Life Isn’t Fair

My brother and I were going to drive from Paris to northwestern Spain. A hired boat was waiting for us there for a sailing vacation. We were both in our late twenties. I was smarter than anyone and my brother was too (same mother!) Such things are possibly additive and so, the two of us were something like twice smarter than everybody else. I am not affirming, just speculating in a fairly rational manner.

We were leaving on June 30th, one of the worst days of the year to go on a French vacation by car. It’s the day when

30 % of Parisian families, and 20% of all other northern French, one quarter of of Belgium, and same of the Netherlands, and one tenth of Germans, drive toward Spain through France (relatively few Germans because their sun search orients them more to the former Yugoslavia). A few cars with Danish plates were even in the mix that day. It was not only one of the worst day of the year to travel south, it may have been the worst day in thirty years because it was also a Friday.

My brother and I didn’t even discuss the possibility of traveling on the excellent French freeways. It was obvious they would be congested, probably with miles-long traffic jams. We left central Paris at 2 pm. We rejoined the network of also good national roads on the outskirts of the city. The national roads were well maintained but, unlike the freeways, they included some traffic signals. And they were only two lanes wide in the countryside, turning to three or four lanes on entering and leaving towns. Also, national roads skirted some but not all cities and villages.

After a couple of hours, we thought we were progressing too slowly because of all the French drivers who were almost as smart as we were and who had made the same calculations. It was light-years before Google Maps. The game was all about the art of reading paper maps and instinct, period. So, we stopped to confer and it was obvious we should switch to yet a lower order of roads, the departmental roads. We made the bet that even most French drivers wouldn’t know how or dare to navigate their often crooked configurations. Foreign drivers, the barbarians from the north, would be too shy to enter that network of much smaller arteries even if they could find them. My brother and I were different from them. We each had a good compass. Besides, we were sailors: we knew how to find the south.

We were convinced that as long as we moved in a generally southward direction, we were doing well. I realize, this seems obvious but most drivers were not that well equipped, mentally, directionally speaking. They were slaves to the thickly marked freeways on their printed maps. At any rate, many city drivers, even French ones and probably all foreigners, carried maps drawn on a national scale that showed barely more than the same freeways and,in smaller print, the national roads. We had detailed maps displaying enlarged segments of France all the way from Paris to the Spanish border. A pond or a three-house hamlets would show on our maps. As I said, we were smarter than everyone else.

Oops, I almost forgot! My brother and I each traveled in his own car, each with his own wife by his side. The women were both good wives, experienced wives, trained wives, in other words, who wouldn’t have dreamed of proffering navigation advice. I don’t recall what small but chic car my brother was driving. I seem to remember I had my beautiful but very used, two-and-a-half seats irresistible Peugeot convertible. The weather was glorious, anyway. My wife at the time was an American girl with a lot of travel experience who had lived abroad under harsh conditions.

She has spend two years with the Peace Corps in a tiny South American village where local people thought that indoor running water was just another tall tale. She was hard-scrabbled and cool, not given to making scenes, to panic, or even to express worry aloud. There was not much that France could dish out that would scare her anyway (except, perhaps some cheeses). My French sister-in-law was a little more fragile but she had immense confidence (largely misplaced) in her husband, my brother. No, he and I were not just lucky in wifely respects, rather, we were discerning. Also, women with a shy disposition never did approach us closely (however desperate they were to do so. I believe many were! What can I tell you? I only tell the truth.)

Even the departmental roads were congested, it turned out. We left them and soon, we were driving on the French equivalent of county roads. Now, those are frankly uneven in quality. In rich counties (“cantons’), they are good, in poor counties, they are practically abandoned, etc. You can be sure we didn’t do anything stupid like turn from a fairly good county road unto an unreasonably bad one. Bear with me. It’s just that at the lowest level of the hierarchy of roads, the same artery, with the same identifying number, can morph in a short distance from not so good to perfectly awful. And then, as is well known, there is no driver moving steadily south, however slowly, who wants to make U-turn and travel north even for a few miles to correct a mistake.

So, in any case, that late afternoon, I was leading the way on an upward tree and bush-lined path just wide enough to allow for the passage of a single car. I said “path,” not “road.” I couldn’t tell to what extent we were rolling on blacktop but from the noise my undercarriage made we were sure crossing large expanses of bare rock. We had left inhabited areas quite a while ago, on the one hand. On the other hand, our strategy had been victorious: There was not traffic jam at all where we were. In fact, there was not traffic at all, either way. That was a blessing because our path could not have accommodated at once two cars going in either direction. One would have had to back up or down.

I was not much worried about daylight yet because at that latitude, in June, night falls around 10:30 pm. Yet, a part of me knew that I would soon feel hungry and therefore probably also my traveling companions. We had not packed any food because France is a country with a restaurant every fourth or fifth block, or a least, a café that offers good ham sandwiches made with fresh bread. But we had seen no human structure in quite a while, not even a barn. Something had to be done. I honked my horn as we did when one of us wanted to water the roadside vegetation. (Those were the days long before cellphones, of course, even before CB radios – remember those? – walkie-talkies were uncommon.)

As I was slowing down, I came upon the back wall of a two-story stone farm house. On it were painted the large, black, block letters: “..STAURANT.” I couldn’t see the rest of the word – if any – because the wall was overgrown with blackberry bushes. The sweet song of victory began sounding in my head.We crept alongside the house side wall and stopped in front of a simple garden gate. There was no bell so, we pushed it open and we all trooped into a vegetable garden as if by instinct. I knocked at what looked like an ordinary kitchen door.

A neatly dressed, vivacious woman in her forties wearing an apron asked what she could do for us. (I thought she assumed we were lost because we did not look like we belonged in this remote rural area, especially the Paris and California wives.) The woman spoke with an accent different from mine and my brother’s and his wife’s. That was pleasant in itself. It meant we had progressed some way southward. I told the woman we were hungry and we had stopped because of the restaurant sign on her back wall.

Oh, my, oh my! she said, I am sorry but there has not been a restaurant here for twenty years or more. Not my problem, I was thinking, but I did not say it. Sorry to bother you, I responded instead, but we are very hungry. Will you perhaps, sell us a half loaf of bread, I inquired piteously? Well, let me think what I can do she replied. OK, I will try to put together some dinner for you but you can’t be too demanding. We are in the middle of nowhere here and, as I said, this is no restaurant. You will have to be satisfied with whatever I serve you. Agreed? We clamored in near-unison: Agreed! Upon which, the nice woman opens her door wide, bides us in and invites us to sit at her beautiful, heavy oak kitchen table half covered by an oil cloth with red floral motives.

Two little girls huddling in a corner consider us with wide eyes. This place is really remote; they seldom see strangers, probably. Immediately, the hostess asks if one of us would go and retrieve the bottle of wine hanging by a piece of string in the well just outside. My brother does. She serves us cold white wine in glasses that used to be, maybe jam, or mustard containers. That was how it was in the old days. You bought them in regular grocery stores. You only paid for the contents, the glasses were free!

The nice woman disappears briefly in the basement and returns with four small clay jars of pâté she places on the table in front of us. Each jar bears a sticker that say in a fine handwriting: “perdrix et porc.” (partridge and pork”).She warns us to watch out for shotgun pellets as she cuts large slices of bread. I recognize the kind of big loaf she is holding from my days as a boy-scout. It’s produced by bakers in rural areas to last a week or so in a relative state of freshness. In the meantime, her daughters are in the vegetable garden outside picking lettuce for our dinner.

After the simple fresh green salad, our hostess puts in the middle of the table on top of a ceramic tile a big skillet with a slightly runny mushroom omelet. We rejoice in our hearts and also aloud. After the first forkful, the thought crosses my mind that those brownish mushrooms are new to me, exquisite and new. I ask the lady what kind of mushrooms those are. But, she exclaims those are not mushrooms, they are truffles. We are sitting with a truffle omelet between us!

I didn’t even know such a thing existed! In Paris restaurants they only combined truffles with other super-expensive items such as foie gras, or filet mignon. When a more humble dish was announced to be “aux truffes,” it was pretty obvious that the dish in question had merely been shown some truffles in a jar! The simple munificence of the steaming dish in front of us leaves us speechless.

The truffle omelet served in this unknown farm house in an unfamiliar part of southern France was the best thing I had ever eaten. Fifty years later, it remains the best except for a serving of unnamed sashimi in an anonymous Osaka sushi shop twenty years later. The truffle omelet continues to exist in my memory like a masterfully performed gustatory Magnificat!

