Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Million Little Pinpricks

Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
On my way in to work this morning on the bus, I came across this story, published in Le Parisien (apologies; article is in French).

20 millions d'euros, 2,50 m de haut... Cette « clôture antiballes » devrait s'ériger à l'automne afin de répondre à la menace terroriste. La circulation sera aussi modifiée.

Apparently, the famous Eiffel Tower, one of the top tourist landmarks in the world and erstwhile icon of the City of Light, is set to undergo a "mondernisation" beginning this autumn. Included in the works will be works to improve the traffic circulation, to facilitate more efficient access, reduce the queues, and a 3 metre bulletproof wall surrounding the square to mitigate against terrorism. The cost will be about twenty million Euros.

Personally, following a couple of years living in Paris, I am somewhat ambivalent about the Dame de Fer. Yes; it's an icon of the city, albeit one that draws almost equal parts affection and snark from the locals. Like other foreigners in France, I've made the trek to the top and taken pictures of the city (the view from the top is indeed spectacular). I've not yet taken a kitschy, distorted picture on the Champ de Mars of me "holding' the tower.

But the building of an ugly, glass barrier around the nearly century and a half old tower saddens me, as it is one more blow to civility and quality of life.

Paris, perhaps more than any other Western city over the past five years, has endured its share of horrific terrorist attacks. The assassination of cartoonists at the weekly Charlie Hebdo (see HERE and HERE), threats against Jewish schools that followed and resulted in armed soldiers placed outside schools, the November 2015 massacre across the city, including a nightclub and football stadium. Just last week, a terrorist attacked a French soldier in the entrance to the Musée du Louvre.

Each of these (and other) actions of course, provokes a reaction from civil authorities. Newton's First Law is not exact in the area of politics, so one could argue that the reactions were equal and/or opposite. But each results in a loss of freedom for law-abiding citizens, and a further, tiny erosion of the quality of life.

We are now forced to take off our shoes to board an airplane; we no longer are allowed to the gates at the airport to see family and friends off when they fly. Soldiers police our public transit lines and sport venues. Your bags will be searched in many locations. Following the attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin this past December, further security - including searches - was introduced at the Villages de Noel in Paris.

You want to sample some vin chaud or perhaps buy some artisanal items for the holidays? Please step this way so a soldier can check you first.

Our daily lives are becoming less human, and it's death by a thousand pin pricks rather than cuts.

I am not a naïf, and I understand the need for us to be as "safe" as possible. I have an eleven year old son and a family whom I do not want to be stabbed, shot, blown up, or driven over with a giant box truck, so I accept each tiny prick.

But a glass wall around the Eiffel Tower? In a city where Rousseau and Voltaire argued enlightenment values? Is this one a bridge too far?

I am reminded of the 1979 film, "Network," where the fictitious news reader Howard Beal has a nervous breakdown on camera, and rants in the now iconic minute and forty-one second diatribe. "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore."

I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!'

Thinking about the now 40 year old speech, I wonder at what point do we as a civilisation stop accepting that slowly, the world in which we are living is getting smaller and smaller. When do we say "I'm a human being god damn it, and my life has value?"

A lot of noise has been made over the past week or so about the clumsy way in which the US president issued an order temporarily restricting the entry of people from seven foreign countries. I am personally ambivalent about the order, as it is obviously a ham-fisted, ill-planned effort that swept many people into the net who had no business being caught up in the confusion (for example, green card and other permanent residents). But I am not swayed by the arguments that people living in a foreign land have an inalienable right to enter the US. Our immigration and visa laws exist for the benefit of people who are here. Period. Those of us here do have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with a minimum amount of government interference.

It is regrettable that a few hundred people have been inconvenienced.  But we have got to be smart as a nation. There are literally millions of people in the US whom the authorities charged with monitoring have no idea who they are, where they are, or in fact, how many they are. It is a fact (pointed out, ironically, by critics) that those who have carried out all of the terrorist attacks in the US have been legally admitted with visas. The individual who was shot in the Louvre in Paris was, in fact, a legal visitor on a tourist visa.

Plainly, the system is not working. We have to balance the desires of people to visit with the rights of those of us here not to be confronted with bullet proof walls around the Eiffel Tower. Some are OK with the cameras, the barriers, and the soldiers.

Which pin prick will be the final one, and will we even recognise it when it happens?

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