Monthly Archives: October 2014

No Admittance! Authorized French Words Only


The French consider their language as a national heritage to be guarded and protected like a treasure. For several centuries, French was the lingua franca used by the international community for all cultural and commercial exchanges. The Russian nobility in particular spoke it in preference to their own language.

The zenith of French cultural dominance was during the 17th and 18th centuries. After the Revolution it started to decline. Nowadays, English is the universal language fueled by American innovations and the number of former British colonies who speak it. After World War II in the 1950’s American culture and words like fast food, take-away, low cost and jeans spread everywhere to the chagrin of the French people who felt threatened by this new invasion.

France now has a concept called francophony. It is a union of all French-speaking countries and includes Quebec and French-speaking former colonies (mostly African). They have meetings and congresses of French language, literature, cinema and other cultural events. There is no equivalent “Anglophony” as far as I know.

To counter the proliferation of “alien” words in its language France has entrusted the French Academy with uprooting and discarding Anglicisms and replacing them with French equivalents. It is not unlike getting rid of non-native species of plants which have started to grow on your soil and are endangering native plants. They also created a Terminology Commission whose job it is to approve terminology and publish its recommendations in the “Journal Officiel”. This publication lists equivalent French terms in preference to the English version. Still, some Anglicisms escape the Commission’s vigilance and sneak into use… (coach, challenger, week-end). In 1994, the law “Toubon” was passed, a sort of linguistic protectionism. The barbarians at the gates must not be allowed in. No odious American neologisms!

Most of this hostility is reserved for computer lingo. And so the word computer itself becomes “ordinateur.” Software is “logiciel.” La Toile is used for The Web. Couriel (Courier electronique) replaces email. A browser becomes “navigateur.” The list goes on and on.

The English language is much more hospitable. Some of the French words have lived here so long that they are indistinguishable from native words. Think of automobile, coupe, limousine, garage, parachute, camouflage, regime, détente and Art Nouveau. We are happy to welcome even hard to pronounce or to spell words like rendezvous, charge d’affaires, rapprochement, communique and so on. It even gives the user a certain “cachet”.

Vive la diversite!

The Sultan of Istanbul


Turkish tanks are massed on the border with Syria. They have been sitting there for days watching the Islamic State besiege the town of Kobani, defended by the Kurds. The Kurds are our “boots on the ground” in this fight. Not only is Turkey not helping, they are not even allowing Turkish Kurdish men or equipment to cross the border to join the fight. Instead they are bombing the Kurds.

Recep Erdogan, the Turkish President, is supposed to be our ally. Turkey is a member of NATO. Is that the behavior of an ally? Erdogan is so afraid of Kurdish Nationalism and obsessed with the “Kurdish problem” that he is willing to help their enemy (and ours).

Charles Krauthammer has compared his cynical maneuver with that of Stalin during World War II: “During the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Stalin ordered the advancing Red Army to stop at the outskirts of the city while the Nazis annihilated the Non-communist Polish partisans. Only then did Stalin take Warsaw”
Recep Erdogan’s domestic record is nothing to boast about either. President Obama cites Turkey as a model of Islamic-enlightened democracy. Yet Erdogan has repressed demonstrations, imprisoned journalists, blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and You Tube and purged the army of secular officers. During the Arab Spring, Turkey was often cited as a model of the kind of Islamic society to achieve. That is because when Ataturk founded the modern Turkish state in 1923 he looked toward European democracies as a model. This model is slowly eroding under Erdogan and Turkey has become more anti-Western since its bid to join the European Union was rebuffed (mostly by France). It has also slowly moved toward a more fundamental Islamism.

Turkey used to have friendly relations with Israel . Since the Mavi Marmara incident during which a Turkish flotilla tried to breach the Gaza Blockade and suffered some losses in the process, Erdogan has shown total hostility toward Israel.

Just as Putin dreams of a greater Russia and yearns for a return to Catherine the Great’s Empire, Recep Erdogan is dreaming of his own new Caliphate. The last Caliphate was claimed by the Turkish Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. They were then the leaders of the Islamic World. Erdogan’s Putinesque dream is that of his own Caliphate.

