Language, Writing

The Rise and Rise of English – And It’s Negative Impact on Global Literature

As a native speaker, the rise, spread, and entrenchment of English in the global order has been a boon. No matter where I go I know that I will be able to communicate with the vast majority of people with whom I would want to communicate. It has become a sign of education, class, and culture to speak English. Here in Paris wealthy families pay very well for nannies and governesses that speak English natively.

Every major literary work is translated into English, the majority of global best sellers are written in English, pop music and TV are dominated by English the world over. If life was a game of Civilization 4, the United States (not Britain) is well on it’s way to cultural victory.

It is making cross cultural communication easier and could indeed become THE global language. We see this is a good thing most of the time.

But is it?

In France I work at a technology venture capitalist firm. Everyone that works here must speak English. If one even wants a shot at being funded they must speak English well enough to present – ideally well enough to work in California if we send them there. Further, all public relations pieces, blog articles, etc. are written in English. Bad English.

Turns out that watching TV and reading blog articles doesn’t really prepare one to write a respectable essay. The European tech VC field is FULL of people that insist on writing and communicating in English. However they make no effort to actually ameliorate it. Often they reach a level where they can speak decently and then cease to improve.

This is a widespread problem, it is certainly not limited to the French business world. It’s most lethal poison seems to be reserved for the literary traditions of non-English speaking countries. This is a point brought up by Minae Mizumura in her recent book. According to her the literary tradition of Japan has been declining since 1945 – vocabulary is shrinking, words are getting simpler, old stylistic flourish have ceased exist entirely. She nears claiming that Japanese literary tradition is on it’s deathbed. And maybe it is. God rest Soeseki and Kawabata.

Not only is reading in English seen as somehow both cool AND intellectual at the same time, but even authors are now writing in English or in Japanese designed to be easy to translate. Obviously this has a huge negative effect on the actual quality of the literature. And it doesn’t stop there, the same problem is seen in European literature as well. Most writers now eye a translation to English and target English readerships.

The negative effect this has on their native literature is clear – but what about the effect on English? We, as native speakers, are inundated with the asinine and poorly written output of the entire world. And as the ESL proportion of the English speaking population increases, so too does the simplification of our language – all in order to reach people that only know it incompletely.

The government of the UK is removing e.g., etc, i.e., n.b., et al from usage because apparently it expects too much of an education from the legions of new ‘Britons’ crowding the island. English writers are being encouraged to use fewer idioms in order to accommodate people that don’t know them. Idioms are a core part of English! I expect simplified orthography to be the next step; we do live in an age where Oxford professors question the value of spelling at all.

What a time to be alive!

France, Paris

Paris – Not Quite a Eulogy

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”
― Oscar Wilde

Sometimes Paris doesn’t work. Aside from the fact that the French don’t like to work as is (and this is a true stereotype, I’ve found), the city itself just doesn’t hang together properly. Aside from 6 decades of failed immigration policy, 5 governments since the founding of the Republic, the incessant onslaught of developpers trying to ruin the city, problems with crime, Islam, post-colonial guilt, the echos of WW2, Muslims, the decline of the French language in popular use (it as once literally the linga franca of Europe, no more), the loss of her religion, the increasing wealth gap, the development of a new underclass, the fact that soldiers have to patrol my neighborhood, and, lastly, the fact that Anne Hidalgo thinks that skyscrapers will work within the city itself (hint: no one but real estate developers want that) – aside from this the city just feels wrong sometimes. It feels angry and ambivalent all at once.

It’s difficult to explain but think of the last time you walked into a room and something just  fell out of place. Now thing of a time that you have walked into a room after a tenuous truce had just been made between enemies and their anger still hung in the air. that is a decent approximation of the Parisian atmosphere on many days. It is not just the looming and ever present threat of terror, nor the gaping wounds that last attacks opened. It’s something else; maybe the city changed to quickly, who knows? But it is palpable, not always but when it is, it is a thick viscous feeling that that slows everything down and makes the city repugnant.

But it is not always like this. And during the moments when the weakened but enduring spirit can pierce the fog that has fall – those moments are incredible.

It is during those brief moments that one can understand why the city used to capture the imagination of the greater part of the worth. In these moments the City of Light is dimmer but shining nonetheless. You can’t prepare for these times, sometimes you can’t even stop to enjoy them – they pass like one of those rare strangers with whom you make an immediate connection but never see again.

