Monthly Archives: May 2014

The French Left and the FN (National Front) and the European Elections

I am a fairly typical American in that I have absolutely no idea what the powers and responsibilities of the European parliament are. Do they make laws that all member nations are subject to automatically? Do they have that much power? Do they draft recommendations that member states are then expected to consider as possible national laws?

No idea. But from what I saw in my one week as a tourist in Paris, is that the general feeling was one of disinterest, which resulted in big wins for the National Front.

For those unfamiliar with French political parties, the FN (Front National, in French) is the far-right xenophobic party, formerly led by Jean-Marie le Pen, and now by his daughter, Marine le Pen. The FN has always been xenophobic, but seems to be trying to distance itself (by denying) its antisemitic history. In fact, I believe they were big supporters of the Vichy regime.

Am I wrong about that? I know it’s a big joke that, in retrospect, all French folk were in the Résistance (cue La Marseillaise…).

One thing I did notice is the election posters for the FN were all of the “Vive la France!” variety. No details, just flattering and positive. Why the left can’t learn to do that, I don’t know. I only get a very superficial view of French political culture, but from the two satiric newspapers I read, Le Canard Enchainé and Charlie Hebdo, the attitude of the left seems stuck in a pouty, defensive, pessimistic mode. Just right for cigarette-smoke-shrouded arguments in a café. It doesn’t take a genius to see how unattractive that is to the electorate at large.

They could really use an image consultant. I’d be available for business-class airfare and a place to stay, plus a modest per-diem!

In Copenhagen

I love Europe. Sensible design, a noticeable lack of hucksterism. And I’m at the airport which is an entirely commercial space.
It’s just … better. Expensive, though. I am enjoying a strawberry smoothie, nicknamed the “Pick Me Up”, and a double espresso. It’s running me 74 kroner… not sure how many $ or even Euro that is. Not sure I want to know! It’s expensive because it’s in Europe, and because it’s in an airport. I’m certain I’m getting ripped off royally, but still.
How lucky to have the opportunity to do this. To have a good job, to have the time, to have the background enough to know Europe.
My people are from here (well, not Denmark, but close – France and Germany) and it feels very right and better than normal. I’m from New York, but that’s got a lot of Europe in it, after all.
I’m reminded of the Onion article about a post 9/11 country music concert, with the bellicose theme, “You can’t hurt the USA by bombing NYC!!” And basically taunting the terrorists to bomb NY again. Funny… because it’s true.
This post is being sent froppm my T-Mo Samsung Galaxy SIII, with the help of my trusty folding bluetooth keyboard – it’s a Dell-rebranded thinkoutside. I’ve had it since I got a Palm III, but I’ve only started really using it with my Android device. Spiffy.
Anyway, that smoothie did kind of pick me up, after all. Or maybe it’s just the double expresso. Either way, money well spent.
Next, Rome.

Drone Swarms

As long as I’m on the trail of bits of ideas, here’s one.

Take a UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle. Or drone. Make it small. Done, right? We’ve got those little hobby quad-copters you can get for a few hundred bucks in the B&H catalog.

Now, make it smaller. Like a dragonfly. It can land in the palm of your hand. Super light, super small, solar powered. And it comes in swarms. Each individual dragonfly has a small underpowered low-res camera or other sensing gear, but the swarm as a whole can process all that imagery together into a high-res image.

You get them in what looks like an ice tray. You peel the foil off the tray, and in each pocket is a little ball packed in cotton wool. As it sits in the sun, each little ball slowly unrolls, spreads its iridescent wings, and initializes. The user gives the command, and they fly off in a swarm. They have distributed sensing and data processing, and send a datastream back to the mothership. If they can’t reach the mothership… good question – how much storage do they have? I suppose they could have a lot the way memory is shrinking. And they could distribute it in a kind of RAID array, where you could lose a few and not lose much capability.

What would you use it for? Finding minerals (i.e., gold in Australia is my favorite idea), mapping, ecosystem study, military scouting.

If one is found, it could self-destruct by dissolving. They could be tasty and smell good, so if one fails and falls to the ground, it could be eaten.

Anyway, more on that later.