Early raspberries from the garden floating on thick cream topped off our emergency dinner. Bathing in the physical well-being that follows a really good meal, we were almost reluctant to leave. But nightfall was coming and we still did not have a place to stay. With no eagerness, we asked the lady for our check. She labored over it for the longest time while we were each savoring a little shot of home-made spirit. (That was a common wonder then. Until not so long ago, the rural French discreetly distilled 80-proof out of anything with any hint of sweetness that grew in their area. They even did it with the sour sloes, tiny purple berries growing in clumps on the hedges separating their fields.)

When finally we saw the bottom line on our bill, we doubled the figure and thanked our hostess with all the gratitude and enthusiasm in the world. Her face was all pink from our compliments and the satisfaction of an unexpected mission superbly carried out. My sister-in-law fished some candy out of her big city purse for the little girls. Our hostess instructed us to drive straight out for about five kilometers and to turn left and downhill as soon as the opportunity arose. It’s not really a road, she warned but it will take you straight to town. There is a hotel there. It’s on the main square, across from the church. You can’t miss it. It’s not far.

We slept the night there, in a comfortable place from another era. In the morning, after café-au-lait and croissants, we hit the road at the civilized hour of ten. We made straight for the freeway. The traffic there was fluid because the batch of northerners from yesterday was gone and the new batch from today, Saturday, had not yet reached that far south. After a splendid paella, we spend the next night aboard our rented boat, in a pretty Costa Brava harbor.

This little story has certain deep metaphysical implications you may have missed. It shows that:

1 God exists;

2 He loves fools;

3 Life is not fair.

© Jacques Delacroix 2022

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Memoirs of Not Getting Girls Pregnant

One issue that’s crying out for moderate voices is that of abortion. One of the evils of Wade vs Roe is to have made debate on abortion seem superfluous for fifty years, unlike what happened in Western Europe for example during that period.

I am trying to avoid adding mine to the many voices arguing the same, often metaphysical points that are unlikely to lend themselves to compromise. I want to give here a bit of fairly recent history, of personal history, that has everything to do – though in a roundabout way – with abortion and that possesses no metaphysical depth whatsoever.

Reel back a few dozen years. I am a twelve-year-old French boy. As was the case in preceding years, my family is going to spend most of this summer in a small resort town on the north coast of Brittany. (I have written about that lovely place several times before. See my blog: The location is familiar but something is different this year. I am old enough to join the large group of teenagers, up to eighteen, who gather on the second beach, the one away from parents and young children. And, incidentally, at that point, I like girls and I have a fairly clear idea of what I would like to do with them – if they are agreeable.

I am not completely clear-headed about the last point though. Girls have often smiled at me engagingly; several have expressed a lively interest in sitting next to me at the movies. Soon, some of my sister’s girlfriends will spring up at my house more often than is necessary. She is two years younger than me so, it has not obviously happened yet. I am still not good at reading signals but I am eager to improve.

I am retrospectively embarrassed, that is, my American self is embarrassed, to admit how little those French kids did on vacation. We did swim in the cold Channel and that’s about it. Mostly, we lied in the sun trying to get one another’s attention. When we succeeded, during the day, we could always try edging away toward the tall rocks that delimited the beach on one side. You could fool around there out of sight. But footsteps don’t make noise on the rocks so, you never knew when you might be caught red-handed (so to speak). Plus, it was difficult for a boy wearing a tiny bathing suit to rejoin the group without his emotions blatantly showing.

In late afternoon, when people started leaving the beach, it was fairly easy to slink away to the very near old Customs path that followed the cliff line. It had many recesses with tall grass and giant ferns for a couple to sort of hide. If a girl was a bit forward, she would agree directly to go somewhere I hesitate to name. It was an abandoned apple orchard close to the beach, behind a wall and also with tall grass, in the summer. Honestly, the kids knew it as “le champs de la Marie Cul-Cul.” As you may already know, “cul” as in “cul-de-sac,” means “bottom,” or “ass,” so, “ass Mary’s field.” I am afraid I was sixteen before I realized there wasn’t and had never been such a person as Marie.

In any case, on the Customs path and in Marie’s field both, some clothing was shed quickly. Yet, not all clothing came off and that’s much of the story. And, remember, this took place in France where, as per stereotype, neither boys nor girls were prudish (nor their parents). And it was too far North for a cult of virginity to exist. I even remember quite vividly very young girls as kind of openly avid in those days. There was not much timidity.

Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, there was dancing to live music at the municipal casino. Pretty much all of the beach young people and many of their parents attended. That was in the days before rock stupidly made close dancing pretty much illegal. The young sat on one side of the ballroom and the parents on the other. Yet, they all commingled on the dance floor and, of course, parents could not refrain from watching their offspring. Right there, for three hours, prodigious feats of eroticism were performed in full view of the same parents. There was no regulation pelvic distance as I discovered in an American high school a few years later. I still remember the name of a girl who was known to make muffled sounds while dancing close as a testimony to her happiness. Yet, the parents gave no sign of worrying. In truth, they had little reason to worry.

Right outside of the casino were several rows of beach tents stood up in the sand for the duration of the season. A town security guard was supposed to patrol that area of the beach late into the night. Fortunately, he was old, he limped, and his breathing was belabored and noisy. So, as you would expect, there was much action in the tents every Saturday night, a little less on weekdays.

I spent that summer and the next five in the resort town, largely with the same group of young people. We grew together. Young ones came in as older ones left to go on vacation on their own. We learned the ropes and the bathing suit strings together. So, we thus had multiple chances at one another. You might say that whatever was bound to happen between randy adolescents did happen over those six summers, except that one thing. And that’s my main point.

In the France of the fifties, no contraceptives were allowed and prescribing anything for contraceptive purposes was illegal. Those who procured abortions risked many years in jail. Condoms were available in principle because they might be used to prevent disease transmission. I believe that none of the young middle-class teenagers I knew on that beach would have known how to get one. So, was there a miracle, many miracles?

I asked a friend of mine from those days with whom I have remained in touch. She is an MD, a psychiatrist who always struck me, even then, as possessing a keen sense of observation. She is also a friendly soul; she was back then. (Personalities don’t change much.) She would have been in most of the girls’ confidence. She would have known any important secret. She confirmed my impression. In the six years of interest here, she says there was not a single pregnancy alert in our group. And, out-of wedlock pregnancy was not much of an exotic or unrecognizable event. Among the farm folks living nearby – with whom we shared a Catholic church – it even came close to being one of the normal kinds of betrothal.

With all this, it’s possible that an illegal clandestine abortion or even two escaped both my friend’s attention and mine over those six years of observation. It’s possible but quite unlikely because gossip is always rife in large groups of idle young people. My friend the doctor herself was attractive and popular, vigorously, enthusiastically heterosexual, and not shy at all. I think that if she had needed an abortion during hat period, she wold have told me, more than fifty years later. (We became close in our maturity.)

So, here we are: Pro-choice groups tell us that abortion is completely necessary in 21st century USA because adult American women and men are unable to replicate the self-control, the bounded behavior that was routine among French teenagers in the 1950s. There lies a mystery. Just to be clear, let me say it: Not introducing live sperms into the vagina is a sure way to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Abstaining in this manner makes abortion unnecessary. No other form of abstaining is needed.

I ask myself what’s different in terms of self-control and respect of boundaries between French teenagers of the fifties and contemporary American adults. The answer is pretty obvious though its validity is difficult to demonstrate. My teenage group used little alcohol and seldom to excess. Though a Paris sophisticate, I did not encounter any other drug, including cannabis, until the last year of the period under consideration. Today’s America, by contrast is awash in drugs of all kinds. Excessive drinking was still common in this country during the first half of the Roe vs Wade interlude.

I note with hope in my heart that Americans have greatly reduced their alcoholic consumption in the past forty years or so. It appears to me that this was achieved in two simple ways. One was the stiffening and more certain enforcement of drunk driving laws. The other was simply ordinary, rational but formerly self-indulgent and mindless citizens – like me – desisting voluntarily from the irrational conduct of drunk driving. Americans’ self-reform with respect to driving might be followed by similar behavioral change…. regarding copulation, with the same beneficial results. Then, American adults of the beginning of the 21st century might just become as mature as French teenagers of the 1950s!

I am not going to describe here the many roads to fulfillment we young people walked then because I don’t intend to do pornography here, even of the soft core kind. That’s although it seems that many pro-abortion people, women and men both, could use a few practical lessons, a couple of pointers. Let’s just say there are ways. I will add that remembering those days at my advanced age, from the height of a little experience, I am convinced that many teenage girls of my acquaintance then were joyously multi-orgasmic. But then, I am only a man so, what do I know? All I can say is that they sometimes displayed the uncontrolled convulsions the French call, “s’envoyer en l’air” (to throw oneself up in the air).

