Le Weekend: Sikh Helmet, Anarchy In Italy, RIP Paco Rabanne
- Russia cleansing all things Ukrainian
- The meaning of Scholz-ing
- Bear selfies
- … and much more.
Calmez-vous, Americans: It's quite OK to call us “the French”
A widely mocked tweet by the Associated Press tells its reporters to avoid dehumanizing labels such as "the poor" or "the French". But one French writer replies that the real dehumanizing threat is when open conversation becomes impossible.
The largest U.S. news agency, the Associated Press (AP) tweeted a series of recommendations aimed at journalists: “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing 'the' labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated. Instead use wording such as people with mental illnesses.”
The inclusion of “The French” in this list of groups likely to be offended has evoked well-deserved sarcasm. It finally gives me the opportunity to be part of a minority and to confirm at my own expense, while staying true to John Stuart Mill's conception of free speech: that offense is not a crime.
Offense should prompt quips, denial, mockery, and sometimes indifference. It engages conflict in the place where a civilized society accepts and cultivates it: in language.
So my dear American friends, don’t be shy. Say that the French are lazy, that they eat frog legs, or that they write poems while sitting at the terraces of cafés. Continue to paint us as cynical and fickle smokers, just like you do in the show Emily in Paris. We will be big enough to defend ourselves and smart enough to laugh about it.
The funniest part is the AP’s reaction: it modified the disputed message, apologized for having caused “unintentional offense.” But the subject was obviously not the offense, but the very idea that there could even be one. It seems as though the East Coast journalists are no longer able to untangle themselves from the self-righteous spider's web of egotistical hypersensitivity, perpetual indignation, and untenable earnestness they have weaved for themselves.
The reasoning of offense has become impenetrable. Any word can be declared blasphemous by non-discrimination fanatics. Publishing houses now hire "sensitivity readers" — in other words, censors in charge of making sure that no one is offended. But this is the function of literature. The United States is entering an era of obscurantism to which progressives and conservatives alike are contributing (Republican Florida now sanctions discrimination... against anti-wokes!).
The AP’s vice-president unwillingly revealed the substance of this new inquisition by trying to justify himself: “the reference to the ‘French’ as well as the reference to ‘the college educated’ is an effort to show that labels shouldn’t be used for anyone, whether they are traditionally or stereotypical viewed as positive, negative or neutral”. Thus, the phrase "the French supported the American War of Independence" would become offensive to counter-revolutionaries who were hostile to it. Their descendants may feel hurt, despised, and trapped in a history they do not support.
What is at stake, beyond the somewhat grotesque meanderings of this case, is the very possibility of language. One does not have to know semiotics to understand that concepts proceed both from a grouping of individual occurrences and from an opposition between general ideas. By establishing distinct criteria between different categories, thoughts are discriminating by nature. To speak or to speak to ourselves is to generalize: “trains are late”, “men are sexist”…
In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates explains that a philosopher must, with their words, cut up reality like a good butcher, without chopping all the body parts to pieces. Knowing where the individual muscles, bones and joints are has been the object of all our discussions and debates for 2,500 years.
By saying “the French”, nobody pretends to grasp 68 million individuals. Like the British historian Theodore Zeldin in a book appropriately entitled The French, everyone tries with more or less skill and good faith to identify common characteristics, only to be contradicted. Such is the life of ideas.
On the contrary, wanting to identify a person or a thing as a pure singularity forbids talking about it. In a short story titled “Funes or the Memorious”, Borges imagines a hypermnesiac who, perceiving each situation in its smallest details, becomes incapable of general ideas: "Not only was it difficult for him to comprehend that the generic symbol dog embraces so many, unlike individuals of diverse size and form.”
The country of the First Amendment is thus sinking into a loud silence where any common conversation becomes impossible. That is what is dehumanizing.
We can only hope that Europe, and in particular "The French", will manage to escape from it.
— Gaspard Koenig / Les Echos
🎲 OUR WEEKLY NEWS QUIZ
What do you remember from the news this week?
1. The U.S is readying more than $2 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine. What will the package include for the first time?
2. Which country suffered one of its bloodiest attacks in memory when more than 100 were killed in a bomb blast in a mosque?
3. Which oil and gas giant reported its highest profits in its 115-year history?
4. A camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a photo of a formation in the shape of the face of what animal? A dog / a bear / a lion
[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]
In recent weeks, Olaf Scholz has been the target of Ukrainian meme-makers, who have poked fun at the German chancellor’s hesitancy to send tanks to Kyiv, by introducing the neologism “scholzing.” The new verb is defined, and used on social media, as follows: “communicating good intentions, only to use/find/invent any reason imaginable to delay these or to prevent them from happening.”
🎭 5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW
• Ukrainian art dealer on trial in France over painting theft: A 64-year-old Ukrainian art dealer has gone on trial in France accused of stealing several artworks, including the €1.5m painting Le Port de La Rochelle by Paul Signac, which was discovered in a house in Kyiv a year after it disappeared from a museum in the northeastern city of Nancy.
