Today, towards the end of the afternoon, I walked down the hallway of our institute to chill for a few minutes in the sun that shone strongly through the bay windows of the lobby. I got a coffee and sat down at one of the wooden tables, greeted by several recent newspapers. Included with this weekend's Le Monde was the New York Times supplement, English content deemed fit to win the hearts and broaden the minds of the French.
My idling mind – I was on a coffee break, after all – was gripped by the line "Certain Grown Men Find Delight Rises With Rockets", below the fold but on the front page. The story was about a bunch of self-proclaimed nerds meeting in Nevada to shoot home-made rockets into the sky. I was reminded of a ballisticist friend of mine in Utah and looking forward to reading about him and his baby, Dasypygal, but they were apparently not there. (Once the googlebot comes by, this will be the only page on the known web to have the words ballisticist and dasypygal in it.)
I leafed over and was treated to Thomas Friedman's ineludible opinion. I own one of his books (purchased in off-season Malta when I was dead-bored at night), but there's only so much I can take of his I-understand-the-world-and-will-explain-it-to-you-so-be-quiet attitude. He's oftentimes dead-on when interpreting current events, but sometimes so positively wrong that it is frightening.
Such a day was today. Friedman denounces the disintegration of "Iraq in the heart of the Arab world, with its destabilizing impact on oil prices and terrorism", ably demonstrating why Americans are loathed in some parts of the world. With stupefying arrogance he predicts his own future problems but is blind to Iraq's present. The situation there has first and foremost a destabilizing effect, to put it mildly, on those who live there in chaos and amidst the violence of civil war, those who might still keep the hope that the US will, one of these days, accomplish its mission and bring freedom and democracy to the country.
I could have got all worked up, but I only had a few minutes before returning to my test tubes. I moved on and my eyes fell on this lovely title: "Freedom To Insult Needs Protection". Though the column was written with acute self-interest, deploring the difficulty to do good journalism in a country (Iraq, again) that has made it illegal to "publicly insult the government or public officials", I couldn't agree more.
The staggering number of people that eagerly declared themselves deeply offended by all sorts of trivial things was the major gripe I had during my last few years in Utah when life was truly splendid. Back then, no one defended the right to offend. In fact, people were defending the offended, one had to judiciously pick one's words, and an open discussion was often made impossible, certainly for public figures.
Luckily, Utah is reasonably civilized. Despite insults being perceived left and right, no embassies were ever stormed and no Danish flags burned. That is more than can be said for other, more brain-washed parts of this world where dissonant opinions are grave insults and broadened minds are a criminal offense. It's certainly not the French that need the New York Times supplement.