Many of the rioters against the recent Supreme Court decision would no doubt describe themselves as feminists. So would many deeply embittered free-choicers who did not riot. Yet, by their actions and, especially by their partial inaction, those feminists end up denying agency to women in general. It seems to me they are in effect infantilizing women even by failing to mention paths to bliss that imply zero chance of unwanted pregnancy. Women should be able to choose, not only from legal standpoint but also from that of unobserved everyday life, I think. Everything else is undignified.

One more thing: I know, in the end, there will be women who have children they can’t rear, or shouldn’t rear. And there will be women who are brutalized by the men with whom they are intimate. It almost makes me wonder why American pro-choice organizations have not challenged their pro-life adversaries: Will you promise to ensure that unwanted children are taken care of? Will you give shelter and sustenance to women hoping to escape from a brutalizing relationship?

Or, are they actually attached to abortion? Yes, I know, this is a nearly obscene question. It needs asking.

P.S. On the evening of the day I finish this little narrative, I listen as two women on NPR discuss some of the horrible, cruel lengths to which anti-abortion legislation goes in some states. These would include denying therapeutic abortions to women at the possible cost of their own lives. I have not caught the credentials of either of the discussants but they are persuasive, for a while. Then, I realize they keep referring to “people” who need abortions. At that point, I don’t care about credentials. They are just not credible, as far as I am concerned. By the time I come out of the shower, a few minutes later, they have moved on to arguing in favor of universal public financing of abortion. They seriously want the minority who are convinced that abortion is murder plain and simple to contribute some bullets. Seems to me, we are not close to closing in on a rational compromise, after all. More later if there is a reason.

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Swimming Against the Currents in the Late Afternoon

I am in a testamental mood these days. I know the word does not yet exist. I am just trying to blend together the virtues of “testament,” as in, “last will and testament,” of the Biblical and legal term “testimony,” and maybe even of the term – not so common on the street -, “testes.” So, now, the word “testamental” exists. I just made it up and you all understand it. By the way, I know, there is a word “testamentary.” It does not suit my purpose.

I am old, now, older than I ever anticipated being (80, N. S. !). When I was growing up, life was much shorter than now; so, we had modest expectations. People died at every age of everything and nothing. Antibiotics were few, scarce and expensive. Both the anti-polio and the TB vaccines were invented while I was a kid. My paternal grandmother died at around sixty; my maternal grandfather, at twenty-six (of course, the cause was not illness; it was a German bullet.) My maternal grandmother, his widow, lasted only until age 75. (She left with a Gitane clenched in her right hand.)

Today feels a lot for me like late afternoon. I am swimming in a mostly calm ocean. The sun has not gone down much yet but there is a sense that night is coming. Even the seagulls have gone quiet. So, I look back, infrequently and only superficially, but I do. Overall, I had a lucky and almost charmed life. I was in good health most of my years and so were those most dear to me, or mostly so. I served in the military but my existence was never really threatened by armed others with bad intentions. Mostly, I had pretty much the life I wanted without necessarily deserving it. More on this below.

Emigrating to the US, I morphed in reasonable time from a French high school dropout to an American scholar, not a great American scholar, mind you, a fairly well respected one (1350+ scholarly mentions and counting, according to the specialized outfit ACADEMIA that keeps track of those things. That’s pretty good; ask anyone.) In America, from day one, numerous strangers and acquaintances gave me a hand, or a push upward, even a shove, occasionally. During the hard years, the benevolence of many helped keep my head above water. Even a Chinese restaurant server in San Francisco, regularly gave me double helpings of fried rice for the price of one. He was an older man with whom I did not have a single word in common. I have every reason to feel grateful and I do, every day. America makes everyone better, even the bad guys.

Fast forward a few years. Soon I was teaching college. From then on, I was always involved in research. Yet, I made my living mostly by doing something I liked, telling stories, or teaching, same thing. In the end, I also found a way to get paid for reading, exactly what I loved doing as a child and as a teenager. I retired about fifteen years ago. Since then, I have written three-plus books. The first and the third are in English, the second, in French. Incidentally, the third book, the second recent book in English, is under a nom de plume, the pseudonym: “John René Adolph.” You can just guess why I had to use a pen name. (Or, you can look up the electronic version of the book on Amazon. Warning, not a family reading!) I also wrote a slew of short stories plus a goodly number of political essays. None of the latter is of a scholarly nature. They are more of a kind of fou-fou sociology. So, I had a second career as a writer, one lacking somewhat in seriousness, a career as a moderately and pleasantly frivolous writer. Most of my stories and nearly all my essays are on my blog: Most were also published, after a fashion.

The three books written since I retired are all published by Vanity Press, I am afraid. (A fourth book is in the hopper.) I figured I did not have the time at my age to go around begging commercial publishers to take a look at my productions. From the little I have seen, they treat you very badly. In fact, they generally won’t even talk to the poor souls who think they are writers. They only deal with literary agents. And you need an agent just to get an agent. Plus, I am convinced that unless you write porn or romances novels (same thing, more or less), you won’t find a publisher unless you are serial killer, or a disgraced politician, someone who already has a name! I am not surprised. I always knew, if only in a vague way, that the easiest thing about books, after reading them, is writing them. Do I wish I had tens of thousands of readers? Yes. With the royalties income to match? You bet! Am I bitter? Not at all. Remember, I am talking about my second life.

Of course, I can hear some unsympathetic murmurs from here: you were an unpublished writer. What did you expect? The world is overflowing with people who think they are writers and who have no right to think so. Again, what do you expect? Well, in fact, when I did the first of my last three books, I had already published two earlier ones, much earlier ones, unfortunately. Both books had been commercial successes. One was in French. It had even received a national award in France. It does not count, I was told, because it’s in French. The other was a thin volume in English, published forty years earlier. Too old to count, I was told. I never mentioned my many scholarly publications in that context because that’s the kiss of death for a regular writer, a trade writer. Who wants to read a book by a professor that has not been assigned and the reading of which will no produce a grade?

I have been married twice. The first time, when I was a pretend-hippie, it was for four and half months. The second marriage lasted forty-five years, so far. (Let no one claim that I don’t learn from experience.) My wife and I managed to adopt and raise two children. My academic job gave my talented wife space to be a painter who did not often have to work outside the home. More luck: I really like her paintings; they make me feel rich; I don’t have to pretend. I don’t even want her to sell them. Early on, when we were fairly poor she sold one good one, for a good price. I have not stopped mourning it. And, by the way, I dabbled in painting myself for several years. It’s hard to explain but I have no illusions about the quality of my own paintings. I am what the French call derisively: “un peintre du Dimanche,” an amateur who paints only on Sundays, as a hobby. Some of my many small paintings nevertheless generate much pleasure in a certain part of my brain. Shoot me but I actually like looking at my paintings! Every so often, I give one away to a friend – always with the dim fear that it will end up in his garage. (In my scenario, my friend’s wife orders him to put “this horror” away. Most of my friends are American-born males, of course. Almost all of them are wimps who obey women. This fact irritates the women in their lives, I have noticed.)

There is one more happy thing I need to mention about my life, even if it will not be clear to everyone. Because I lived in California, not far from the sea, because I made a decent living, and because I had plenty of leisure time, including time to travel, a wonderful thing happened to me that I dared not even dream of in my rudderless youth. Between ages 20 and 60, I mush have spent 15% of my wake time underwater. I don’t mean scuba diving, that’s just not chic; I mean free diving, holding your breath. Moving alone under the sea is so different from everything else you know that it’s is like having another, parallel life. The best I can say is that, in my case, it was as if I had had a long-term affair and that my wife approved of it. I would love to tell you more about my underwater biography but you probably wouldn’t believe me. Fortunately, I have photographs as evidence whenever I feel like bragging.

I was born and reared in Paris, that is, in a fairly cold and rainy place (outside of the travel posters). It’s also at the latitude of Labrador; look it up. Daylight there lasts about six hours in December. I realized far into adulthood that had always suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a real and widespread but largely ignored illness. The Paris climate and latitude made most of my childhood unhappy, although I did not even know it; I just thought it was normal to be cheerful only late spring and summer. When I moved to California – latitude of Algiers – for other reasons, my emotional world opened up, like going from black-and-white movies to Technicolor. I became contented on a regular basis, almost year around. My personality even changed from sometimes somber to mostly sunny.

Yet, in my old age, I find myself swimming against more currents than I had hoped for. Three in particular form obstacles to my well-deserved senior peace of mind. It all begun with radio host Rush Limbaugh’s departure from this earth to collect his own much better-deserved reward. I had been listening to him almost every morning for twenty years. Discombobulated, I beat the bushes looking for new radio shows to furnish my mornings. Perhaps as a result of gross incompetence (I wouldn’t put it past me), I ended up with a mixture of BBC World Service and National Public Radio. I know, I know the latter sounds unlikely for a libertarian-leaning conservative like me but, actually, NPR has a handful of really good programs. “How I Built This” is one, the Sunday morning show hosted by the author of Freakonomics is another. And then there is the excellent story-telling hour, “The Ted Radio Hour” that airs also on Sundays, I think. By the way, I would give my left big toe to be invited on that latter show though I have not even applied. Incidentally, I did local radio for three years. It was very interesting, unlike any other experience. It earned me many friends. Ten years later, shopkeepers who recognize my voice still give me discounts.

