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The Eagle and the Coq

By this time today, I thought there would be more chat about the Times article about the Christmas Tsunami and the Blogosphere. Headlined "Myths Run Wild in Blog Tsunami Debate," John Schwartz's article proceeds to make a much more balanced assessment of how the Blogosphere handled its first whopping natural disaster. I don't know what to make of the oft-cited "tension" between bloggers and mainstream journalists, because while it would be naive or wrongheaded to deny that the 'Sphere is a source of news (witness, for example, Gothamist, which had much better photographs of the anti-Bush banner-at-the-Plaza stunt than did the Times - and more of them, too), I don't regard professional journalism as a model for what's going on at most of the blogs that interest me. I'm certainly not in the news business. (That's why I haven't done the newsreader thing yet. The very terminology put me off. Consider this a solicitation for recommendations: d'you know of a good service?) And at the "political" blogs there is often an air - a pong, really - of a high school corridor at lunch time, with everyone excited about something that nobody's going to remember next week. It's early days yet, so comparing and contrasting blogs and newspapers is bound to fall somewhere between the tentative and the premature.

The headline, though, looks like pretty clear proof of the mild hostility that many bloggers have attributed to newspaper editors. Further evidence is provided by the callout (subtitle), which might well have been used instead: "While chaotic, Web log discussion can be self-correcting." That, it turns out, is the actual gist of Mr Schwartz's story.

Then on the Op-Ed page, there is a pair of French-accented essays. The one on top is a silly argument by a writer for National Review, John J. Miller. He urges President Bush to deal with the French (and their opposition to the "war in Iraq") by - ignoring them.

Thinking otherwise [i.e., that the French are "important"] only buys into the Gaullist claim that France should occupy a place of reverence in the community of nations. But why should its views matter any more than, say, Italy, those population and economy are nearly the same size?

This is ahistorical claptrap. France and Italy may be similarly-sized nations today, but that's a very recent development, and, as for foreign affairs, no two countries could trace more antithetical histories. Italian politics - the politics of Italy's myriad historic autonomies - tends always toward the solipsistic; Italians are relatively uninterested in the other peoples of the world. The French, to be sure, are only slightly behind them when it comes to the conviction that it's regrettably unlucky to be born anywhere else, but the French are missionaries, proselytizing their grand culture and way of life to whomever will listen. That's why, as I remarked here yesterday, there are more people who speak French as a foreign language than there are native speakers. There's a real distinction between what I'll call la France profonde, that aspect of France that is accessible only to natives, and la mode française, which, beyond being available to anybody who sets foot on French soil, can even be exported with some success. The same distinction could be made between the American heartland and this country's "popular culture," but the French export is incontestably superior. My response to Mr Miller is that we ought to imitate Italy and stop trying to guide the peoples of the earth toward democracy or anything else. Like the Italians, we're insufficiently interested in foreigners to learn how to help them.

The other piece is by Antoine Audouard, a French writer who has recently moved to New York. He writes very sensibly about French-bashing in the media, about the association that Muddle-Minded people make between arrogance and the ability to speak French, and about the French delusion that alleges the equal value of each nation's contribution to the other's welfare. He rightly deplores the idea of disliking any given nationality.

Americans themselves are sometimes confronted with this kind of absurd hostility abroad. Of all nationalities, they should be the first to stay away from it. After all, diversity and respect for other cultures are among the core values on which America was founded - and by which Americans thrive.

Or so I thought, too, M Audouard, until I learned that the vast majority (apparently) of Americans don't have passports, and don't have much use for diversity, either.

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