Powerless In Oakland


Editors note: To give this some context and for those who may not know, Simone is 92 years old and lives alone in her home

At 6 o’clock on Sunday evening, just as I was settling down to watch the Russian news, the image on the TV screen suddenly disappeared. I sat staring at the blank screen waiting for it to start talking to me. When it wouldn’t, I walked around the house and noticed that the radio had no display and the hand on the clock did not seem to be moving either.

The ultimate and conclusive test was to try the light switch and when no lights obediently showed up, my brain finally registered what was happening. No doubt about it. It was a power outage. How suddenly one plunges from the age of convenience to the dark ages before civilization. Perhaps not quite the Stone Age but the Candle Age. (Was there such an era?)

Well, thought I, at least there are plenty of candles in the house. I even found lots of matchbooks in a kitchen drawer. but I had the greatest difficulty striking a match and not having it break in my hands before it caught on so it took a while before I had a real candlelight feast on my dining room table. While pondering my other choices I found that my flashlight seemed to be missing some essential parts. Only my dumbphone still had a very bright display end told me what time it was. I then found the “Power Outage” number for PG&E and decided to call them while I could still see what I was doing.While I was waiting on the line listening to a lot of useless information, the recording was trying to convince me that I could get quicker service by going to their website. I wanted to tell it: Have you ever been able to get to the Internet during a power outage? But you can’t really talk to a machine except on a predetermined path. It finally got down to business and confirmed the outage and gave an estimated time for service to resume.

So I sat down to read the Sunday New York Times by candlelight.

The whole experience only lasted one hour and a half but gave me ample time to reflect on our total dependence on technology beyond our control and our utter powerlessness when the unexpected strikes.

Modern Exodus | Fleeing Countries

Fleeing Countries

In September, 500 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean Sea near Malta. Two survivors explained how they had left Egypt with Syrians, Palestinian and Sudanese refugees on board a rickety boat that was overloaded. Some were families, some children alone. They were bound for the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. All had paid the boatman in advance. Midway in the journey, over a dispute regarding transferring to a small boat, there was an intentional ramming of the boat and all but two of the immigrants drowned. It was not an accident and it was not an isolated case. It was cold-blooded murder. Every day, determined Africans flee the misery and dangers of their countries in un-seaworthy boats. Those who manage to make it across join thousands of people already crowding makeshift camps. They are so desperate that they pay fortunes for the dangerous journey. Because of the wars in Syria and Iraq, the situation has reached catastrophic proportions and the European Union finds itself unable to deal with it. It has created border patrols and detention centers thus earning the name “Fortress Europe.” In most countries, the right wing parties have been vociferous in denouncing these “parasites” attracted by Europe’s generous welfare system.

In Israel, the equivalent detention center for African migrants is called Holot. It houses thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees who make a treacherous journey across the Sinai desert in search of a better life. Some make it all the way to Tel Aviv where they cannot find work and turn to crime. They are definitely not welcome. They are even offered money to return home. The problem is that Israel identifies itself as a Jewish State and an influx of 50,000 Africans threatens the country’s Jewish character.

Since 1990 the number of Central American immigrants to the US has tripled. Tens of thousands of children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are showing up illegally at the Texas border. Often without parents, they too are being taken advantage of by smugglers or coyotes who collect their money and abandon them. Many die alone in the desert, unidentified and un-buried. They too are leaving countries where they face misery and danger. They too want a better life. President Obama and the Congress are fighting over who is responsible for the situation and how to provide a path for citizenship for so many undocumented immigrants.

There is increasing chaos and instability in the world and a bigger than ever gap between poor and wealthy countries. While many countries squabble over the difference between migrants and refugees, this semantic battle is not helping those who are running away for whatever reason. What are the duties and obligations of the wealthy countries toward the poor ones?
When does egotism give way to generosity? And how much of a strain can they absorb without being overwhelmed? It is a difficult balancing act.