Anyway, once you have your radio set adequately tuned in the morning, sometimes, often, you don’t get up to change the channel. What you picked at 8 AM. stays with you till noon though the programming has become inappropriate, unhinged from your interest and preferences, or downright objectionable. So, for two years now, I have been served a steady diet of talks, and pseudo-documentaries about sexual crimes and recriminations, diatribes against inequalities (plural) and, of course, alarmist, uninformed preaching about climate change. Together, they spoil the quality of my daily life, of my last swim. They make me feel as if I were working hard against three significant currents. Now, one unpleasantness at a time.

The frequent talk and cries of anguish and claims of being a “survivor,” and confessions, and forced resignations, and voluntary resignations around real and/or alleged sex acts, and acts of a superficial sexual nature that aren’t sexual but are treated as such, blend into a cacophony that is never far out of my hearing. It makes me feel almost like a stranger to the human race. The reason is that it appears that almost everybody – every male human being (“XY”) – as we used to call them, at least, has committed some grave sexual infraction, yesterday or thirty years ago. But I think I haven’t. And it seems that I have lived my whole life surrounded by rapists or near-rapists without a hint of that reality. So, I feel excluded.

I performed a scrupulous examination of my memory from age twelve. (Fortunately, I have a good memory in general, down to small details, except for names.) I am completely certain I never touched a female human being (“XX”) without clear and repeated signals, not even in kindergarten (nor a male human being, by the way). In fact, I was often called “slow” in that area. A French woman my age thus, an old lady, told me just recently that when we were both fourteen, at the beach, she spent a whole summer trying to get me interested. All to no avail. The thing of it is that I liked her and found her attractive. She ended up seducing my brother, a couple of years later, as a consolation prize, I suppose. I am 100% sure I never raped any woman except by insistent, repeated, and clear requests on her part. (Yes, some women’s fantasies swing that way, wouldn’t you know?) Once, when I was about thirty, a woman in my age range even tried to force herself on me. She went so far as to break down my bedroom door lock to get at me. It was more farcical than tragic, actually. I never thought of turning her in although she was a colleague. I am positive attempted rape is different for women though but I am less than confident that you can even mention this nowadays.

Looking to avoid the appearance of sainthood, I dig further. I discover it’s likely that, on several occasions, I used off-color language in the presence of women (cis- and perhaps trans-women; I don’t know) to whom I was not especially close. I shouldn’t have done that and I am very sorry. If there is an excuse for such detestable behavior, it is that I learned it in the bosom of my family. I had a grandfather, a widower, who delighted at family meals in having for dessert several discreditable jokes he told right at the table. The women present, including my Mom, would roll their eyes but their eyes were always smiling, I noticed, even as a small boy. By the way, this is the same grandfather who died in his seventies, in his mistress’ s bed. The mistress managed a good wines and spirits shop. I come from good stock! Enough about near-copulatory events but I still don’t know if I am a saint or a pariah thanks to NPR’s obsession with sexual misbehavior.

Then, there is the issue and the non-issue of inequality. (It’s now often called “inequity,” for greater moral heft.) It comes up several times a day on my radio. First, liberals and, I think, perhaps, most people, routinely confuse inequality and poverty. Here is a small exercise. Consider the following (imagined) facts. This year, my income is twice higher than your income. The following year, my income quadruples while yours only triples. Thus, there is no doubt but that the inequality between us has increased greatly. Question: Are you poorer the second year? Difficult to get the straight answer this question deserves: “No.” But, of course, we are today very far from considerations of simple income.

Nearly every morning, I overhear touching interviews of successful African American women, singers and actresses for the most part. It’s always the same story: How difficult it was to make it in a world dominated by white men. Yet, the most highly remunerated entertainer in the history of the world, the richest, is a … Black woman. (Yes, I mean Oprah, of course.) Go figure! Interviewers, all white upper-middle class females with that particular diction – you know – clearly enjoying their white guilt, never think of mentioning this contrarian fact. Or the great Tina Turner who is quietly enjoying the end of her life in royal luxury on the French Riviera. (Yes, I agree, she earned each and every diamond of it.) There are many other examples. White demi-stars often follow the Black interviewees on the same channels. They all try to find some tremendous obstacle – besides the obvious male chauvinism – they had to surmount. It can be being short, of Italian background, or being born in New York City, or being born in the Midwest, nearly anything will do. At last resort, they can always claim they were molested as children. It looks like almost all women were, at least those who amount to anything or who are on their way to it. (See above.) “Almost all” because my own sisters and my wife never claimed they were molested but then, they were never interviewed on NPR. No, I am not denying that sexual violence against women exists. I also know that in most American states, rape will get you 10 to 15 years. If this does not get predators’ attention, nothing will and it’s time for women to pack heat. As for the horror of child molestation, I blame it squarely on parents’ lack of attentiveness, on their distance from their children.

The inequality narrative is competitive and it often turns almost insane. Recently, on one of those two networks I mentioned, somebody celebrated the anniversary of the first space walk by two women. What is being celebrated here, years later, I wondered? I am sure walking in space is fiendishly difficult and scary. I am a tough guy but I am also sure I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. Yet, dozens of guys had done the same before those two women. So, what’s to brag about, that the girls went out of the space station without a strong dude even holding their hand for re-assurance? Isn’t this a self-defeating inequality story?

There is worse. Only a couple of days ago (late May 2022), BBC World Service interviewed a Kenyan man because he had been a member of an all-Black team to climb Mount Everest. The team had been put together by an African American mountaineer who had recruited Black men from several parts of the world. Nice, I am thinking, an international team! But wait, where is the edifying part of the story? I agree that the Kenyan guy had merit. The opportunities to become a good mountain climber are far and few in sub-Saharan Africa. After you have done famed but not that steep Mount Kilimanjaro a half-dozen times, it must get old on you. So, I don’t think at all that the Kenyan climber deserves kudos for his negroid features or for his dark skin, or for the disadvantages unfailingly associated with such features. And neither do the other Black victors over Everest. That Kenyan is in the same league as the beloved Jamaican Olympic luge team of several years ago much of the world remembers well. We are ready to love him because of his location of origin, not because of his race. By the way, any African American in the team was free to live on top of the Rockies and to train relentlessly, and to train several days a week. Same for the Black Canadians, if any. So, where is the big deal?

Here is the very best worst I heard under the general rubric of inequality. I hesitate to recount it lest I be accused of making it up abut I swear it’s true. Someone was discussing on the radio, as usual, the impending end of the world from climate change. Within a couple of sentences, the speaker, perhaps carried away by righteous emotion, asserted that “indigenous communities” would be the most severely affected. Now really, do I have the talent or the nerve, to make this up?

And, by the way, if you consider recent meetings of Defense Ministers of Western democracies you will notice that they look more and more like 1960s coffee klatches, with purses, skirts, nicely done hairdos, and lipstick all over. Which reminds me: the new French Prime Minister is a woman. Did you happen to see all the violent protests in Paris, the riots by Frenchmen who don’t want to be governed by a woman? No, you didn’t! There wasn’t even a murmur. I think that you female dogs are usually barking up the wrong tree. How about directing your attention and your anger where they are really needed? I am thinking Afghanistan, for example where several million teenage girls are currently prevented from going to school at all. Not a whisper from you about this humanitarian disaster.

The gem above about indigenous communities makes me think of the third current against which I am forced to swim every day. I refer, of course, to the incessant hysterical whining about climate change’s impending shutting down of the world. The first personal unpleasantness connected to this issue is that 95% of those I hear pronounce on either what causes climate change, or on its multitudinous consequences, all bad, 95%, I say, are obviously not trained or credentialed to say anything on the subject. (OK, let’s be perfectly honest here. I say 95% in an effort to appear moderate. In fact, I am really convinced that over 99+% have no idea what they are talking about.)

And then, there is the generally low quality of the research endeavor on climate change. Oh, the elusiveness of much needed metrics, the defective metrics, the readily available good metrics ignored, the sloppy collection of data, the faulty and/or dishonest study designs (Remember the hockey stick, anyone?), the haphazard or overly imaginative causal reasoning, the actual suppression of contrary evidence, the blinding omission of what obviously belongs in the discussion! I am referring last to the fact, for example, that nuclear energy produces no (zero) greenhouse emissions yet barely earns any mention from climate missionaries. And how about the benefits of the global warming aspect of climate change; do you ever hear about them? Isn’t it true, for example, that the northern and southern limits of wheat maturation are going to move respectively north and south, making bigger harvests possible?

