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June 12, 2005 - Worlds Apart

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Last weekend, with Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, there was much on Dominique de Villepin (as I call him, the French anti – John Bolton) in Fallout from the French Kiss of Death and two other items.  One suspects this wasn't widely read, even with Ric's amusing editorial cartoon from Paris.  No one much on this side of the world, and particularly out here in Hollywood, really follows French politics, except for the few local French expatriates.  And the circulation of the online magazine is small – edging up to 12,000 unique logons a month, with maybe a tenth of those from Western Europe.  Ah, well.  It is fun to write about such things, even if the readers are few and far between.

This week what is mentioned below is about far larger implications.  It is about what we used to call different mindsets – really, about language and its uses.  Our president, this Bush fellow, has not much use for language – as you see in the Bushisms that appear in these pages now and then.  "It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way." - George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005

You get the idea.

That is why it might be wise, or something, to consider this –

When Rimbaud meets Rambo
The new French Prime Minister's grandiose poetic style won't cut much ice with the White House action men
Ben MacIntyre – The Times of London (UK) - June 04, 2005

Who is this Rimbaud person?  Doesn't matter.  Read this and you'll get the general idea.

The sort of guys that run our government? – "At a NATO summit in Prague, Donald Rumsfeld was once forced to sit though a performance of modern dance and poetry. Asked for his reaction afterwards, he shrugged: 'I'm from Chicago.'"

On the other side? - "For George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld words are blunt instruments, used to convey meaning, not feeling. Actions speak louder. The President of France, by contrast, rocked by the rejection of the EU constitution, has attempted to shore up his Government by appointing a poet as his Prime Minister, a patrician intellectual in the French romantic mould, a true believer in the transcendental and redemptive power of words."

The appointment of Dominique de Villepin was intended to send the message that French exceptionalism is alive and well?  That's what I was said in these pages here last weekend.

It's a cultural war.

So what does MacIntyre have to add?


"A SINGLE VERSE by Rimbaud," writes Dominique de Villepin, the new French Prime Minister, "shines like a powder trail on a day's horizon. It sets it ablaze all at once, explodes all limits, draws the eyes to other heavens." Here is a rather different observation, uttered by George Bush Sr in 1998, that might stand as a motto for his dynasty: "I can't do poetry."


Of course not.

As for the poetic language of Dominique de Villepin –


He speaks in a grandiloquent style that delights French audiences, but baffles most English-speakers. His high-flown rhetoric before the United Nations in the build-up to the Iraq war ("We are the guardians of an ideal") marked him as the political and cultural antithesis to the US, and his appointment is intended to send the message that French exceptionalism is alive and well.


And on the divide?


… poetry does not stir the soul of President Bush, unless you count the Bible and George Jones singing A Good Year for the Roses.

To the Anglo-Saxon mind there is something dodgy, even dangerous, in the man who rules the world by day and writes verses by night. As W.H. Auden wrote: "All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornados, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman." Indeed, the precedents are not happy ones, for there is a peculiar link between frustrated poetic ambition and tyranny: Hitler, Goebbels, Stalin, Castro, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh all wrote poetry. Radovan Karadzic, fugitive former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, once won the Russian Writers' Union Mikhail Sholokhov Prize for his poems. On the whole, you do not want a poet at the helm.


No, someone inarticulate is, perhaps, safer.

And the conclusion is this – that the appointment of Dominique de Villepin "is certain to increase the accusations of pretentiousness from the American side, and philistinism from the French.  The chasm has never been wider, or more in need of a bridge.  America's public image could benefit from a sense of imaginative wonder, a little more Rimbaud and a lot less Rambo."

I don't think that is the public image we want to project.  In fact, this appeared June 7 and explains a lot:

Bush urged: 'Never apologize' to Muslims
Administration officials reportedly inspired by classic John Wayne movie


Some members of the Bush administration have taken a cue from a classic John Wayne Western and are advising their boss to take the film's advice – "Never apologize" – when dealing with Muslims, reports geopolitical analyst Jack Wheeler.

In a column on his intelligence website, To the Point, Wheeler explains Wayne's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," made in 1948, though lesser known than many of the star's films, includes what's been called one of the top 100 movie quotes of all time.

Wayne's character, Capt. Nathan Brittles, who is facing an Indian attack, advises a junior officer: "Never apologize, son. It's a sign of weakness."

It's that attitude that some employees of the Pentagon, State Department and White House are urging President Bush to take when dealing with charges of Quran desecration and other allegations from radical Muslims. They've even sent a DVD copy of the film to the commander in chief. …


And they didn't send a copy of "Total Eclipse" (1995) - the story of Rimbaud's life in Paris with Leonardo DiCaprio as Rimbaud, David Threwlis as Verlaine and the French actress Romane Bohringer as Mathilde Mauté, Verlaine's wife.  The director was Agnieszka Holland, not John Ford.

A little more Rimbaud and a lot less Rambo?  Not likely.  Not likely at all.




A brief note from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –


"Never apologize, son.  It's a sign of weakness."


In my experience as a department head who had to learn office politics to survive, I learned that never apologizing is, itself, a pretty good sign of weakness.  Folks who never apologize are generally scared that people will walk over them and are petrified that they won't know how to handle it.  These types usually make lousy leaders and eventually fall by the wayside.


Eventually?  It’s the meantime some of us worry about.


Rick replies -


You do have a point there, judge!


Still, I wasn't speaking to the kind of situation we find ourselves in now - something we can't really do anything about, since, as I have mentioned here before, there are no "action items" on the table, so to speak.


I was really just commenting on the character of the stupid jerks who see "Never apologize, son. It's a sign of weakness" as some kind of wisdom.



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