Artists drawing in museums.

The odd couple on a lonely quai.

Children yelling bonjour monsieur to you as they go to school you to work.

In and of themselves they mean little, but together with a million other tiny, indescribable details, the picture of the old spirit comes together. I can no more tell you how these moments come to be than describe why Marat’s posture in Jacques-Louis David’s painting makes such an abhorrent man so pathetic.

These moments are unpredictable but they tend to lie where the stone better bore the weathering of time. At Sunday organ concerts at Saint Eustache, where Parisians line up to listen to a half hour of music on one of the most beautiful organs in the world. When you attend mass at Saint-Nicholas-Du-Chardonnet, a mass performed in the old way and a congregation whose faith would have been more home in the 12th century than in ours. It can be found in lost corners of museums, on roofs in the 6th, on quais in the 4th, in cafés in the second. The sap of the old city varnished some of these places, so it is harder for the problems of today to penetrate and rot what soul remains.

This is perhaps the most interesting time to live here since the Germans marched down Champs-Elyéee and the future of the city as hurled into doubt. But whatever her ails may be right now, the city comes out of hiding when she feels playful or reminiscent.

English, France, Literature, Writing

I Believe in Fairies

Well I just returned from an excellent meal on Montmartre (de Leopold if anyone is interested) this evening, and I consider myself to be at the perfect level of contentment to write this article. How’s that for a title, eh?

I’ve long had a semblance of an idea in the back of my head that, to me, seems relatively novel. And like all ideas that seem novel to the individual, it is likely an idea that someone has articulated far better than I ever could (and is quite famous to boot). Regardless of the fact that it is likely not novel in the slightest, it certainly seems uncommon. That is, I rank my beliefs by how much I believe in them. It doesn’t seem that strange at first but think about it. If someone said ‘I believe in God but not as much as I believe in gravity’ it seems odd. Or at least it ought to. If you believe in God at all, that is, the omnipotent God. Then by saying that you believe in God less than you believe in gravity, then you are more or less denying the existence of God.

To say I believe in Hell but less than this apple is to damn yourself. Frankly it is ridiculous, if a single shred of you believes in an eternal pit of fire (eternal – try to imagine an eternity), then you damn well better believe in it more than the apple you hold in your hand – or at least hold it equal, as most people have a binary view of existence (real or not). This is a concept with which I have always struggled – if one is truly Christian and believe that there is the possibility of eternal torture because of things that you have done on earth – then the only logical thing to do is become a monk and devote yourself wholly to being holy. In comparison with eternity, the human lifespan is non-existant. With such a brief trial and such a long, long, long reward, why would ANY believer be anything but a devout hermit praying every waking hour?

This is kind of a demonstration of the ‘levels of belief,’ sure one many believe in God, but manifestly not so much as he believes in what is in his hand or right before him.

This is something that my mind ran with as a child. I stratified my beliefs – and by doing so I was able to believe in things that many people found ridiculous without putting them on par with my core or observable beliefs. In some cases it runs along the lines of provability or how ridiculous I would sound if i shared it with someone (although ever since one of my English professors at University told me that he believed wholeheartedly in fairies, I have had a much easier time with this belief).

So here is how this works for me – at the highest strata I have things that are core to my existence or directly observable. Here you find the belief in God (more on this in a minute), gravity, evolution, apples, etc. In the next level you have things that seem likely to exist or possible but we haven’t confirmed it yet – things like aliens and other civilizations falls under this category (I mean there are trillions of galaxies, we can’t be that special). Just below this is the eponymous level: here I have fairies, dryads, fauns, elves, etc. Then there is the level of larger things, things that I can’t tell myself ‘oh they’re hiding from us’ and that would be larger things like dragons, griffins, etc. Then there is non-belief.

If you were to ask me: ABlaine, so do you believe in God? I’d say yes, then if you asked me if I believe in fairies, the answer would be the same. I believe they both exist. It is the fact that I believe in the former that that I can believe in the latter. And as someone raised Catholic, it is very hard to just become wholesale atheist. As I said earlier, if a single fiber still believes, you may as well go for it all the way. In a way this is something like Pascal’s wager. And if an omnipotent god exists and he made us, why couldn’t these other things exist?