And then, there is the deliberate disregard of the human (economic) ravages implicit in most of the solutions advanced to remedy the alleged consequences of climate change. I mean the continued poverty of those who are poor now. This disregard leads to blindness toward fairly obvious solutions. Ocean rising? Why not call in the Dutch? Most of them have been living very well six feet below sea level for centuries. At the time, they managed it all with their hands and shovels, with horses and windmills. Too much carbon in the atmosphere? Quickly plant billions of trees that will remain privately owned. It’s pretty cheap, and everyone likes trees, even conservatives like me. Etc.

No, it’s OK, no need to throw me a life jacket. I will just keep swimming. I will manage. I am pretty sure I can reach the next shore in spite of the currents. I am certain, I will make it before the end of the world at least. I am in no hurry anyway. Thanks all the same.

© Jacques Delacroix 2022

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Fighting for Every Inch of Ukrainian Soil

I ask myself: How much would I be willing to sacrifice to protect the Ukrainians from Russian slavery. The answer is clear: I would take 50% cut in my living standard. That would be maybe not forever but for a long time.

Then, I ask, how much of a cut would I take to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and my level of support drops like a stone. Let me explain. Defending a territory is often the best way to defend the life and liberty of its inhabitants so that the one and the other are almost identical. I believe this is not the case in Ukraine. As I explained in detail more than a month ago it’s likely that the territories Russia seized largely by proxy in 2014, including Crimea, today shelter few people who want to be protected from Russia. [ ] In fact militias of Russian-speaking Ukrainians from those territories appear to constitute a large part of Russia’ front troops in its attacks against the rest of Ukraine.

President Zelenskyy insists that he wants to recover every inch of Ukrainian territory lost to Russia and to pseudo-independentists. While I find his courage and firmness of purpose admirable, this particular goal leaves me cool. Perhaps, both his resolve and his political thinking belong in the 20th century. Perhaps, that’s why he reminds many of us of Churchill.

When I ask myself, what I would sacrifice to help Ukraine regain its whole territory my mind turns resolutely to forgoing a few beers. I don’t like the thought of helping brave Ukrainians lose their lives for land. In general, some Ukrainians’ – and their president’s – apparently quasi religious attachment to their land rings the wrong historical bells in my head. Let me explain.

I think that very few well educated people today could explain why the vast carnage of the First World War took place at all. After all, there was no obviously evil side (as there was in WWII, for example). The same Great Powers that massacred one another’s men for four years had been conducted brisk and abundant trade among one another, practically until the minute before the war exploded. In my reading* one specific cause stands out in the initiation of the conflict. Let me say quickly that I don’t know that it’s a very important cause of the war, but I think it was a cause, for sure.

There was a willingness and a capacity effectively to mobilize in France, one of the main military powers at the time (first or second). It’s difficult to assume causation but there are abundant proofs in the daily French press that many in the French political class never accepted the loss to Germany of rich Alsace and of the northern half of Lorraine in 1870 (a consequence of the “Franco-Prussian War”).* Schoolbooks, incredibly, kept the sense of loss alive for forty-four years. In 1914, millions of ordinary French men joyfully marched to war against Germans who had not done anything to them for the same forty-four years. World War One killed about 10 million soldiers and sailors in Europe alone. The figure includes my grandfather, First Lieutenant Maurice Adolph, pulverized somewhere near Verdun.

Germany lost. Communism arose in Russia and elsewhere and France recovered Alsace and the half of Lorraine that it has lost. Sure, there were celebrations in Strasbourg, the beautiful capital of Alsace. Frankly, I don’t know who organized them. I do know that there was enough reluctance in the Alsatian populace that the French Republic had to make special rules for that province. (They are fairly mild and mostly about the place of organized religion.) Today, the language of instruction is, of course, French in all Alsatian and Lorraine schools. It corresponds only moderately well to linguistic reality because for many of the inhabitants the language spoken at home is a German dialect. Of course, there has been an influx of others from outside the region who are French speakers (some of them, by default, instead of Arabic, Tamazigh, or Wolof). The European union has made the French-German border largely irrelevant. It’s odd and pleasant little facts that remind you of it. Thus, on Sunday morning, there is heavy traffic on the main bridge from Germany to Alsace because of the many Germans who are coming to enjoy the superior Strasbourg sauerkraut. So why did so many Europeans had to grow up without a grandfather, one wonders?

In total contradiction to what I just wrote, yes, if I could be convinced that taking every square inch of Ukraine back from Russian aggression would be instrumental to keeping the Russian monster at bay for a long time, I would change my position. Different topic.

* Disclosure: My maternal grandfather’s own grandparents had left prosperous Alsace for raggedy central France in order to avoid living under German rule, according to family tradition. My mother’s maiden name was “Adolph.”

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Casus Belli?

Thinking about the Russian destruction of Mariupol and its naval blockade of the remaining Ukrainian sea outlets, including the big port city of Odesa.

I keep reading and hearing commentaries to the effect that the difficulty the Ukrainians are meeting in exporting their wheat, their corn, and their sunflower seeds threatens famine in poor parts of the world.

If the threat of famine is real, I wonder if it constitutes a sort of humanitarian casus belli.

Do we expect to see Western countries attack Russians ships from the air to remove their naval blockade in the name of solidarity with the innocent people of poor countries?

I wonder what the Pope would say about it.

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Islamophobia (My)

The continuing Russian brutalities in Ukraine are diverting my attention from other horrors perpetrated elsewhere in the world.

About ten days ago the de facto government of Afghanistan, the semi-literate Taliban, announced that Afghan women had to cover their faces in public, that they must avoid going out of their houses at all, and that most significant travel required that they be accompanied by a male “guardian.” In the meantime, teenage girls are forbidden to go to school in most of the country. The Taliban took these important measures against a background of famine, as if they were urgently needed.

I understand that the Taliban are primitive people from an earlier age (How else could they have beaten the American armed forces and other modern militaries while fighting in flip-flops?)

I also understand that religion is often the more or less inert and innocent vehicle for repulsive cultural traits and actions. My own ancestors for centuries used a religious pretext to assuage their simple desire for land. It was called the “Crusades” from the word for “cross,” the cross of Christ. I am not a real Christian myself, but I am completely sure Jesus wouldn’t have told them to go ahead and set the Levant to flames and blood. I am kind of familiar with the basic Christian Scriptures. I think they don’t authorize such military adventures (except when you go way back into the Old Testament, when God had not yet become civilized Himself).

I am no a theologian but I would expect many Muslims to argue that the Taliban are misguided from a religious standpoint, in this instance. If I were forced to bet, it would wager that the covering of women’s faces in nowhere to be found in the Quran nor does it appear in the oldest and most trusted Hadith. So, I have been paying attention to different kinds of media, in English and in French, for unfavorable public Muslim reactions to the Taliban barbarity. I would think that thousands, perhaps millions of Muslims who will insist that they care about all human dignity, including that of women, should condemn that particular Taliban’s policy loud and clear.

I would expect some denunciation from some specifically Islamic sources because the Taliban took this anti-woman measure explicitly in the name of religion, in the name of Islam. I fact, I don’t know if there have been such public negative reactions at all. There are hundreds of millions of possible sources of such reactions. I may have missed some. Yet, the protests if any were few and quiet enough to completely escape the attention of this leisurely old man who lives with some sort of mass media about fifteen hours a day. That’s not good enough for a tolerant rationalist like me with no penchant toward Islamophobia. (See below.) This seeming silence makes the worst impression!

Frankly, I did not expect much from within the likes of either Saudi Arabia where they practice this form of oppression, or from tyrannical and murderous Iran (where they don’t). I had higher expectation that voices would arise in Indonesia, where the large Muslim majority used to be open-minded, or from India, where the 200 million Muslims are forced by circumstance. to think of the impression they make on others. Wrong, nothing!

Of course, I just may be factually wrong in some small way, or even in a big way. I hope some will bring any public statements by Muslims on face covering to my attention. If I judge them credible, I will immediately correct myself right here.

I was hoping for comments coming from three more specific countries. The first is Algeria, 95% Muslim but explicitly founded on a secular basis. The second is Egypt which houses what I understand are the most respected Islamic theological authorities, including at Al-Azhar University. Incidentally, I was even secretly hoping that a scholar or two at the latter would discuss the old Islamic idea that adding laws to the Quran and the Hadith can easily become blasphemous. My mistake! The third country is Turkey, simply because it has a large class of nominal Muslims educated in the Western way, including a good acquaintance with the Enlightenment. I have heard and read nothing from any of the three.

