Monday, June 17, 2019

Back to the future in France


On Saturday, clergy in hard hats celebrated Mass in a chapel of Notre Dame, two months after the blaze that destroyed the cathedral's roof and spire and nearly brought the whole thing down. Those who attended were all or mostly religious and cathedral workers.

Meanwhile, the Yellow Vests who have more or less brought France to a standstill every Saturday since November has mostly hung up their gilets jaunes, allowing President Macron to edge back into his (really very modest) labor reforms, which have already improved the economy somewhat. He has not, however, ventured to talk of the gasoline tax that set off the movement that for a month put upwards of a hundred thousand protesters on the streets of Paris and other cities. So that is some recompense for all the fuss and property damage.

In another wonderfully French moment, I find that the Friends of Notre Dame still haven't updated their website to take account of the fire. Certainly you can make a tax-deductible contribution, but for what? I clicked through the link entitled "The Problem" and found this rather outdated reason for helping out: "Although the recently restored western façade is radiant, the same cannot be said of the rest of the building."

Indeed.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Aujourd'hui, nous sommes tous français


Twice in my life, Notre Dame has brought tears to my eyes. The second time, of course, was yesterday, when I saw this photo online. The first was sixty-four years earlier, when I spent a few days in Paris before setting out on the road to Lyon, a story I tell at some length in Poland's Daughter: How I Met Basia, Hitchhiked to Italy, and Learned About Love, War, and Exile. Altogether, that was an enchanted time. April in Paris! Yet I remember the cathedral in black and white, perhaps because the only people at Mass that morning were widows in black, kneeling on the stone floor while a distant priest murmured in Latin. I'd been brought up in an Irish Catholic family, and I was with a Polish Catholic girl, but I think it had been some time since either of us had been inside a church. Still, Notre Dame brought tears to my eyes -- and me to my knees, as I remember, though that may only be a pretty story I told my mother afterward.

A year later, I was a draftee in the US Army and stationed at Orleans, sixty miles south of Notre Dame, so I often had occasion to visit the city for an overnight. I never again went inside the cathedral, but it was always there on the horizon, a great ship taking souls to heaven. I cannot imagine what Paris looks like this morning.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Where did Albert spend his summer vacation?

The latest American shaming ritual involves the schools and parents (but not the kids!) involved in a cheating and bribing scandal at Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, and lesser colleges and universities. To me, the most astonishing aspect is not that Mom would spend $500,000 to fake up her daughters' applications, nor that a coach would accept a bogus charitable donation to fast-track a student athlete, nor even that students would submit false photos of their athletic accomplishments, but the way the FBI reacted to their cheating!

"We believe everyone charged here today had a role in fostering a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for students trying to get into these schools the right way through hard work, good grades and community service," huffed Special Agent John Bonavolonta.

Say what? Yes, I know that for some years now, rich parents have sent their kids off to build outhouses in Ghana, the better to grease their way into Phillips Exeter and Harvard. But that "community service" is now so valued that the FBI automatically adds it to intelligence and diligence?

I can see it now, the letter that Mrs. Einstein got when her son was wait-listed at MIT: "Young Albert certainly shows promise as a mathematician, but his extracurricular activities demonstrate a one-sided focus on the intellect, obliging us to put him on our list of potential students. We suggest he spend the summer in some worthwhile contribution to society, preferably in Africa or Latin America, to enhance his prospects of joining our Class of 2023 in the fall."

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Socialism's shame


The thuggish government of Venezuela is blocking highways to the outside world to stop food aid from reaching its starving people. Stalin's Russia, Mao's China, Castro's Cuba, Ho's Vietnam, Chavez's Venezuela -- how many millions more will die of hunger and in the slave-labor camps before Americans like Bernie and AOC will stop advocating the glories of "democratic socialism"?

Friday, January 04, 2019

Hold it, kids, you're firing on a friend!

Students at my graduate school, then called the Victoria University of Manchester, have risen up in righteous anger to deface a poem by Rudyard Kipling, painted on the wall of the Student Union. This is presumably to protest his celebrations of the British soldier, for example:

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier . . .
So-oldier of the Queen!

You'd have to be rather dense to interpret that as a glorification of war!

Like the sanctimonious Americans who deface statues of Robert E. Lee, the Manchester undergraduates would benefit by reading the past with more intelligence.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Breaking free of Google

More and more, Google's founding mantra -- "Don't be evil" -- strikes me as a bad joke. If having a corporation spy on me around the clock isn't evil, I think we need a new definition of the word. (Perhaps Pope Francis would like to have a go at that?)

Still, it's hard to break out of Google's grasp. Its Chrome browser has long been my favorite, for the slick interface that frees up my screen for the vital stuff. But recently I discovered Brave -- clearly modeled on the same platform but promising "Secure, Fast & Private" browsing, with built-in blocker for advertisements and cookies. Great! All the advantages with few or none of the disadvantages. (I do have one or two websites where I must enable cookies or give up the service. The ad-blocking hasn't yet caused a stumble anywhere. I'd forgotten how intrusive and sometimes disturbing those ads are!)

Google Search was a tougher substitution. For six months or so I used Microsoft's Bing, but heck, do I really believe that Microsoft is any saintlier than Google? So now I'm trying out the weirdly named DuckDuckGo with its motto, "The search engine that doesn't track you." Like Bing, it's pretty good but not quite as good as the Evil version, so for emergency use I keep a link on my Home Page to Google Search. (Similarly, I have a link there to the so-far unmatched Google Maps.)

The biggest challenge, though, is getting out from under Gmail. I've played about with ProtonMail -- located in Switzerland and offering end-to-end encryption when both sender and receiver use the service. There's a free version and a subscription that rents for €4 a month. I can access the service using Thunderbird on my computer, and I have an app for my iPhone though not yet for my Fire tablet. In time I probably go with the paid version (about $56 a year), but I still have some work to do.

Blue skies! -- Dan Ford


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Thanks, guys, for the help"


Whatever you do today (if you haven't done so already), you should listen to Captain Tammie Jo Shults as she flies a half-crippled Boeing 737 to a safe landing in Philadelphia. What a pilot! When she first reports an engine fire and the need for an emergency airfield, she sounds less excited than the earthbound flight controller. When she switches to a new frequency, she politely signs off with "Good day." And at the end of all, with the plane safe on the ground, she says, "Thanks, guys, for the help." Captain Shults was one of the first women to enter military flight training, and one of the first to take the controls of a supersonic F/A-18 Navy fighter.

Blue skies! -- Dan Ford