mercredi 30 janvier 2013

The end

For six years now I've enjoyed running this little blog which now comes to an end. And the reason is that I've just learned that we have been duped by an impostor who, from the begining, made himself pass for a woman whose name was supposed to be "Ned", whereas we were dealing with a 65 year old man.  

As you can imagine I'm upset, not only because I've been lied to for such a long time -and you along with me- but also because this event forces me to close down Shall We Talk  which has been so important to me since I published the first post Sept. 27th 2007. 

I have shared a splendid time with you and thanks to you but now, who would still want to carry on exchanges with someone -whatever his intellectual qualities- who took advantage of the Internet to abuse the trust we commonly shared with each other over the past years?

So goodbye to you all

vendredi 25 janvier 2013

On the (relative) immorality of forgiveness


Every now and then, we meet the recommendation that the only way to find peace and quietness in our hearts and minds is to eventually forgive the offenders who have hurt us through their misdeeds.

I suppose one must have been through some nightmarish experience to tell first hand if the recommendation applies and if it works. Such isn't my case so I can not be assertive on that regard, yet I can imagine some victims finding peace only after they've killed themselves the murderer of their child for example.

As a matter of fact, there aren't that many cases where the issue arises but the rape or killing of children.

So I don't exactly discuss the veracity of the recommendation (let's call it a recommendation) but yet my attention was caught with a specific aspect of it and particularly in association with Kant's teaching re. morality.  

And then I was looking for an image to illustrate the post and I immediately found that one and I knew I was on  something.

I don't know who wrote the sentence in the frame (Ayn Rand?) but it seems indisputable that it posits a very selfish and egoistical basis to forgiveness. One may therefore question the morality of an action which is based solely on the pursuit of personal interest, whatever the circumstances.

Indeed, when we remember Kant' second formulation of the categorical imperative, we cannot but conclude that forgiving for the sake of our own peace of mind is contrary to the formula of humanity as exposed in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Moral.
Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

A maxim is considered immoral if:

  1. its subjective content is such that it treats the humanity in oneself or others solely as a vehicle towards one's ends.
Could he read the text in the frame, Kant would spin in his grave.

Now, it can be argued that the sentence isn't a maxim or the enunciation of a rule to follow, but merely the honest stating of the ultimate intent of forgiveness, that is treating the other as a means but not an end.

So, even if we forget Kant's theory of morality, I find it hard to deny that the end of forgiveness is basically selfish, selfish in the broadest sense of the word, yet selfish.

Finally, this little questioning may be an indication that morality isn't exactly easy to define nor are the criteria that can be useful in order to tell absolute right from absolute wrong in certain extreme circumstances.

Now, if you think all these meandrous Kantian talks about morality are irrelevant, just consider how it was discussed in an Israeli court 50 years ago.

dimanche 20 janvier 2013

Ayn and Arnie

Last week, this movie poster for Schwarzenegger's latest opus has appeared about everywhere in Parisian metro stations, in the streets of the city, in newspapers etc. And once again I wondered what was the origin of that specific Hollywood genre of cinema based on the notion of the last one, the survivor, the last cop, the last soldier, the last hero etc.

The Last Stand is translated into Le Dernier Rempart in French, but it has to be "the last" something yet.

As a matter of fact, I already had a post on this subject exactly 5 years to this day because of a flick with Will Smith that was just being shown in France by then. I am Legend was the title with the slogan : The last man on earth is not alone

I tentatively proposed an explanation which I knew was a partial answer to my questioning. Besides, I wasn't too assertive about it.

But now, I realise why I failed to fully understand this phenomena 5 years ago, when I still hadn't been introduced to Ayn Rand by Ned. 

For what I've understood, Rand's philosophy is a modernised version of Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch, an apology of individualism and self reliance as well as an overall distrust of the State and the collectivity. "Trust yourself and nobody else" seems to be the core of the teaching.

I still am flabbergasted to observe what a considerable influence the thesis of Rand have yielded among the American audience and then in America's psyche but apparently, this is a proven fact and all the American visitors I dealt with when I was a street hawker were familiar with Ayn Rand and many of them had read Atlas Shrugged which I had never heard of at that time.

I can't think of any national cinema with a similar genre based on the last something theme, be it in the French, Italian, German, or Korean  movie industries, but then it makes sense since only America has been exposed on an industrial scale to the message Rand brought to Americans. 

Ayn Rand, who apparently was a wise fox, told Americans what they wanted to hear and which, seemingly, was in line with the story of her country of adoption.

What I now realise is that all these last cop, last hero, last soldier, last commander, Last Stand whatever, are reiterated embodiments of John Galt and it certainly plays well with a certain segment of the American audience since Hollywood money makers keep on cashing in with this genre.