My final hope concerned the large, well established Muslim minorities in such liberal countries as the UK and France. I know the situation in the latter best. French Muslims seem to be present in all sectors and at all levels of French society. They are blue collar workers, of course simply because many are recent immigrants. They also direct prestigious medical school hospitals . They are public servants, including at the highest levels, and they are politicians. The best loved French comic appears to be a Muslim and also one of the main popular French singers. I say “seem” and “appear” because I have no way of knowing who is a real Muslim. I can only tell that someone has a Muslim name. I don’t know what’s in his or her heart.

Yet, there are in France Muslim organizations that are explicitly expected to represent Muslims vis-à-vis the civil authorities. There is little doubt that those representatives are genuine Muslims, whatever that may be. These people live in the comfort and with the freedom of a democratic society and they are protected by it. I don’t see why they don’t raise their voices in protest of the Taliban’s barbarities. That is unless, they approve of the Taliban’s treatment of women or unless they are frankly indifferent to it. In either case, their silence where there should be voices raised gives Islam a bad name.

Few of us will publicly comment on this silence but we do take note. That few of of us will comment results in some part from a successful intellectual swindle perpetrated in the West in the past twenty years or so. It has become almost accepted that Islamophobia is pretty much like racism or even a sort or branch of racism. That is ridiculous, of course. Racism depends on highly visible physical characteristics that cannot be changed. The same physical features we know do not allow for predictions about the person’s intelligence or morality, or good judgment. Islamophobia, on the other hand, the dislike of Islam, is based on the assumption that the Muslim is a person who possesses a well articulated set of beliefs and ideas about reality. These beliefs are easy to ascertain (at least at a superficial level). They can reliably and logically be linked to certain preferred behaviors: Hate to be obvious but knowing that someone is a Muslim if enough to predict that there is a higher than average chance the he will avoid pork and alcoholic beverages. Mostly and definitely, at least under certain fairly common circumstances, it’s possible, even easy, to stop being Muslim by abandoning the said set of beliefs and ideas. I am being a little cautious here because in several mostly Muslim countries, apostasy, abandoning one’s faith is theoretically punishable by death. It’s not in France, of course, it’s not in the UK, it’s not anywhere in Western Europe; it’s not in North America, etc.

The Muslim silence in connection with the latest Taliban horror thus joins the Muslim silence regarding the widespread sexual mutilation of little girls in predominantly Islamic West Africa, and about the practice of “honor killing” in the wider Middle East. None of these savage customs are mandated by Islam but they coincide closely with areas where Islam has its sway and they are at least tolerated there. This tolerance of the intolerable couldn’t be better calculated to inspire dislike among the civilized people of this world. This tolerance breeds Islamophobia. It’ not prejudice, “pre-judgment,” it’s rational judgment.

I speak freely as a poor candidate myself for Islamophobia. I have known Muslims all my life. I have liked every single one of the Muslims I have known personally. (I can’t says the same about members of any other religious group, including my group of origin, Catholics.) I have visited several Muslim countries and liked everyone of them. I spend five golden months in 100% Muslim Morocco several years ago. I would move there in a minute. (My wife wouldn’t though.) I like Middle Eastern music – not specifically Muslim, of course but closely associated with Muslim culture areas. I like mosques, inside and outsides. My preference extends to Arab calligraphy – also not specifically Muslim but kept well alive by the Islamic faith. As I write, I have hanging nearby a nice small wooden board inscribed with the Arabic formula for the Shaada, the Muslim profession of faith. It does not mean that I am about to convert. It means that I tend to be friendly. My friendliness is just being tested too often.

Some Muslims will object, of course, that they have nothing to prove to me. Sure enough! I am just trying to explain. If religious authorities in the Christian and formerly Christian West resumed burning witches, do you think I would let it pass without comment?

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I Don’t Want to Fight to the Last Ukrainian

I hope the brave Ukrainians will soon decide to stop dying. I seems to me they have to. The Russians have demonstrated that their armed forces are too incompetent to conquer Ukraine and to reduce it to a satellite. Their capacity to bomb and pound whole cites into a fields of rubble, however, is not in doubt. Even if the Ukrainians managed to expel all Russian troops from all of their country, the Russians could still destroy most Ukrainian cities from their own territory. It does not take much talent if you don’t mind the expense of throwing the same missiles over and over against the same large targets. And the expense may not matter so much while several NATO countries are still paying their fossil fuel bills to the Kremlin. And, if the Ukrainians succeeded in bringing the war to Russia itself to make the attacks cease, they would immediately face a measure of abandonment by world public opinion, including by NATO countries. In addition, even a slight invasion of Russia would probably trigger a wave of self-righteous Russian patriotism. The reluctant Russian soldiers and sailors we have seen in largely pathetic action thus far might soon be replaced by enthusiasts eager to sacrifice themselves for the motherland.

It seems to me the Ukrainians have established they are able to preserve their independence and their recently earned democracy. Yet, it appears that Pres. Zelenskyy has announced his government’s determination to boot every armed Russian from every square inch of Ukrainian soil. Such a project involves going on the offensive against an entrenched enemy because the Russians have been present in the Dombas eastern region, in some guise or other, since 2014. Attacking an entrenched enemy is always very costly in lives as the Russian military’s own failed attempt to take the Ukrainian capital showed anew. I hear in the mass media military experts of diverse nationalities assert that it takes many tanks, among other equipment, and mastery of the skies. The Ukrainians have few of the first and little hold over the other. So, the Ukrainian president’s inflexibility is a signal that many more Ukrainians will die. I can’t help but wonder why it should be so, or what for, except that Zelenskyy may be making the bet that the Russian invaders will soon fold and retreat from every area that was Ukrainian in 2013. Zelenskyy may know things I don’t know, of course but from where I sit, in the calm, his attitude seems unnecessarily dangerous. Let me explain.

After eight years of war – even if most was low intensity war – a good half of the Donbas region, most of its cities, including the puppet “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, is probably inhabited almost entirely by Russian speakers who are pro-Russians. The others must have left long ago or been driven out. Making the existing pro-Russia population of Donbas submit would place the current elected Ukrainian government in the same situation as the Russians now are in some other parts of Ukraine: occupiers, hated, unable to reduce the local population’s resistance, liable to commit atrocities out of sheer frustration. The currently virtuous Ukraine Republic could quickly be transformed into the kind of vicious monster it is now facing on the rest of its territory.

The prized Crimean peninsula was annexed outright by Russia in 2014, soon after it was seized, and following a questionable referendum. However, since its annexation there have been few protests there against Russia. I don’t think there is a pro-Ukrainian popular movement in the Crimea. ( I believe that if there were, I would have heard of it. Correct me if I have been inattentive.) It’s also good to remember that the ties between Crimea and Ukraine may well be historically shallow. Khrushchev gave it to the Ukraine Soviet Republic in 1954 (yes, 1954) pretty much as a gift. In the 2001 count, the last conducted under Ukrainian rule, only 24% of Crimeans were identified as Ukrainians. It’s notable that in the several years between the Russian annexation and the current invasion of Ukraine, it seems there have been few serious statements by any country, including Ukraine, to the effect that the latter had to be reversed. (Correct me if I am wrong.)

As I write (4/23/22) Ukraine’s military position appears strong but it’s facing an offensive where Russia’s military inferiority may not compensate for Ukraine’s smaller numbers and lack of heavy materiel and airplanes. This is the right time to make peace proposals. It appears that Putin is not the kind of person who will admit defeat or even that his project was ill-thought out and ill-planned. Even if he is not actually insane – which have has been suggested by several credible sources – an oblique approach seems well advised here This might be done, perhaps by asking various Russian oligarchs – who stand to lose even more by continued hostilities – to contact Russian general officers who are probably not eager to be dragged further in a reputational mud hole, or who might want to save what’s left of their army.

I think a peace agreement would grant Russia control of all of the Dombas which again – it had already mostly under its control – and an extension south through devastated Mariupol to form a land bridge between Russia proper and Crimea. Some of the arguments against such a resolution smack of the 19th century. First, President Zelenskyy speaks of the territorial integrity of his country as if it were a sacred concept. Yet, we know of a number of countries that lost territory and subsequently did well in every way. At the end of WWII, for example, Germany was amputated of about ¼ of its territory. Yet, it emerged in insolent health ten years later.

A main objection to Ukraine relinquishing the Donbas is that it’s its most industrialized section. This sounds like more 19th century thinking. The Donbas has a considerable steel industry and a heavy metallurgical industry because it also possesses coal mines (with coal difficult and expensive to mine). This raises the question of whether the country should exchange the lives of many of its young men again an energy source that seems to be on its way out anyway and the kind of associated heavy manufacturing favored by Stalin. The examples of Singapore and of geographically nearer Switzerland come to mind. Both countries maintain a superior standard of living without the benefit of either rich energy sources or of conventional metal-based manufacturing. These examples make it easy to argue that the real riches of a country may be its people rather than so many million tons of coals. One more reason to be stingy with Ukrainians’ lives.

