Monday, January 30, 2017

Hatebook, or The End of Civil Discourse?

Post just about anything on social media these days, and you are likely to have returned a slew of vitriol. Doesn't matter what your original topic. Someone in your roster of friends, or in their connections of connections, and usually more than a few people, will use your post as a jumping-off point to spew their hatred for whatever is wrong in their view of the world.

If you post a photo of a meal or a fun time you're having, the chronically disillusioned will regard these as frivolous - how can you enjoy a hearty meal when others have none?; you should give your food to the homeless, or what right do you have to enjoy life when more righteous groups are protesting injustice in the cold rain?

Que Dieu vous aide if you should post anything blatantly political. The literary claws and fangs come out, frequently in the form of quite unimaginative vulgarity. A few seem about to spontaneously combust. Granted, many of the hate posts are from the extreme left or right ... but more and more, these seem to be the only ones remaining on line. The more reasonable, and reasoning, people in the vast middle are retreating because no one is paying any attention to reasoned voices anymore.

For the crime of questioning the source of a report or inviting supporting facts, I have been accused more than once of being a Trump supporter. I am not, as those who read even a few of my posts know. But I guess if I am not also spouting constant hatred for everything Trumpian, I must therefore be worse than a RacistNaziMysogonist. I have also been accused of being a Hillary/Dem flunky; not guilty there either. I think the only reason people don't realise how bad she would be as President is because she lost and didn't get a chance to rule. I am equally disgusted with the ruling politicos, current and past, and their wealthy elite puppet-masters at how they have thoroughly screwed up the world ... largely in the pursuit of greed.

I do what I can to make the world a better place, to improve it one day at a time within my spheres of influence. It starts with being hopeful ... and positive. Don't know about you, but when I seeth with anger I don't accomplish much until I put it behind me.

Some folks I know have chosen to unfriend or block those who troll their feeds. Others have bailed on social media altogether. We have minimised the amount of repetitive, droning TV news we watch. But for the moment, I will remain online, do what I can to contribute in a thoughtful, balanced way to the discourse, and ignore the foul-mouth ranters. Pour le moment.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Really

This is a dueling blog. Donna-Lane's much better blog can be found at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2017/01/rain.html

It has been raining on and off, mostly on, for most of this week.

I am really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really tired of the rain.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Legend of the Needles

Little known is the Legend of the Christmas Pine Needles, or Légende des Aiguilles de Pin de Noël.

(This is a dueling blog: Donna-Lane's view can be found at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2017/01/legend-of-needles.html)

Many centuries ago in the Pyrenees Mountains in the south of France, Sancho - son of James II and Esclaramunda of Foix, the daughter of Roger IV of Foix (who persecuted the Cathars) - became King of Majorca, Count of Roussillon and Cerdanya and Lord of Montpellier.

Sancho was of ill health and so preferred to spend time in the mountains where the crisp air and scent of pine needles temporarily rejuvenated his constitution.

One day, as he was walking on a trail near the Correc d'en Benet, which is the headwaters of the river La Massane (or La Macana in Catalan), Sancho and his entourage encountered a Cathar elder. Immediately his soldiers set upon the heretic with the intent to kill him. The elder was not concerned, as he believed in reincarnation, and he thought it might be fun to come back as a bear or wild berry bush. But as the soldiers raised their swords, the elder asked Sancho if he would be interested in a cure for his chronic asthma.

Sancho halted the execution long enough to listen to the old man's remedy.

"You must never burn a Christmas tree," explained the elder. "Exactly one month after Christmas, you must gather up the needles of the tree and cast them into La Macana in the village of Argeles sur Mer. In this way, the tree will be returned to the earth and will grow into a great forest by the sea. The scent of the forest will be carried on the wind and fill your castles along the coast, healing your feeble body."

When the man had appeared to finish, Sancho, insulted at being called feeble, signaled to the soldiers.

"Wait, sir. There is one thing," said the Cathar. "A clause, if you will. You must use only one tree from the forest each year for Christmas. The remainder of the forest must be allowed to flourish."

"Or what?" Sancho asked, but before the answer came the soldiers sliced off the Cathar's head.

The King considered the old man's advice to be a ruse to save his life, but nonetheless, just in case there was some truth to it, on January 25 he followed the instructions and cast the pine needles from the castle Christmas tree into the raging waters of the river. In the spring, thousands of trees sprouted near the beach. So he continued the ritual in succeeding years until the coast was covered with pines.

Now in robust health, Sancho determined to build a fleet of ships to rival the navies of Genoa and Venice. He wanted to do some conquering. So he started to cut down the pine forest. And on the day he went to christen the first ship, he fell face first in the river and died.

He apparently did not believe in the Sancho Clause.

So that is why today in Argeles sur Mer, we celebrate Christmas with only one tree. And on January 25, we gather up the needles and cast them in the river, replenishing the pine forest by the sea.

Oh, by the way, the Cathar elder was reincarnated as a mimosa, the vibrant yellow flower that first heralds the coming spring. You just might see him as you walk in the mountains. 