Uncompleted Projects

As long as I’m thinking about writing projects, and as long as I’m confident that nobody will ever look at this (thus possibly getting me in trouble), here is another writing project. I’ve actually put pen to paper about this and started something, but I have no idea where it’s going to go. It’s “speculative fiction”, I suppose, in that it takes place in a near future America. It could even be called dystopian, except that the term is problematic. every dystopian scenario serves someone. Even the government of Oceania in 1984 no doubt made some people feel safe. Winston Smith was a troublemaker!
Here are the principal characters of mine: first, offstage, Madame President. She was a former New Age spiritual guru with many thousands of followers, and many best-sellers. As she moved up, she re-imagined herself as a “thought leader” and “author”, dropping some of the more arrant bullshit. She stopped wearing sari-inspired dresses, and started wearing sober pantsuits. Among her followers (now, “constituents”) are powerful lawyers, CEOs, heirs… mostly, but not all, women. Also, many wives of powerful lawyers, CEOs, etc., who have moved beyond just yoga into the vast spirit-osphere. I’ve called her (tentatively) Aurora… though, perhaps that was her name before, and now she may have moved to her birth name, Diana, shedding the woo-woo stuff.
Of course, any resemblance to anyone living or dead, is purely coincidental.
So, Diana won a seat in Congress, made a speech that garnered national attention. [Here it gets vague] She has figured out how to triangulate among hippies, seekers, Christians, the labor Left, and the angry, frightened white Right. Her language encompasses nurturing Mommy and Angry, vengeful Daddy. She runs for President against a weak Republican who makes mistakes and whose vote is split by a crazy-ass Far Right Tea Party candidate.
During her first 100-day honeymoon, she gets a rattled Congress to pass a national service law, but not all military. It is arranged such that the young volunteers are the most fervent Dian-ites. They are taken away from their homes and distributed, seemingly at random, around the country. But it’s not random – they are posted where they will feel the most threatened, where their bond to Diana will be all they have to hold onto. They are given a small “care package” with a picture of Diana and a book of her sayings and tenets. They will have no allegiance to the locality or community where they are posted, and will carry out her orders. And they will KNOW that they are doing right. The little care packages are individually tailored to the volunteer, even down to the picture of Diana, which will be nun-like for some, and borderline cheesecake for others. All volunteers are given exhaustive testing before deployment, and an elaborate, detailed profile is constructed, by which they can be fully manipulated. Psychology is a fully tested science, with predictable techniques.
So, good. We have our President, we have a corps of acolytes all over the country ready to do her personal bidding.
On her right hand is her “chaplain”, a beautiful young man who was born into a secular Jewish family but has discovered Christ. He proves that the country can unite in Christ, because, my goodness, if the Jews can be made to come over, then that’s everyone (almost), right? and there will be no need for strife. Diana brings us all together for the common goal of spiritual enrichment, not materialism.
This young man, Joshua Berliner, seemingly (and probably actually) celibate is pure tabloid fodder. Who is he seen with? Is he as virtuous and smart as he seems? Yes apparently.
His mother, Leah Berliner, is a scientist – a psychologist whose specialty is memory. She got into trouble a number of years before by conducting a study showing that false memories can be implanted, and thus beliefs changed. Our beliefs are formed by our memories and stories we tell about ourselves, after all.
Again, any resemblance, etc., etc., coincidental.
In fact, she received death threats from followers of (then) Aurora, for having testified against her in a court case regarding “recovered memories”. Aurora lost and had to pay quite a lot to a family had been wracked by rumors of Satanic ritual and sexual abuse; all found scurrilous.
So, wonder of wonders, irony of ironies, Diana (then in Congress) sees this young man at a National Day of Prayer thing and recruits him. He had been living hand to mouth, but now had quite a lot of money. His weakness is clothes… he travels with Diana to Paris and spends a lot of money on bespoke tailoring. His excuse is that he’s public now, has to look good, and has trouble fitting in ready-to-wear; his shoulders are too broad, etc.
Josh doesn’t understand his mother’s sense of betrayal. He sees himself as a peacemaker. If there’s still resentment, well, that’s just sad. Diana, he maintains, is over the whole thing. It was, after all, just  money…
***
Here we are, today, and Diana’s grip on the nation is very tight. Her Dianites are the equivalent of the piety police in Iran, or the secret police in Soviet Russia.
And Leah has angered them all by a speech she made in which she calls this out, and hints at anti-Semitic trends. Joshua is enraged – Diana couldn’t be less racist, and any Jews who feel that the nation is turning against them always have the option of turning to Christ, whose arms are always open, ready to forgive, if only one would come unto him with humility. That’s really all it takes.
Leah is now under a kind of informal house arrest, and the Dianites have taken away anything that could be used to “harm herself,” such as knitting needles and kitchen knives. Since Leah was a dedicated cook and knitter, this is terrible.
Her son, Josh, comes by to talk her into recanting. He’s not going to pressure her to accept Christ (he doesn’t like the word “convert,” it’s derogatory), but he’s ready if she feels it in her heart.