If the Ukrainian government made what it probably now thinks of as the sacrifice to sue for peace immediately or soon, it would gain a big prize. I mean that it would be able to keep the big port city of Odesa which is now almost intact. With Odesa, the Ukraine would retain a single access to the sea which is probably more important economically than any coal mines. Odesa was about 2/3 Ukrainian in the last count with Russians making up less than one third. It does not pose the same kind of retention problems as Donbas.

One last but major consideration. The Ukrainian government is fond of affirming that its country is fighting for all of us, not just for itself, against Russian totalitarianism and aggression. This is an almost necessary argument to prime the military and economic pump from the West. It may even be partially true. Yet, right now, – and paradoxically not a little thanks to Putin’s wake-up call- it’s pretty clear NATO can take care of its own. I mean this, even given the lightly brandished nuclear threat. I am pretty sure the Russian General Staff has in its possession a list of its military installations that would be wiped out in the first round of riposte to a nuclear event, a second list of fossil fuel extraction and transformation sites that would be gone on the second round, and a list of Russian cities that would suffer the fate of Mariupol on the third.

I think NATO has the means to return Russia to the Third World status it ever only barely escaped. I also think the Russian military knows this. So, I am very much against the possibility of the West fighting for its freedom and for its prosperity to the last Ukrainian. That’s so, even if the Ukrainians insist they would like too. I am filled with horror at the thought of being even a smidgen responsible for making even more Ukrainian orphans and widows.

And yes, the peace I envision would be another form of rewarding aggression. However, in this case, there is a good trade-off. Russia would acquire some industrial territory in the old mold at the cost of having demonstrated to the world a surprising degree of military incompetence. We, in the US should keep supporting the Ukrainian war effort just to say “Thanks” for this demonstration.

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Many Conservatives Lost in the Tall Weeds

A surprising number of my conservative FB friends, and also of my real- life friends, got lost in the moral tall weeds in the past month or so. I mean that they seem to hesitate between the victim, Ukraine, and the aggressor, Russia. Thirty days-plus after the beginning of the Russian invasion, faced with the utter destruction of whole Ukrainian cities, they still hesitate to condemn anyone clearly. Instead, they seem to be saying, often – not always – that there must be wrong on both sides, like a timid teacher on a boys’ play ground.

This is disturbing but not all that surprising. They are worried that the US might somehow be drawn into the war in Europe. I will admit that the two main last instances of American military adventurism should inspire caution. I mean Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s possible that my conservative friends do not trust the current American ability to conduct a foreign war, nor to extricate the country from one. The fact that old, senile Mr. Biden is the current Commander-in-Chief does not help restore confidence. But, there is more to their unwillingness to choose sides.

After being exposed for at least ten years to the mendacity of conventional media, it takes some effort to admit that what they are saying and showing is the closest approximation of reality available. (By the way, I have an advantage in this respect because I follow both American media and French language media. I find that they overlap quite well.)

In my experience, conservatives, especially those leaning libertarian, tend to be intellectual types. As such, they initially offer resistance to the notion that things may be pretty much what they seem to be.

And then, there is the fact that inside the mind of libertarian-leaning conservatives is a secret core of pacifism. To my mind, that’s a personally comfortable, but morally indefensible position. Others have taken it apart better that I could.

Last but probably more important is the fact that the libertarianism that influences them (that influences me) does not have much by way of foreign policy thought. It seems to me that theoreticians of libertarianism think of the world from the standpoint of a city apartment with doors and windows tightly shut and safely locked. Faced with unprovoked aggression against a peaceful country by a tyrant who is also a gangster and a killer, they are intellectually defenseless.

A highly visible unimpeachable metric might go a long way toward pulling my conservative friends out of the tall weeds. It turns out there is one. Let me explain. Before the invasion of thirty-three days ago, Russian dictator Putin justified it in advance, in part by claiming that Ukraine, the country, was persecuting its Russian speaking minority. We should think of the latter as an ethnic group. I don’t know what percentage of the total population of the Ukraine those might make up but, the figures I give below probably mean that it does not matter.

Inhabitant of the Ukraine have been fleeing the violence and the destruction in large numbers. Where they flee to is a sort of practical vote. If Russian-speaking Ukrainians had been persecuted, you would expect them to flee toward Russia. It seems that they don’t.

According to the UN specialized refugee agency about 4,200,000 Ukrainian nationals have left their country as to about April 3rd. Of those, 350,000 went to Russia. That’s a little over 8%. That’s only a little more than went to small Slovakia. That’s fewer than went to tiny and fragile Moldova. How can that be, I ask, if Ukraine was persecuting Russian speakers before the war?

Ukrainian citizens of all kinds have been voting with their feet.

Incidentally, the numbers above do not include those numerous citizens of Ukraine who were forcibly deported to Russia, according to increasingly credible reports from the theater of war.

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Why I Can’t Take Feminists Seriously (More Escapism)

My thirteen-year-old granddaughter is lithe, slim (with curves) and tall for her age. She is also pretty. (I feel free to brag about her because she has hardly more genes in common with me than if I were a bonobo. Another story, obviously that I will tell another time.)

She goes to school in Santa Cruz where we both live. The town is a small but significant laboratory of all “progressive” folly. She even has a new teacher, an apparently male human being who insists on being referred to as “they.”

There is a boy in her class she likes quite a bit but he is unfortunately on the short side. (In case you are curious I, myself, like what I know of the boy, including his looks.)

She says the boy won’t do but she admits that, “I am keeping him under control in case he has a growth spurt.”

I can’t take feminists’ narratives seriously until they factor in what’s hard wired.

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How This Paris Boy Became an American Scholar (Plus a Disquisition on Language Learning)

Here is another escapist story. If the autobiographical genre annoys you, I don’t blame you and don’t read this story.

First of all, don’t wince or grimace. I just said “scholar,” not “eminent scholar,” nor “famous scholar,” not even “respected scholar.” It’s just a descriptive term; the word describes much of what I did for a living. Period.

I grew up on the unglamorous east side of Paris where visitors never go, or didn’t then. My family’s apartment was in a government subsidized project. It was really a project but a good one, well built, well maintained, with central heating and full bathrooms, but no elevators. Graffiti had not been invented yet. I shared a room with two brothers. There was only enough space for one small desk, an important detail in my story.

My family was not poor but it definitely wasn’t rich. Everyone was unimaginably poor in the forties and fifties by the standard of 2022 anyway but, fortunately, we didn’t know what 2022 would be like. France was in a period of economic expansion for much of the time I was growing up. We could almost feel the tide that was going to raise our boats too. We did not have phone service but we never went hungry; we had good medical care. (I did realize though until the French Navy clothed me that I had been cold every winter of my childhood and youth. It was normal.)

And then, there were the schools. It seems to me, seventy years later, that the elementary schools did a more than adequate job. I am guessing that almost all of us came out reading, writing and doing a little more than basic math (including trigonometry). Elementary education was adequate and more for people who were going, in their vast majority, to rise but modestly in the social scale of the time. I seem to recall that half my fellow students quit school at fourteen to become apprentices. The rest -including my three sibling – went on to a variety of schools, many of them more or less vocational. Not me.

When I was twelve, a miracle happened in my family. I passed an exam that got me accepted in a respected, prestigious academic school in central Paris (Lycée Condorcet). It was a combined junior high and high school It’s hard to explain to Americans but it was a public school; there was no tuition. It was a feeder school for the best French universities. Many famous people were alumni. Few children from my part of Paris made it there. (In fact, I never met one in six years.)

As you might guess, there was a social class aspect to this respectability although it was a free public school. I would guess that as many as two thirds of the students there came from bourgeois families, as conventionally defined. Their parents were top managers in big corporations, attorneys for same, or they owned one, or they were doctors, and high-level engineers. (I know quite a bit about those bourgeois kids because around age 14, I began going to parties at their apartments where I discovered wall-to-wall carpeting.) There was even a sprinkling of foreign kids whose parents were diplomats. Some of the bourgeois kids came from private elementary schools; many more came from public schools that were just better then mine that, perhaps, maintained higher standards. Their home environment was probably more propitious to studying in ways that I still don’t understand well. After all my own home environment favored and rewarded studying hard and getting good grades and even “prizes” at the end of the year.* (But maybe, they each had their own desk where they could stack up their books.)

So, at twelve, I had pretty much the run of Paris by subway because the school was far from where I lived. It was good for my maturation. Classes began at 8:30 five days a week, they ended at 11:30 then, began again at 1 to finish at 4:30 four days a week . We had lunch at school. On Wednesday, or Thursday, there was no class at all. There was school on Saturday but only in the morning. On full school days, I chose to stay after class at study hall until 6 or 6:30. That added up to eight hours or more inside the walls of the school, a long time for a young boy.