• RIP Paco Rabanne: Celebrated Spanish-born designer Paco Rabanne, known for his best-selling perfumes and “space age” designs of the 1960s, has died aged 88 at his home in France.
• Retiring: Popular American daytime television show Dr. Phil hosted by former psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw will come to an end this year after more than two decades. Meanwhile, legendary quarterback Tom Brady announced he was retiring after 23 seasons in the NFL, this time “for good.” (Brady had temporarily retired in 2022 before returning for one more season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.) And sorry Black Sabbath fans, Ozzy Osbourne, 74, has announced that he is retiring from touring due to declining health.
• Mixed-race children at the center of new Hong Kong exhibition: Hong Kong’s Soluna Fine Art gallery is displaying South Korean photographer Kim Jee-Yun’s first solo exhibition titled “M<other>” until March 2. The exhibition features photographs and videos of a 10-year documentary project focusing on mixed-race children, racial awareness and the perceptions towards the different external appearances of a mother and child.
• Paul McCartney releases never-heard-before Jeff Beck collaboration: A lost collaboration between PaulMcCartney and the late Jeff Beck was recently unearthed and shared by the former Beatle as a way to pay tribute to the legendary guitarist who died last month. The song “Why Are They Cutting Down the Rainforest?” was recorded in 1994 as part of a radio series produced by McCartney’s vegetarianism campaign Meat Free Monday.
🇺🇦 The dangers of being Ukrainian in Russia
Russia's 2021 census showed a record drop in the number of Ukrainians living in Russia. Ten years ago, almost two million Ukrainians lived in Russia, but before the start of the war there were only 884,000 of them remaining. Independent Russian news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii has revealed how the Russian authorities began the eradication of Ukrainian identity from citizens within Russia long before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Its origin goes back to the very beginning of Vladimir Putin's presidency.
Read the full story: How Putin Has Been Quietly Cleansing All Things Ukrainian From Russia
🇮🇹 Italy’s long anarchist history is back
The case of Alfredo Cospito, a member of the Informal Anarchist Federation who’s been on a hunger strike for more than 100 days, has dominated Italian public debate for the past several weeks. He has become a rallying cry for an anarchist movement across Europe that many thought had faded away. In this article, Ginevra Falciani goes back on Italy’s long history of anarchists, up to the strange dynamic of Cospito’s case.
Read the full story: Anarchist Revival? Italy Risks Turning Alfredo Cospito Into A Martyr For A Lost Cause
🇻🇪 💐 Venezuelan First Lady’s “flower” power
Venezuela's first lady, Cilia Flores, benefits from her husband’s place in power. That much is clear. In Venezuela, it's said that Flores works in the shadows but is somehow "always in the right place.” Surrounded by an extensive web of collaborators including relatives, she has forged a clique under the name the “Flower Shop”, thought to control every facet of Venezuelan politics. In this article for El Espectador, Mauricio Rubio looks into how Flores has become Venezuela's most powerful woman.
Read the full story: Cilia Flores de Maduro, How Venezuela's First Lady Wields A Corrupt "Flower Shop" Of Power
🚴 BRIGHT IDEA
Thanks to Tina Singh, an Ontario-based occupational therapist and mother of three, Sikh kids will soon be able to ride and roll with a helmet that accommodates their hair covering, or patka, which cannot be cut for religious reasons. Singh designed a helmet for kids five and up allowing them to be protected while they cycle, skateboard, and skate, as a bulge at the top of the helmet leaves room for the traditional Sikh topknot bun.
🐻🤳 SMILE OF THE WEEK
Camera-loving bear strikes up a paws in front of cameras in the city of Boulder, Colorado, U.S, which have captured about 580 images, more than 400 of which were bear selfies. Though these cameras usually view bears scratching, eating or hanging out, this is the first they’ve seen of a bear looking for the right angle to take a selfie.
📹 THIS HAPPENED VIDEO — TODAY IN HISTORY, IN ONE ICONIC PHOTO
➡️ Watch the video: THIS HAPPENED
⏩ LOOKING AHEAD
• Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao and his Australian counterpart Don Farrell will hold a virtual meeting next week for the first time in three years as the strained relations between the two countries appear to be improving.
• Twitter CEO Elon Musk said the platform will introduce a beta version of a new feature allowing creators to be paid for their tweets as soon as next week.
• Brace yourselves, Beyoncé fans: the American superstar is going back on a global tour for her latest record-breaking album Renaissance, with tickets on sale starting Feb. 6.
News quiz answers:
1. Washington is readying more than $2 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine, in a weapons and ammunition package expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time.
2. Several suspects have been arrested in connection with Monday’s suicide bomb blast in a mosque in Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar that killed more than 100 people and injured more than 200, the worst attack of its kind in recent years in the country.
3. British multinational oil and gas giant Shell has recorded unprecedented profits in its 115-year history, reaching $39.9 billion in 2022 — double last year's total after energy prices skyrocketed following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
4. A camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a photo of a formation in the shape of the face of a bear. Two beady eyes are formed by two craters and a hill with a "V-shaped collapse structure" resembles a snout while a "circular fracture pattern" outlines the head.
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*Photo: Sikh Helmets