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September 4, 2003 by AK

Pretending stupid

It’s OK for bloggers to be silly and incongruous — if you blog to vent your frustrations, you can leave reason by the door. A columnist, even a strongly right/left-wing one, is expected to retain a bit of intellect while writing. Mark Steyn, for all his presumed wit, is pretending dumb in this Telegraph piece. The subject? Surprise, surprise! Perfidious Gaul lets 10,000 die!

Well, let’s start with the trite part. What’s going on in France — unless it’s a gross breach of laws, human and divine — is their own business. It’s up to them to sort out their problems. As a cause of death, a heat wave is somewhere between a natural cause and a natural disaster. It’s no genocide.

Now a tiny quote:


President Bush and the entire Washington press corps are spending a month in heat equal to the brutal Parisian summer, and he’s playing golf in it all day while they stand around watching; in Phoenix tomorrow and Monday, it will be an unremarkable 105. This isn’t about the weather.

Bush has been playing golf since he learned to stand up, and he grew up in Texas, so he should be used to the heat (and humidity). I, on the contrary, would faint amid the steaming green, although I am thinner that GW. Also, country heat is no match to ctiy heat. That’s obvious.

It’s also obvious that 105F is unremarkable for Phoenix, AZ, but not at all for Paris (not the TX one) or Moscow (not in TN). People tend to act rationally, whatever that means. When 105F is the norm, they install AC; with 75F is the norm, they don’t. To go into more detail (if we all agree to stop faking idiocy), the existence of countless residential areas in the Sun Belt is premised on the existence of AC. Here’s what Alistair Cook has to say about it. One can build a brick house with walls so thick that it would be impervious to heat — even in Arizona, but with cheap electricity, the economic solution is to build a cardboard house with AC. Millions of ACed cardboard houses from Amarillo to San Bernardino are evidence to the rationality of this solution. But if — God forbid — there happens, in the middle of August, a blackout from Texas to California… I dread even to think of it.

Now Paris is much cooler; electricity is much more expensive there; winters… there ARE winters in Paris; plus, there are lots of old buildings with thick walls inherited from non-electric times. It makes sense to keep them and build new ones with extra protection from heat and cold; AC is not vital then. The walls of my Moscow apartment, for instance, as nearly as thick as my arm is long — and it is quite long, I assure you. Granted, I live on the ground floor and there is less direct sunlight in the living room than we’d like, but Moscow can have weeks of humid heat — and we don’t feel like installing AC. The whole building heats up gradually, but quite slowly; so the French were right on blaming the problem in part on the heat wave’s unprecedented length. At some point, even those well-built houses give in to the thermal exchange and turn into ovens; and, naturally, they cool down as slowly as they heat up. Still, if this year’s scorch happens, statistically speaking, once in a century, there’s no point in mounting ACs in every Paris flat.

As for the failure of French hospitals to cope with the inflow of patients, it is in no way an indictment of socialized medicine. I don’t like socialized medicine just as I dislike all things socialized. (I enjoy “socializing”, though, — if it means drinking together.) But I also prefer to be logical. This is only an indication of the French medical system’s inability to cope with this particular problem. The system, it seems, is inflexible. One great American TV series sends a message that even municipally-funded ERs can do a superb job — in the US. Why their French countrerparts can’t is unclear. But accidents don’t happend that often; most people suffer and die from prosaic diseases, so a health care system should not be judged only by its response to Nature’s quirks. By the way, the French can always buy private insurance on top of what the state guarantees and opt out of the system — unlike the Canadians.

It’s envy, that’s what I suspect. No, not Steyn’s — but an average ranting blogger’s envy. If you work 60 hours a week for a firm that doesn’t care about you; if you hate your job (and most people do, though it’d take some truth serum to have them admit it); if you can only have a vacation of two weeks, one week at a time; if your insurance is corporate and expires should you get sacked; if you have to pay off your mortgage while saving for the kids’ college… And those guys on the other side have it all — 35 hours per week; a month’s vacation; great food; great women; great wine (you can even drink at lunchtime!); hospital and college for free… You can’t stand it — isn’t your country supposed to be the greatest in the world? Your brain needs a break, and all of a sudden a subservient columnist delivers you from this torment. How? By explaining you that — in fact — they are worthy not of envy but of contempt; they’re immoral; they stink; they are fatter than your wife; their women are bow-legged; they are lousy with Arabs; they are going to hell, basically. That’s when your heart starts to sing! Nothing better than rediscovering your country — and in particular your miserable life — are still the best of all thinkable countries and lives.

If I were to choose between the US and France as the place to live, no doubt I’d choose America. I even wouldn’t mind living in the South — I have a special relationship with it. But there’d be very personal reasons for my choice. I’m not your average guy, in two words. And the world consists of average guys and gals.


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