An it makes life so much more interesting to read Arthurian legends or Ovid’s Metamorphoses as though they actually happened (although Ovid was quite clear that he did not believe in the things about which he wrote). And there is a strong western bias here, for example I don’t believe in voodoo and the like. I am a product of Western culture, what can I say? When I go to Brittany to visit Merlin’s Tomb, the Mirror of Fairies, or Morgan Le Fay’s home – it is inexplicably more exciting for me than others.

And this is an excitement that can be found in gardens, forests, plains, mountains, the sea, anywhere really. I don’t expect to see any of these things in my life (much like the lost devout Christian would go to their shrink if they heard God speaking directly to them). But such beliefs color life in an extremely interesting way – and they give you insight into how our ancestors lived for millennia.


Heritage and Height Limits: A Parisian Problem

A city of tradition, revolution, and reaction, Paris has managed to be both charmingly old world while simultaneously extremely progressive and forward thinking. Paris proper, the twenty arrondissements encircled by the périphérique hasn’t undergone a major change since Hausmann and Napolean III set to work making the city what it is today. They widened boulevards and streets and redid architecture down to minute details like the newstands. Since then the city has been loathe to change.

When the era of skyscrapers can and massively changed cities like New York City and London, Paris relegated them to a suburb, La Défense. The business district of Paris actually exists outside the city itself. The center retained extremely strict height limits and historically important buildings were more or mess untouchable. The Eiffel Tower being a very rare exception that was built to celebrate 200 years of revolution. However, several buildings and structures have gotten through these limits. And they are almost amways greeted with hatred.


Tour Montparnasse

The most notable is the uniformly detested Tour Montparnasse. Easily the second most prominent building in the skyline of Paris (after the Eiffel Tower). This uninspired black mark on the city inspired even stricter restrictions after it’s construction. Other monstrosities have made it through, with slightly less opprobrium than Tour Montparnasse: Centre Pompidou and the Louvre Pyramid.

After Tour Montparnasse the city had a kind of ‘never again’ moment and imposed even stricter height limits on the city. However, this is changing again under mayor Anne Hidalgo. Since views of the city are so expensive and sought after (the city alone contains 30% of the real estate value in France), developers really want to build things that are over the old height restrictions so that owners can have beautiful views of the city (before it fills with other buildings full of people seeking similar views… then suddenly the city is as ugly as London). Mayor Hidalgo recently got the City Council to lift height limits to over 500 feet and to approve a building called Tour Triangle. Described as ‘having a dialog with the city,’ a polite way of saying ‘it is glaring different and will not fit in at all.’

Paris is not the most visited city in the world because people want to see garish modern architecture. They could see that in any major city. People come to Paris to see what major cities of Europe used to be like before the World Wars destroyed most of them (Paris was spared by being declared an open city).

There has been quite an outcry against this move and the building has yet to be built. But does the city really need another Tour Montparnasse to know that it should be more careful and selective?

France, Paris

An Adventure in Paris – FNAC

I thought that I was doing pretty well – despite what I expected, I managed to move from the US to France with relatively few problems. Until one nice gray day (the kind one learns to call ‘nice’ in Paris during the Fall) my laptop decided that it couldn’t be bothered. And, demonstrating that it had integrated into French culture far better than me, it quit working. I had an interview the next day and desperately tried to rouse my laptop from his strike but the grève endured. And I, like many Americans before me, dealt with the insolence of the working class by demonstrating the ease at which they could be replaced.

So I strolled over to the nearest FNAC as the day brightened (slightly less gray, one would call this kind of weather ‘pretty nice’). Sure of myself and my French capability, I found my new laptop in a corner of the second floor of the huge store. Sad and alone, a mid range Asus in a sea of Macbooks, ultrabooks, and multi-thousand Euro gaming rigs on one end and cheaper-a-night-out ultrabooks, he was prepared to scab on my old HP. Negotiations were long, I stood analyzing specifications for quite a while… ‘my old laptop has a terabyte of storage, you have only 256’ ‘yes, well I am an SSD, have you seen the kind of bandwidth I provide?’ ‘that may be so but my old laptop had a high resolution screen’ ‘well that may be so but it was also inches bigger, my pixel density is greater’ ‘Well how do you justify the fact that you have merely 8GB of RAM, a mere two more than my 6 year old laptop’ ‘2 more AND a whole new generation of chip technology, DDR4 has several advantages…’ and so forth. The negotiations lasted so long that another customer believed I was an employee. And, apparently to her own great embarrassment, asked for help with a purchase… madame, je suis pas un employé ici, les employés portent des vestes orange qui disent ‘FNAC’ sur le dos…

The process of purchase was quite simple: I went to the help desk, showed the employee the one I wanted, he scanned it, took me back to his desk, filled out the order form, printed out the invoice and handed it to me, I then took it to the first floor and payed for it, the cashier gave me a new piece of paper and three receipts, then I had to go up a floor to the retrait where a man gave me a stack of papers, another receipt and finally my new laptop. Then after presenting all these receipts to security at the door, I finally had my laptop. Who said the French were inefficient?

