What’s the German for ‘mission civilatrice’?


Old joke:

Holger, from Frankfurt, arrives at the Athens airport.
Customs official: Name?
Holger: Holger von Alteboesefeind.
Customs official: Occupation?
Holger: Not ziss time. Chust visitingk.

A few more elections like the recent ones in Greece, and I may have to reconsider some long-held opinions. Oh sure, sure, I know, what will come of it, all a big fizzle, no doubt, no doubt, but it’s been pretty damn exhilarating up to this point. Mostly because of what it implies about how public opinion can change dramatically after a few years of what the new Greek PM, Alexis Tsipras, called “fiscal waterboarding”. If nothing else, Syriza’s willingness to use blunt and accurate language is a breath of fresh air, or rather, what a breath of fresh air would be to… to… well, to a person being waterboarded.

Will Amurricans ever stop trying to be ersatz Romans and start learning from the Greeks instead? I know: sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Not least among the pleasures in this recent turn of events is the constipated rhetoric effortfully squeezed out by various solemn hard-money Germans. It’s difficult to pick a favorite, but here’s a good one, from Martin Jaeger, identified as a spokesman for the German finance ministry:

“We are prepared to work further with Greece … But we will not force our help onto Athens.”

And Athens is no doubt very grateful to Berlin for its manly restraint. That forced help is a bitch, and particularly a bitch when it’s Made In Germany.

Another, less Pecksniffian and more in the old Pickelhaube mode:

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the Greeks should abide by their commitments, adding: “There’s no arguing with us about this and, what’s more, we are difficult to blackmail.”

As if all this weren’t enough to gladden my gristly old heart, Syriza has entered into a coalition with the small right-wing party ANEL, which really makes me giddy with delight. ANEL has the usual anti-immigrant craziness and a deep romantic attachment to the established Greek Orthodox church, but it is also solidly anti-austerity and has no use at all for the Germans. So here we have realized the terrible specter of a left-right populist alliance leaving the respectable, responsible centrists and liberals high and dry.

This splendid and exemplary piece of opportunism — in the best sense of the word — on Syriza’s part has disappointed a few of my more beautiful-souled Lefty comrades, of course, but surprisingly few. Most of us seem to get what a brilliant move it is.

Comment cartoon by Ellie Foreman-Peck

Nous sommes Charlie


Clearly the martyrs of the Rue Nicolas-Appert didn’t die in vain:

[New York ]Police Commissioner Bratton [announced today a] new 350 cop unit, called The Strategic Response Group, [which] will be dedicated to “disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities” against attacks like the hostage situation in Sydney, which the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence John Miller said was an inevitability in NYC.

This new squad will be used to investigate and combat terrorist plots, lone wolf terrorists, and… protests. “It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris,” Bratton said, according to CBS.

“They’ll be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not,” Bratton explained. “They’ll be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns — unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” Capital NY adds that these officers will also be used “to assist on crime scenes, and help with crowd control and other large-scale events.”

… Bratton said Mayor de Blasio was on board, and he expected the City Council to be as well.

No doubt Bratton will prove to be entirely correct in his sanguine expectations about de Blasio and, needless to say, the City Council.

I’m mildly surprised to hear that the NYPD doesn’t already have every cop toy a porker could possibly dream of. But maybe Bratton watched a lot of TV during the CH lockdown, and sensed that the tres soigne porc francais had a certain je ne sais quoi that he couldn’t quite identify, and characteristically concluded that it must have something to do with firepower. I’d almost be willing to bet that he orders French machine guns.

But if he expects the New York oinkerie to look anything like their French counterparts, he needs to recruit them from Williamsburg, not Rockland County.


Culling the herd


I seldom have much use for prosecutors, but like a stopped clock, perhaps they can be right twice a day. The most unspeakable politician in New York(*), Sheldon Silver, shown above, has just been indicted on a lengthy list of corruption charges by the somewhat uncle-Festerish Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, shown below.


Old Shellie has been mentioned here before, but it would require a thick book, written perhaps by Evelyn Waugh, to do anything like justice to his Lord Of Misrule decades running the New York state assembly, and forming one of the troika that run the state. (The other two are the governor and the state senate majority leader. Legislative districts in New York are so precisely gerrymandered that the senate nearly always has a Republican majority and the Assembly a democratic one. There is in fact honor among thieves.)

Shellie, of course, is a Democrat. Just sayin’.

It seems quite unlikely that the legislature will be “cleaned up” by prosecutorial smash-and-grab raids like this, amusing though they are. At any rate I don’t expect it. I imagine that the legislature will continue to be run on the current bought-and-paid-for basis for the foreseeable future. And I imagine that the prosecutors will continue to swoop in from time to time, seize some hapless plump grazer in Albany’s lush pastures, and hold an eclatant press conference.

This is, of course, good for the prosecutors and their political ambitions. It may even be good for the Legislature. Culling the herd, you might say.

(*) Or maybe the second-most. Governor Andrew Cuomo is a very strong contender, and one can only hope that he and Shellie will someday be cellmates and have a lot of time to argue the point between themselves.

St Charlie


Voltaire, who was perhaps the most distinguished French Islamophobe since Charles Martel, and the only one, ever, with any charm, once said that if God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent Him. The same might be said about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Whether it was really spontaneous, or some ginned-up police provocation, hardly matters. It’s been a brilliant success.

In the name of vague and unexamined notions like “free speech” and “satire”, all kinds of ordinarily reasonable, skeptical, good-hearted people have enlisted in the Clash of Civilizations, on behalf of the folks who published the charming image above, shortly after the Egyptian military coup of 2013.

It’s extraordinarily depressing now to listen in on the chatter of people I usually respect and admire. This one somehow got them where they lived, and while they would no doubt deplore — retrospectively — the uses of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, or the Reichstag fire, or the Zimmermann telegram, or remember-the-Maine, they’ve swallowed this latest one hook, line and sinker.

Who was that wiseacre who observed that the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history? I’m afraid he got it right.

Below, another product of French enlightenment.


Charlie? Moi, non


Nobody should have to die just because he’s an asshole. Talk about a holocaust. But Charlie Hebdo was a nasty bigoted shitrag, and I for one decline to join the stampede of righteous indignation — as if some great principle, like free speech for example, were at stake here.

Let’s start with that concept, actually. There is no such thing as free speech, never has been, and probably shouldn’t be. If I walk into a bar and inform the first plug-ugly I see that his mom was recently laid off from a house of ill repute, I’m likely to get pounded for my pains, and quite right too. If the Charlie massacre suggests to smug complacent humorists softly ensconced behind the police lines of the First World that they can’t rely on impunity if they make fun of lesser breeds’ religion, well then, perhaps the Carlists will not have died in vain. I hope Richard Dawkins is holed up in a secure undisclosed location somewhere, quavering like a Victorian soprano, and sporting a false beard and a turban.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the intrinsic charm and value of something called “satire”, as if it were all of a piece. Dean Swift wrote satire, and so did Der Sturmer, a satirical publication much given, like Charlie, to cartoons featuring big noses and bushy eyebrows(*). We can still read the one with pleasure and intense enthusiasm, but the other is pretty distressing. Perhaps the value of satire depends in part on who is being satirized, and why. Perhaps it even depends on who’s enjoying it. There are people with whom I would not care to share even a harmless taste — fly-fishing, say.

Of course what complicates the picture in the case of C-Hebdo is the strong whiff of provocateurism the thing gives off. When something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

(*) Its editor, Julius Streicher, was hanged at Nuremberg. So much for free speech.