Democracy vs. autocracy

In light of recent events, I am republishing the translation of an article that I originally wrote in French in February 2011.

A wind of madness has recently swept the Arab world. Intoxicated by the tidal waves that engulfed Tunisia then Egypt, whole populations are rising and trampling old autocracies.

The following domino effect spread to Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. Countries long time muzzled by strongmen are suddenly rebelling and demanding a more democratic form of government.

But the transition from an absolute regime to a representative system is a Herculean task. I would compare this state of affairs with the situation of a homeless person who suddenly inherits millions. Penniless yesterday, millionaire today. Can this man who lived all his life in a state of extreme poverty manage his new riches?
I very much doubt it. If he has any sense, he will look for somebody “qualified” to manage his newly found fortune, and that’s where danger lurks.

I have always been wary of the extremists (fundamentalists, Islamists, communists, Trotskyists, pétainists, fascists, papists, etc.) who swarm into the murky waters of revolutions.
These unsavory characters are waiting for the opportune moment to pounce on the carcasses of deposed states and establish (for the good of the people of course) another kind of dictatorship, often harsher than the one that was overturned.

I would not go as far as saying that Nicolas Alexandrovich Romanov was a saint, but I think that I would have preferred to live under a Romanov than a Stalin, Pol Pot or Ahmadinejad.

All the poor devils who have lived in misery injustice and fear think that a revolution will be the panacea for all their ills. Those people are eager to listen and follow any sweet sounding demagogue who will promise them heaven on earth.

Personally, I would be more inclined to listen to a realist like Winston Churchill who famously declared on May 13th, 1940 “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” than somebody who promises me the moon.
I am ready to bet that the street vendors of Cairo or Tunis will not be better off under a democracy than under an autocracy.

Let me confess that I am always leery of being tossed from Charybdis to Scylla.
I do not mean to say that I am against the establishment of a democratic system anywhere in the world, but rather that I feel ill at ease by the inevitable vacuum created by a revolution; and especially by the unavowed convictions held by the people who are jockeying for power.

Unfortunately “freedom fighters” have a tendency to bite the hand that fed them, and often morph into mobs bent on carving their own fiefdoms rather than implementing the basic tenets of democracy.


PS: To look at pictures of recent events turn the sound on, click on the “Home” link at the top of the page, and click again on “My photos” located on the right side of the page.




In my head I keep a bunch of little drawers.
They are labeled with tags such as “stupid”, “ridiculous”, “frivolous”, “cruel”, “cute”, “sexy”, “mean”, “vain”, “vulgar”, “nice”, “dangerous”, “friendly”, “freak”, etc.

When I meet somebody, after an often brief conversation, I stick that person’s name in one of those little boxes; because consciously or not, we are all judgmental.
It might not be fair, but we will judge you by the way you dress, the way you talk, the way you walk, etc. and our perceived first impressions will end up (and remain for a long time) in one of these little filing cabinets.

Some people are not good at assessing other people. It might have something to do with a lack of proper training in the “people-watching” department.
If you are not able to “read” somebody correctly, you are bound for a lot of headaches in the future.

Neville Chamberlain never “read” Hitler properly… with the consequences that we know. He probably classified him as “reasonable” instead of “freakish”. Hitler’s imperious little mustache should have been a clue though, but Neville failed to notice the ominous threat in Adolf’s crumb catcher.

I honed my people-watching skills in my impoverished student days. For the modest price of a cup of coffee, I could sit at a sidewalk café and practice my people-watching skills for hours.
I learned to read body language, vacant eyes, smirks, etc.

It served me well. In the following years, I avoided being shot by hostile “fellagas”, fired from a lifetime job and surviving a series of amorous conflicts.

So, when you meet somebody new, watch your mouth and your steps. Avoid making insensitive comments or unsettling body noises for as long as you possibly can.
Leave immediately after making even the slightest favorable impression, for it will linger for a long time.

To sum it up, always strive to create a good first impression, otherwise in a near future, an avenging Soup Nazi will pop up and decree “No soup for you!



French movies

Since childhood, everybody likes to be told a story. Be it orally, in print or by film, people crave a good tale delivered by a good storyteller.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a shortage of good troubadours lately, especially among the French. Many of their movies reach an inconclusive and frustrating ending, and Gallic directors seem to have made a specialty of this sadistic genre.

There is nothing more exasperating than spending ninety minutes getting involved with the characters and suddenly being dumped into a dark dungeon full of unanswered questions.
I don’t know about other people, but personally I want a clear-cut ending. I demand to know who the murderer is, if the priest will marry the widow or if the heroine will walk again.
I don’t want an ambiguous ending leaving me wondering what happened, or what will possibly happen. It is not in my contract. My contract demands a neatly wrapped, bow tied ending.
At the end of the movie, I want a seamless conclusion or my money back.

I am not sure why some movies remain sketchy.
Could it be that the director was dealt an unfinished script? Or that the producers ran out of cash? Or that the main character walked off the set for artistic differences?
Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!
What I care about is a finished product. I want a well-told, realistic, believable movie with a plausible ending.

The French don’t have a monopoly of this non-sense either. They have many disciples.
I just watched an overwrought, (award winning?), Iranian movie called “A Separation” and like its French counterparts it leaves the most important question of the story unanswered. Verdammt!
What’s wrong with these people? Is it a religious thing?

I am not saying that all French movies are bad; some like “The Artist” or “Les Intouchables » are excellent, but too many badly scripted movies are released giving the public an impression of petulant callousness.

As I always said, vote with your wallet. Tell your friends to boycott a bad movie and let it die an ignominious slow death, ignored and forgotten by all.



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