The study hall was a large single room with ten rows of desks. It served without distinction students from age 12 to 18. You could do pretty much what you wanted in study hall except that you were not allowed to make noise because it might disturb others who were actually studying. So, no talking allowed. For three, or maybe four years, study hall was nearly always proctored by the same man. He was apparently qualified to teach English but he was not part of the faculty. In that elite school, it was not enough to be formally and practically qualified, you had to carry prestige or, at least, the seed of prestige in your attaché case. I think most or all of my instructors had achieved a scholarly degree pretty close to a PhD (“l’aggréegation”). My Spanish professor did not have one but he was a ranking Spanish Republican refugee. My first math instructor possessed that degree and he was also a well published author of fiction. My second geography professor was an expert on American science fiction. And so on.

The study hall proctor was the nicest of men whose function put him in a difficult position: Sometimes, he had to discipline students. As far as I now, he had only one punishment. He made you copy the three main forms of English irregular verbs: “go, went, gone.” How many verbs you had to copy depended on the depravity of your transgression: twenty verbs, fifty verbs, uncommonly, one hundred verbs. After so many hours at school and, perhaps, I was hungry, had low blood sugar, I did not maintain the silence discipline very well. In the course of several years, I must have copied five times three hundred irregular English verbs. Somehow, I did not mind. A part of my brain was smarter than I. (Happens all the time if you pay attention.)

After my second year in that good school, my general performance began to slip. I am not sure exactly how it started but I became gradually disengaged from several disciplines. I often cut the corresponding classes. As befits an elite institution, my school operated on the basis of a loose, ill-defined honor system. It was such that my parents were never made aware of my delinquency. And, no, puberty did not particularly trouble me except for the fact that it took me a while to figure out whether girls liked boys who looked a lot like them or rather, hairy rough types with broad shoulders and even some acne. In those years, there were events and developments in my nuclear family that bothered me and distracted me and these may have played a role in my long and slow fall from academic grace. It started with math which became too difficult for me and on which I just gave up. Then, physics and then, chemistry also dropped off my radar. No one said anything, in part because I was earning the equivalent of straight As in French, later in Spanish and, of course, in English. I was also doing quite well in History and in Geography. I was thus an excellent student to half the instructors; that was good enough for the other half.

Things went from bad to worse. It did not help that when I was seventeen, I had a hot hot girlfriend. She had many assets. One of those was that both her parents weren’t home one day of the week. That was a day when physics and chemistry were scheduled. Of course, I cut school on that day! What would you have me do? In those times, there was a high school graduation exam that also served as an admission ticket to most universities. The exam was then difficult and deliberately selective. I went to take the exam like a sheep to the slaughter. I failed, of course but with excellent grades in History, in French, in Spanish and… in English. I repeated a senior class in high school with the same predictable outcome. In the France of then, it was like social death. I had not been apprenticed to a pork butcher, or attended a graphics high school like my older brother and my younger brother. I had nothing. I was no one.

By some concourse of circumstances right out of a reverse morality tale, about the same time, I received a scholarship to spend one year in high school in California. It was a merit scholarship. I hightailed it to the US. There, I did quite well. I spoke English badly but I understood everything. If I had not been blinded by the humility surprisingly common among young men, I would have noticed that I wrote English better than many of my American classmates. In California, I noticed with interest the wonderful American institution of the community college where just about anyone can go in and the good ones come out to transfer to a real university. So, yes, in case you are counting, I spent three years total as a senior in high school. Nothing to brag about, really!

Fast forward: I am twenty-one and about to be released from the French Navy into which I had been drafted. I have no skills, no particular revealed talent, no diploma, no nothing. I apply for a visa to go and study in a California junior college near where I had spent a year. Long story short: At the community college, I discover I am a late bloomer. I do well, better than well, in fact. I win a full tuition scholarship to Stanford where I transfer as a junior. I do well there too. After graduating in four years flat, I go back to France for a year to work in a very good job, in urban planning. There, I decide I want to study some more. I apply to graduate school, also at Stanford. I get accepted with full tuition fellowship and a stipend.

I performed well in graduate school also, in large part because I could write well. I earned a PhD. A fairly normal and quite respectable academic career followed. (Go ahead, Google me.) The fact that I wrote well and easily had everything to do with the good course of my academic research. My writing made me attractive to others with research skills far superior to mine. They recruited me eagerly throughout. I became a member of star research teams without striving, or even trying. I was very productive with the other guys. I might not have been otherwise. Hard to tell: I only have one single authored scholarly article. It has had a very long shelf life but still, that’s only one.

What does this have to do with my French high school study hall proctor, you might ask at this point? Well, it does; bear with me. Remember that nearly all of my scholarly career took place in a language other than my native tongue. As an immigrant in polyglot and multicultural California, I became well aware of the struggles of diverse categories of immigrants to operate in a foreign language: English. A teacher for thirty years, I also witnessed at close range the struggle of hundreds of US-born college students to learn languages other than English, mostly Spanish and French. I also saw several of my fellow professors try and fail. As a matter of fact, other than teachers of modern languages, I only ever met one (1) Anglo reared in the US who had mastered a foreign language. (The language instructors I encountered were all competent.)

I had many occasions to ask myself: What do the students who fail to learn a language (beyond knowing how to ask for more beer), the monolingual Mexican immigrants who earn half of what they otherwise would, and my few colleagues who tried in vain, have in common? The answer came to me a little at a time and then, it became blindingly clear: They failed to clamber over the wall of irregular verbs conjugations. It’s simple: Those who do go on to learn everything else; who who don’t just give up, mostly forever.

But now, a digression. I am completely convinced that, contrary to an idea that is very widespread in the USA, living in the country of the language one studies is not a necessary precondition to learning it nor is it a miracle cure for monolingualism. If it were, immigrants would learn quickly the

language of the country where they live. In fact, few if any learn it without formal schooling. And, I hate to tell you, college parents, but your children’s expensive “study abroad” stays almost never bear that particular kind of fruit. (they may be useful in other respects.) Your children never come back “fluent in _____,” whatever “fluent” means. How do I know? I interviewed dozens, perhaps hundreds of them (over thirty years) in the weeks and months following their return. None of them could ever say, “If I had known it was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have gone.” None! (“Si j’avais su que cela allait être comme ça, je n’y serais pas allé.” “Si hubiera sabido que hubiera sido asi, no hubiera ido.”) None!

The main, all-important reason people fail to learn a foreign language is that they give up when the time comes to master more than handful of irregular verbs, or even earlier. Here are two natural and fully representative examples; you may notice that they are about verbs everyone uses in everyday life:

Spanish: Verb to go: Ir

Present: Yo voy

Tu vas

El va (You formal address: Usted va)

Nosotros vamos

Vosotros vais (You, plural)

Ellos van (Ustedes van)

Simple past: Yo fuí

Tu fuíste

El fue (Usted fue) Watch the spelling!

Nosotros fuímos

Vosotros fuísteis

Ellos fueron (Usted fueron)

French: Verb to be: Être

Present Je suis

Tu es

Il est

Nous sommes

Vous êtes

Ils sont

Well, you get the idea!

In summary: There is no articulate sentence without a verb. Verbs have to be conjugated, person by person (I, you, he). In European languages, there are tenses to indicate timing (I am, I was, I will be). If you don’t control both person and tense you can often still communicate but it will be at the level of a five-year-old: “I go yesterday.” That is neither encouraging nor rewarding for adults. It’s also quite limiting.

Now, in my dotage, I think back at my early life. If my study hall proctor in Paris had been a less mild man, he would have imposed a less fruitful punishment; I wouldn’t be an American scholar. If I had been more disciplined, he wouldn’t have had occasion to punish me the way he did; I wouldn’t be an American scholar. If I had been worse, he would have had me expelled from study hall; I wouldn’t be an American scholar. If the boys room in our small apartment in Paris had been larger, I might have had my own desk; I would then probably not have attended study hall; I wouldn’t then be an American scholar. Go figure!

Sometimes though, I can’t help but feel some regret. I am pretty sure I would have made a really good pork butcher. I think I would have been an inspired designer of esoteric pâtés, for example. That’s if my parents had not blindly pushed me toward a classical education. That’s if that study hall proctor had not meddled in my destiny!

© Jacques Delacroix 2022

* In the 1940s, at the end of each school year, the best students in each class of 30-40, were ranked. h Those best students,perhaps 1st to 6, st –received a prize in a formal ceremony everyone else hated. The prizes were well chosen books. Books were still expensive then. Once, I received the French translation of Gulliver’s Travels. (Just bragging.)


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