I walk home as the day had darkened into the territory of ‘okay’ and I started to wonder if I had closed my windows…

Finally home, and just in time as it had started to rain, the standard excitement of  opening an expensive new toy began to overtake me. My old HP looked unhappily from the end of my tacky IKEA nightstand. I sliced open the box, took out the cardboard inserts protecting the laptop, wondered for a moment if I had to charge it before using, and finally plugged it in and launched into that lovely first-use setup experience. Where you begin the long process of getting familiar with something you are going to be using for a long time.

I entered my name for the first time: the first name was alright but wait, what is wrong with my last name?

It’s an AZERTY keyboard! I had totally forgotten! After a moment of panic I decided “this can’t be so bad, the Q is in the wrong place and there are some extra letters but it could be worse. The A is in the wrong place as well… And the M, the Q… Wait I have to hold shift to make a period? Where is the question mark? Why don’t I have to hold shift for the exclamation mark? Do the French use it that often? The Enter key is tiny and – Oh my God, there is a whole extra key to use the numbers on the top row… ”

My old laptop silently looked down on me with derision.

World Events

On Integration and Responsibility

After the horrific attack of 13/11/15, western Europe has come to a point where it simply must face the mess it has allowed to fester for the last five decades. The problem being immigrant ghettos. Almost all of the perpetrators of the recent violence in Paris was done by citizens of the EU. All of them were tied back to a location in Belgium known as Molenbeek. A location that has grown to be so violent that the Belgian police have admitted that they are loathe to even enter it. Perhaps most importantly, it is also home to one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in western Europe.

It is this environment that allowed the plan to be laid. But even worse, this is a location that allows for the gestation of a violent ideology in the heart of the West. A violent foreign ideology. And it is the foreign part that makes the issue so sticky. Many have begun to blame the problems on the lack of initiative that the west shows in integrating them. These same people blame poverty, indoctrination, anything they can, except for one thing. Islam. For to blame the ideology that results in these attacks is xenophobic. Such pretensions to political correctness must end.

How can one blame poverty? The government provides housing, food, education, and health care. There is access to cellular phones, the internet, and obviously places of worship. In comparison to the supposed horrors that their home countries contain, it’s the Ritz Carlton. And to break up the ghettos would, and ought to be, illegal. They have to right to self congregate, as does anyone. Forcing people to live apart is a vile thing to do. What is of concern is the ideology that springs up in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation immigrants within these communities. But poverty is not the issue. There are far poorer neighborhoods elsewhere in the world that manage to avoid such religious violence.

What needs to be looked at is the ideology itself: Is Islam compatible with European values? The holy book of the religion is filled with intolerant musings against infidels, gays, etc. So is the Bible, you might say. But all the horrid parts of the Bible (mostly Leviticus) are exempted for Christians by the coming of Jesus. The law was fulfilled and superseded by Christ, according to their ideology. Jesus taught to love your neighbor, that the meek, the widows, and the orphans ought to be protected. Jesus even accosts the one man that tries to save him from the cross.

Most importantly, the Bible was not written by God. The words of Christ were written down by men, one can’t get around this as the gospels are named after their authors and contain many obvious discrepancies. Ergo, there is ample room for interpretation and the message itself is quite pacifist. The same cannot be said of the Koran. The Koran was given by Gabriel to Muhammad directly from God. Interpreting or ignoring a part of the Koran is to directly twist or ignore the word of God.

This, in addition to the influx of refugees, as well as money from the gulf states, should lead the European governments to strongly reexamine their position. Most of these refugees are young men, young religious men who will quickly be dissatisfied with the Europe which they have built up for themselves. Suppose the vast majority of these men want to integrate peacefully, think of the example we have seen in France, the UK, and the West in general over the last 4 generations. It is not good. And many of these men will likely be unable to find partners in Europe that will fit their predisposed idea of how women should act, which can cause a whole separate problem.

