Liar, liar, pants on fire

I wrote this story in French 10 years ago. Here is the updated English version.

« A quoi ça sert, les parents ? Ah oui, ça sert à ce qu’on leur mente. » Henry de Montherlant

Baron Munchausen

I have not always been a liar.
In the cradle and in kindergarten I did not lie, I am pretty sure of it. It was only in the following years that I started to fib.

I was born shortly before the start of World War II and my mother had been deeply traumatized by this terrible event. She subsequently guarded me like a mother hen, and I was never allowed to venture far from her protective wings.

When my friends went to play soccer, or cavort in the swimming pool, I was ordered to stay home because surely, if I associated with these rascals, something unfortunate would happen to me. It was this diktat that drove me to crime.

-Mom, can I go to soccer practice?
-No, it’s way too dangerous. The ball could injure your eyes.
-Mom, can I go to the swimming pool?
-Don’t even think about it! You could drown…

To survive this misery, and to avoid becoming my friends’ laughingstock, I started to lie… and I gradually perfected various scenarios to cover my tracks.

If I couldn’t go to the swimming pool, I was still allowed to play with my friend André who lived around the corner. And it was from André’s abode that we went to play soccer, swim, or sneak into theaters to watch R-rated flicks.

In those days, people of modest means (we all were) did not have telephones, and it was relatively easy for children to fib without the risk of ever being exposed.

Thanks to steady practice, I became a rather skillful liar. The secret of lying well, by the way, is to be prepared, to turn your tongue seven times before speaking, and to have a good memory.

When I was in high school, only wealthy people owned a (black and white) television set. In my class, there were only three boys issued from these wealthy families. Some mornings, during recess, they took malicious pleasure in (loudly) discussing what they had watched the previous evening on the small screen. We, paupers, could only listen and begrudge their opulent lifestyle.

But one day, to everybody’s surprise, a close friend and I joined their conversation. We offered opinions and comments on what had been broadcast the previous evening on the only television channel of the time.

We thoroughly enjoyed our classmates’ bewilderment.

What they didn’t know was that neither my pal nor I had suddenly come into money and were suddenly able to afford a costly TV set.

My friend, who was an electronic nerd, had simply rigged a gizmo that could pick up the sound of television programs… Not the picture, just the sound. But this was more than enough to allow us to pretend and to gloat.

When I became emancipated, I abandoned (or sparingly used) my talent. But lying is like riding a bicycle, you never totally forget how to use it.

So, if in the future  I ever get the urge to run for office, beware. I might be a little rusty, but I still feel capable of bamboozling voters like a pro thanks to my past practice.


Flags and patriotism

I am not a fan of flags.
National flags, that is. Especially in peacetime… There are too many of them fluttering around, and their symbolic value has become inversely proportional to their quantity. Flags are like diamonds…Valuable when spare, cheap when plentiful. De Beers has known this for a long time and always tried to restrict its flow.

The same goes for the national anthem. In America, it is squandered everywhere… Do we need to hear it at every football game, any sporting event, or any bar-mitzvah? I say no. It should only be used for solemn occasions, and sparingly… otherwise it becomes common and trite.

 Personally, I don’t care to see national flags or any religious symbol on anybody’s lapel, particularly politicians. It does not prove anything.

“The less a statesman amounts to, the more he loves the flag.” ~ Kin Hubbard

 An intelligent man never proclaims that he is smart, he just proves it. If you want to demonstrate that you are patriotic, do not make flamboyant speeches. If you feel that the country is in danger, do as the Ukrainians did. Grab a rifle and quietly go to the front… without any fanfare. Patriotic speeches are for those who won’t or who can’t.

Flags waving does not really serve any purpose, but to annoy or antagonize your adversaries. Similarly, only an idiot would wave a flag in front of a 2000 pounds bull. It is not more important to stand for nationalism than for what is right.

“Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.” ~ James Bryce

 Patriotism is only laudable in times of adversity. It is when democracy is threatened that flag-waving is permissible. In Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky did just that, and with aplomb. Like many politicians, he could have run when Russia struck, but he did not do so. “I Don’t Need A Ride, I Need More Ammunition” he famously said.

This man and only people like him are entitled to wave national flags; the rest are probably charlatans and attention-seeking wannabes.


Big Brother Brainwashing

It might be unpleasant to acknowledge, but regardless of where we live, we have all been (to some extent) brainwashed. And America is no exception.

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” – Aldous Huxley

The Cambridge Dictionary defines brainwashing as “To make someone believe something by repeatedly telling him or her that it is true and preventing any other information from reaching him or her.”

 Today, the most conspicuous victim of this phenomenon is Russia. Since Ukraine had the impudence of declaring independence a few years ago, Russian citizens have been brainwashed into believing that “this province” had to be “denazified” and purged from evil western thoughts.

The Ukraine situation is of special interest to me, and I have been spending a lot of time researching the subject. YouTube has been particularly helpful in this endeavor and helped me through various sources to better understand this Shakespearian tragedy.

My sources of information are various news channels, but also independent Russian English-speaking vloggers who specialize in broadcasting to the West. They wander mainly through the streets of St Petersburg and Moscow and query passersby about Ukraine. Older folks are staunchly supporting Putin, but younger people (when they dare) clearly opposed him but are often reluctant to talk candidly. Fear (reminiscent of the Nazi Germany era) is now omnipresent in the Russian Federation.

Most of Russia, especially the elderly population, has been brainwashed into believing that the country is under imminent attack from the West. These people, with scant computer knowledge or access, rely almost exclusively on state-sponsored news and fully believe everything they see on the tube. Just like my own mother did, 60 or 70 years ago.

The computer-savvy younger set on the other hand, with VPN access to foreign sources, is not as gullible and knows exactly what is happening in Ukraine. They oppose Putin’s policies but are visibly afraid to frankly say so.

The tragedy of this conflict is that the Russian people are not war-hungry monsters who want to conquer the world. Many are highly educated, speak fluent English, and are open to the West. But the muzzling of the press and the alarming suppression of foreign news leave many citizens highly susceptible to distortions and lies.

Brainwashing and bloody conflicts will only stop when the main instigator is silenced and neutralized by his peers.
The sooner, the better… for the world’s sake.


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