other, related, necessary new bits as well.

I tap, tap, tapped the gist of it down as quickly as I could. That’s how this “game” is played. You never know when it – whatever “it” is – might hit you.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are. :-)

No Hugging, Please, We’re French

It has become the hug cringed at around the world. The Lebanese news site Naharnet has a nice summation of what went, uh, wrong:

….The towering John Kerry was meters from Hollande, striding fast, when he first opened his arms.

In turn, the French leader stretched out his, clasping Kerry’s hands. Kerry pulled him into a brief hug to his right, at which time Hollande appeared to go back in for “la bise”. [The kisses to cheeks.]

Kerry caught up, accepted the kiss on his right cheek, before they clasped hands again, awkwardly placing their arms around each other as they walked side by side up the stairs into the Elysee Palace.

Half-hug, half-bise, it was a moving clash of cultures….

It’s a surprise Kerry didn’t realize Hollande would be baffled. But the Secretary of State had signaled beforehand that he was going to go all “American” in terms of sympathy and give Paris “a hug.” Yet the French president obviously didn’t get what Kerry meant, or didn’t think it would be demonstrated, umm, “literally,” and so was clearly unprepared for an American-style, “Come here, pal.”

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My feeling is former president (2007-2012) Nicolas Sarkozy, who reputedly has a solid sense of “Americanisms,” might have handled it better.

One can imagine the fun media and bloggers around the world might be having now had Ségolène Royal been standing there as president instead. Then again I don’t believe that had she been that Kerry would have tried to hug her that way. Kerry was doing an “American guy thing” with Hollande – and Hollande didn’t understand it.

Younger French of both sexes – especially those who’ve been to the U.S. for any substantive length of time beyond a vacation – are more attuned to Americans’ “curious” behaviors. But middle-aged and older French men on meeting even in emotional circumstances, such as offering condolences, as a rule don’t open by hugging each other like that. French men don’t do American-style “bromance.”

Compared to Americans, the French on the whole are simply far less into demonstrative displays of physical closeness between acquaintances, even friends. But they are not alone in that. Other Europeans, including the British (of course), are similar.

Still, it was a lighthearted moment after a week and a half of at times incredible ugliness and sadness. We all needed it. It provided a badly needed chuckle.

A Danish close friend of ours, and her English husband of two years, are coming for a stay-over visit with us tonight.

We’ve known her for ages. I get kisses to both cheeks, and she lets me hug her. She even hugs me back.

However, if I ever moved to hug him, he’d probably think I’d lost my mind. Or I was going all “American” on him. A firm handshake between us men is all that’s needed. ;-)

Have a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Brief Explanation (For Americans): Why Europe Has Anti-Hate Speech Laws

In the wake of the massive “Je Suis Charlie” rally in Paris following the murders at Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, we are inevitably seeing some U.S.-based media now questioning France’s commitment to free speech. Why? Because France has anti-hate speech laws. One example:

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Some background, and context, clearly appears to be necessary here.

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