So what can be done? Europe has done everything it can whilst sticking to the present political vogue of unquestioning acceptance. Benefits, housing, health care. The ball is in their court and has been for the last 50 years. But if one thing is clear the fault does not lie with the efforts of the European governments to integrate them. The burden of integration lies with the immigrants themselves and no one else.

Over the next fifty years one can expect to see either the most successful integration of an antagonistic group ever or a massive swing to the right. The V4 nations have already looked at Molenbeek and the banlieus and they have decided they want none of it.

As an aside, how does the United States do such a good job of integrating? That is a topic for another time, but the bulk of the reason is that the USA, due to the Atlantic, can be far more discerning in who it accepts. And those it does accept as usually highly educated. This either tempers severely or eliminates entirely the faith which has caused so many problems in Europe.


Multiculturalism and the Police State

The day after the shootings and bombings in Paris, I read a plea from a concerned internet denizen. He was concerned about the possibility of the French government passing further surveillance legislation. There is certainly precedent for this, and with 11/13/2015 being considered the French 9/11, the PATRIOT act springs to mind. This concerned internet denizen pointed to recent French legislation that had already expanded surveillance, and apparently it failed in its purpose, so why add more? Setting aside the fact that just because a law failed once in its purpose, it isn’t by that fact alone damned.

The real outcome that concerned cyberspace citizens fear is that of an Orwellian ‘big brother’ constantly watching out for the slightest deviation from the prescribed norm. It is, of course, a fair bet that many of these individuals deviate from the norm in ways they don’t want known, but many likely have nothing to hide, but merely don’t want to be observed. Unfortunately for them, the internet, in exchange for its unparalleled speed and utility, is the perfect platform for observation. As the news, banking, communication, and, in some countries, even elections move online, it becomes even more enticing to certain agencies.

These agencies can’t be blamed, they know full well that should another major attack occur the first question they’ll be asked is ‘how did you not know?’ They are merely doing their jobs, it is politicians that decree what can or can’t be accessed.

But what is with the large increase in surveillance in the West? Is freedom of speech and expression not one of our greatest rights? Is not privacy? Why should privacy be taken away?

It is on account of one thing, something that we have all been told is an undeniably good thing: multiculturalism. Or, more specifically, unmitigated cultural relativism in combination with it. The blending of cultures can be good, a Frenchman is as likely to enjoy Bach, Handel, and Verdi as any Englishman or Norwegian. No one in England is complaining about the introduction of French and Italian food, and few shun German cars. In many ways the artistic world of Europe has always been multicultural. Certainly since the Renaissance.

But all of these cultures already share a similar history: most were part of the Roman Empire. all were part of Christendom, all call upon a classical Greek and Latin canon. The foundations of each European culture is the same, the surface permutations are never going to be too far apart. If cultures were islands, Europe would be an archipelago. But what about war, you ask? I’m not speaking to politics, politics can even drive brothers against one another. No, I’m speaking to culture.

Now with the post-1960s (that decas horribilis) attitude, one must judge all cultures on their own. Judging in relation to one’s own would be incorrect as it assumes that one is right and another wrong when they lead one to differing conclusions. With the mindset of cultural relativity, one doesn’t pick the best parts out of another culture, because that’s wrong. No, one has to accept them as they are. This mentality, combined with enormous amounts of mass migration has led us to where we are now: in a bit of a pickle.

On one hand we don’t want mass surveillance, it violates our privacy. On another we can’t say that a certain culture is incompatible with ours because that would be that most horrid of all words: racist. What to do?

Currently we are just looking the other way. We let migrants pile up in Calais, Saint-Denis, Marseilles, and Molenbeek. We will purposefully avoid using terms to out perpetrators of crimes as belonging to a certain ethnicity or religion, we will avoid going to these areas, and life will carry on. Until, that is, they decide to break into our cozy world and rile it up. Which is where surveillance comes in, it monitors these areas and those peoples. And us in the process, a nice treat.

The very fact that this is necessary indicates that in practice multicultralism doesn’t work. At least not with incompatible cultures. One often hears that the reason Africa and the Middle East as so strife-ridden is because of the arbitrary lines that the European powers drew as borders. Borders throwing incompatible ethnics groups and religions together. Why would they get along any better in Europe, among even more different cultures?

As things stand, stay tuned for increased surveillance.