And they will until said genre will have ceased to garner money which apparently isn't to happen in the next future, so deep Ayn Rand's influence has penetrated into the American ways of thinking. 

jeudi 17 janvier 2013

Paris Passion Magazine

Some weeks ago, I mentioned my bohemian life-style to SemperFidelis when we were exchanging about our respective stays in London in the 80s.

That was then one of these episodes and it was to be followed by another, longer period of free wheeling when I was a street vendor in Paris for a certain number of magazines.

Last week I was cruising on the web and eventually landed on this page. Wow, Paris Passion magazine was just one of these magazines and specifically the one I started my street hawker career with in July 1985, three months after I've returned from London. 

Only in Wikipedia! Obviously the article has been written by an insider, possibly the founder of the magazine.

360 days per year, from 8:pm to 1:am (talk of lazy, subsidized French workers...) from July 1985 to July 1989 I would hit the streets of the Les Halles district which was one of the vibrant, trendy places where to spend an evening in Paris during the 80s.

Since making money never was my ultimate raison de vivre, I was cashing in enough to pay the rent and the bills but my reward was that my life style was immensely fun and free (*).

All in all, I've sold over 5,000 copies of that English speaking magazine which means that I've met and talked to something like 5,000 American customers (a certain number of Brits too but mainly American buyers), a number one can multiply roughly by two since I was also selling that fashion magazine which boasted to be the most expensive magazine in the world (that was the slogan).

Of course I wouldn't spend hours talking with each and every American visitor (I was making a living after all) but yet, every day I would exchange and discuss with a good many number of people from about every corner of the Great Nation (aka the Land of the Free).

So, even if I have never set foot in the US, I suppose I can say I am not totally unaware and ignorant of what people across the pond look like and how to communicate with them. Notwithstanding the daily visits to the staff at the offices of the magazine, rue du pont neuf (well, this is not the rue of course but the pont neuf where the rue comes from).

Oh! Did I mention the American innocent girls who were lost in Paris and looking for a nice and friendly Parisian to help them out but were too afraid to ask because they couldn't speak French? Oh, well, I just did my duty when the opportunity would arise sir.

So, looking back to my past,  my 30s weren't a complete waste of time after all and leading a Bohemian like life isn't deprived of some positive aspects.

(*) Recently asked whether he regretted not to be a millionaire, Jimmy Wales answered that his life was much more interesting that theirs.

dimanche 13 janvier 2013

Learning while having fun

Speaking of English expressions... this cartoon produced in 1951 was meant to illustrate colloquialisms, sayings and expressions in English. Some of them may be typically American though.

For what I know, Avery's idea was also to introduce outsiders to new expressions of that time that could be difficult for older generations to understand. But maybe some of these so-called new expressions ot the beginning of the 50s have now turned obsolete?

I remember an American girl telling me "Feeling groovy" was old fashioned (and that was 30 years ago!)

vendredi 4 janvier 2013


Working for the king of Prussia is one of these hundreds of sayings that exist in French like there are as many ones in about all human languages. That one isn't particularly uncommon, but Ned who's fluent in French may not have met it yet because it's not used that often and also isn't one that is known and understood by all French speakers.  

All these sayings and expressions - let alone proverbs - form some sort of meta-language that gives any society its pure cultural identity, beyond the sheer technicality of the vocabulary and grammar its language is constructed with.

Am I allowed to draw a comparison with the shibboleth of the Hebrews, a word whose pronunciation serves as a definitive marker to distinguish those who are in from those who are out? 

But where the mere pronunciation of the word "shibboleth" suffices to detect a foreigner, it is the very usage of those sayings by non native speakers of any particular language that indicates what could be termed as an illegitimate attempt to break the barriers.

Let me explain: Unless one is completely bilingual, everybody has a certain distinctive native accent when speaking in a foreign language. No need for a shibboleth test, the intonation is here to hear and tell the rest of the audience that a foreigner is speaking.

But when said foreigner employs sayings that are typically associated with a certain cultural group, there is an instant alarm that is set and informs that a foreigner is trying to penetrate the core of a group which cannot recognize him as a full fledged member. I guess it works the same in all societies, be it an Italian speaking Finnish and using specific Finnish expressions because we're all seduced by the mysteries of foreign languages, or a Chinese speaking Japanese (no wait, there are some other problems in that case...).

There must exist some specific Texan sayings (when the cows come home?)  that some one from Illinois (say) may want to use just to show h/h knows. And although it is spoken in English and with a different accent, wouldn't the Texans be tempted to say to the imprudent intruder: "Sir, will you please keep yourself to yourself and even return to where you belong while you're at it?