Donna-Lane casts the pine needles into La Massane

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Misperceptions: Looking at Things in a Roundabout Way

Listening to and reading the recent monologues about American politics - and other issues around the world - is exasperating. Not necessarily because I don't like the way things are going (it's a mixed bag) but more because of the way the media and social media posters seem to come at every topic with a preconceived bias.

I say monologues because I see very few people having a true dialogue. Most are talking past each other and not bothering to listen to any view that may even slightly disagree with the conclusions they have leaped to.

As we were driving to the beach today, a small caravan in front of us suddenly turned left, going the wrong way around the roundabout. Unbadged road patrol that I am, I immediately started to object, and had I been the car behind him I probably would have mashed the horn. (In the interests of safety, of course.) But as the caravan cleared the roundabout, I saw beyond the reason the driver had taken this seemingly illegal and perilous course: there was construction on the far side of the roundabout which precluded him for going the right way round. Sheepishly, I ended up doing the same thing as he, then noticed the temporary traffic light that I had missed entirely.

Seems to me that's what most folks are doing these days. They see a photo or video or comment, immediately apply their hate filter, and offer an interpretation that may or may not be supported by the complete reality of the circumstance. The media selects a few facts that fit their desired narrative, and ignore other facts (not alternative facts but inconvenient ones which don't fit for them). Drudge posts a click-bait headline which turns out either unsupported by the linked story or is some minor scene in the story.

If I happen to challenge some biased story or post, I am labeled as a Trump supporter and therefore an object of scorn by more liberal friends. (I am not a DJT fan, as those who read more than one of my posts will know.) If I say something against the Donald, my conservative friends think I have gone off the deep European socialist end. (I haven't, but living in Europe has certainly broadened my world view.)

My overriding interest is challenging unsupported bias and attempting to interject some balance into the discussion. I know ... hopeless quest.

And then, sometimes I just like to stir things up.

For another roundabout view, read Donna-Lane's dueling blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2017/01/judgment.html

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Debout Debout Debout - Stand Up for Present and Future Generation Women

This is a "dueling" blog - different perspectives of an event experienced by two people. You can find Donna-Lane's view at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2017/01/enough_22.html.

We marched yesterday ... with millions of other women, men and even children around the world.

Because, after all, the underlying purpose of this "protest" is for the ultimate benefit of our daughters, granddaughters, and the generations to come. And our sons and grandsons; when women are truly respected and equal, the whole of society is more just and caring.

The initial target of the march's message was DJ Trump, but it became much more than that. It could apply as well to the Middle East and other backwards societies where women continue to be oppressed - forced to wear certain clothing, cannot vote, cannot drive, cannot be in the presence of a male other than their husband.

And it was more than an awareness-raising of gender-specific issues: for many the march was also about gross income inequality, the obscene power of the wealthy and corporations over everything from our food and water and healthcare to the manipulative media, the ubiquitous and unchecked intrusive surveillance into our phone calls and emails and social media posts, the armoured-up police state which kills first and stonewalls questions later, the lack of compassion for millions of true refugees who have been displaced by endless wars waged for the prosperity of arms merchants.

Trump, after all, is but a symbol of many of the things that are wrong in America and across the oligarchic societies now controlled by the Davos crowd. He is right about such issues as crumbling infrastructure and political corruption. He is right that power needs to be returned to the people. I doubt he will do much to right the wrongs. From his rambling speech pattern and inarticulate expression, the new President does not appear intelligent. And many of the people he is surrounding himself with are the roots of the problems, and can hardly be expected to be part of a better solution. No doubt they will act in their self-interest, as most of their predecessors, Democrat and Republican, have been doing for decades. It was no surprise that the Davos agenda last week was all about protecting elite wealth from the populist horde, rather than addressing the genuine grievances that have given rise to Trump, Brexit, Le Pen, and similar anti-establishment movements.

Montpellier was the first march in my life. I have, certainly, protested in other ways, primarily in my writing. D-L and I are also in the middle of a lawsuit against the US government to repeal an Obama-issued law that has severe negative effects on the daily lives of nine million Americans who live overseas. Perhaps some of Trump's minions will convince him to overturn it; perhaps the Supreme Court will toss it: perhaps neither. We have been told many times we are fighting a Quixotesque battle. For the potential sake of others, it is a battle worth fighting.

The refrain of the theme song in France repeated the expression, "Debout! Debout! Debout!," which is translated as standing up, or in the march's context, "Get Up! Get Up! Get Up!" Think about all that means. If you have been sitting idly by, merely observing and tut-tutting the decline of morals and civility and fairness, you, we, need to GET UP and do what we each can to change the direction of our local, national and global societies -- march, vote, write, call, sue, volunteer, run for office. In some way, overtly or by default, we all contributed to what the world is now. We all have a capacity to change it for the future ... our children's future.

To see the video of the Montpellier march, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXOHiFv4Pag.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Je Déteste Bureaucrates Français

I know government bureaucracies everywhere are inept and frustrating, but I think the French invented the concept. If they weren't the originator, they have certainly perfected the art of aggravating the constituents who pay their salaries.

In France, we went through two years of delays and misdirection trying to get a simple work permit, which would qualify me for a residency permit. At one point, it was suggested I might qualify for a 10-year residency, but then they changed their mind. On another occasion, an official in the prefecture told my attorney that D-L was "too old" to be productive in the business of which D-L is president. I doubt the bureaucratic bitch has just published her 11th novel, as D-L did in October (http://donnalanenelson.com/). In the end, they said the best they could offer was a one-year permit, then I would have to leave France permanently. Never mind that we were bringing revenue in from outside the country and boosting the local French economy (a little).

Now we bring the revenue into Switzerland, where D-L is a citizen and I am a legal resident.

So today I drove to the local déchèterie to dispose of our Christmas/Solstice tree. When I got to the front of the queue to enter the yard, there was a machine instead of an attendant. Seems you now need an electronic card. Because I was holding up several other vehicles, a yellow-suited worker finally wandered over, and told me I needed the new carte accès and gave me a form to fill in. Then he opened the gate. I figured he'd give me a one-time free pass since I was now in the yard with l'arbre de Noël. But no, as soon as I stopped the car and started to get out, he ordered me to drive to the exit without dumping the tree. Peon power.

No telling how long it will take to obtain the new electronic card, or whether they'll give us a hard time for not being permanent residents, even though D-L owns two properties in the village and we rent a third for the business.

I've been trying hard to think of an occasion when a French bureaucrat did anything positive. Let's see, when I was first moving to Europe and went to the consultant in Houston ... nope, I should have known then when they insisted on having everything in triplicate.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Paris Metro Mania



I love the Paris Metro. I hate the Paris Metro ticket system.

I’ve been to Paris four times in the past couple of months. Not being smug. I know for most folks in the States a trip to Paris might be a once-in-a-lifetime event, if that. But in context, Paris is about three hours by train from where we live in Switzerland or six hours from the south of France. Akin to someone in New England or Georgia visiting Washington DC. A treat perhaps, especially in contrast to life in a small village, but not that big a deal.

To start with, the spaghetti web of trains, trams, subways and buses in and around metropolitan Paris is a confusing array of acronyms and names – SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français), STIF (Syndicat des transports d'Île-de-France), RER (Réseau Express Régional), RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), Optile (Organisation Professionnelle des Transports d'Ile-de-France), M for Metro, T for Tramway, and BUS for bus. Add to that the multiple artificial travel “zones” … central Paris is Zone 1, but cross the Seine to the west into the La Defense area, and you’re in Zone 3.

The ticket machines are not always terribly clear about what type of ticket you need to traverse which zones on which type of transportation.

For residents of Paris and the surrounding suburbs, access is simple. They purchase an electronic Navigo photo ID pass, payable monthly. As they enter the turnstile gates for whichever mode of transport they’ve chosen, they flash the Navigo over a sensor and move on.

For those of us who are non-resident in Paris, not so fast. You must purchase a paper ticket with a magnetic stripe, and you damn well better get the type of conveyance and the zones correct, or you could end up dying in the subterranean depths of the station.

When we arrived, we bought RER tickets for the Red Line A train from Gare de Lyon rail station to La Defense, which is a short bus ride from where we were staying. No problem getting in to the station at Gare de Lyon; however, at La Defense, those tickets would not open the exit gate. Fortunately we found a gate that was stuck open and got out.

We had purchased a book of extra tickets for the three days we would be traveling around Paris. But the next day, we discovered the tickets purchased at Gare de Lyon (inside Zone 1) would not even allow us into the train-access gates at La Defense (Zone 3). And, of course, the tickets I purchased at La Defense would not allow us to exit at Chatelet (Zone 1), so Donna-Lane tailgated someone with a Navigo and I managed to trick the baby stroller gate to open.

Another time I purchased a ticket which I thought was for the tramway, but it wouldn’t work, and I realized I had bought an SNCF rail ticket (even though the ticket machine indicated tramway also).

At times we had legitimate unused tickets which did not work, probably a magnetic stripe malfunction.

For the bus, at least, the driver would accept euro coins without a ticket, as not all bus stops have ticket machines.

And don’t get me started on the irregular directional signage in stations. Apparently Paris signmakers only have access to left- or right-pointing arrows. No such thing as an around-the-corner or u-turn arrow when it would make more sense.

Next time, perhaps, we’ll try one of the all-day, all-access passes they promote to tourists. But I’m not confident they will always work. I have these visions of never getting out of the underground, forced to sleep on trains and subsisting on vending machine snack foods.
Oh, another thing. Like most public transportation, there’s no real security in train and bus stations. Yes, there are the occasional soldier or gendarmerie strolling around. Not nearly as many as you would expect under France’s “state of emergency” situation, but perhaps many of them are undercover (cleverly disguised as clueless visitors whose tickets won’t work). However, when we exited the Chatelet station into the huge Halles shopping centre, there was a security guard inspecting bags. Apparently protecting the merchandise in the stores is more important than protecting the people traveling on the trains.