On Clownfish and the Orange Octopus

DRAGUIGNAN, France – My global ocean saga will have to wait. I got sidetracked by TV, watching a blow-dried clownfish interview an orange octopus who seems oblivious to the hammerhead shark circling around, sizing him up as a lunchtime snack.

As Tucker Carlson tossed puffballs at Donald Trump on Fox “News” last week, their exchange on tiny Montenegro shed harsh light on how isolated so many Americans have become from the actual world – and how few seem troubled by the perils of ignorance.

Stick with me; this is about much more than Montenegro. But let's start there.

“They're very aggressive people,” Trump said. Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, in fact, was gently accommodating when Trump aggressively shoved him aside without a word or even a glance to bull forward for a group photo at the Brussels NATO summit last year.

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Extra: Treason, Pure and Simple — Now What?

WILD OLIVES, France — When Redcoats landed at Boston to quell an upstart revolution, as the poem goes, Paul Revere galloped from Lexington shouting, “The British are coming!” A militia mobilized swiftly, and today Americans don't have to drink tea every day at 4 o'clock.

Imagine that now. “Fake news,” a mob mutters, piling sticks at a stake to burn a Rachel Maddow ancestor. “Quiet,” guys shout, watching the Patriots' Jedediah Brady heave a leather ball. Others fight over who gets to play the fife. A merchant raises the price of Union Jacks. Kids wait for someone to invent smart phones so that they can exchange selfies when the fun starts.

For what they're worth, here are some real-news observations from an old-crocodile reporter after what may be the most ignominious five days the United States has seen since the Civil War.

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Empty Seas: One

ALASSIO, Italy - If you hate those salted fishy slivers on pizza, Giuseppe Cormaci has encouraging news. Mediterranean anchovies tanked this year. But that means you won't find much succulent sea bass, branzino, let alone bluefin tuna. Try, perhaps, linguine alle jellyfish?

“The anchovy catch is down by half,” Cormaci told me. Adjusting his battered hat, he continued, with the rueful smile of an unconvinced optimist: “It might get better again. Then again, it might collapse entirely.”

Like the name on his 24-foot boat — Lupo — he is a lone wolf. His son helped for two seasons but quit to tend bar on the beach. With the few euros' profit left after fuel, repairs and nets during a 90-hour week, he can't pay a crew. At 50, he belongs to an endangered species: the artisan fisherman.

The sea he knew so well is now full of surprise. Warming water brings jellyfish plagues, including the venomous Portuguese man o' war. A great white shark just cruised the Spanish island of Majorca. Mostly, he sees high-tech foreign trawlers scoop out whatever they find.

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Dietary Thoughts for the News-Hungry

PARIS – The noble ostrich is impressive to watch loping along an African savannah at 50 miles an hour, but its survival strategy needs work. With head in the sand and tail in the air, it risks ending up skinned for some rich guy’s cowboy boots or maybe a Mar-a-Lago golf bag.

My recent piece about the White House jihad on truth prompted one reader to remark that Donald Trump’s slurs resonate because “the msm (mainstream media) is no longer trustworthy or helpful.” Big news companies make up a single collective to be dismissed out of hand. 

Here’s a parallel: The smc (supermarket chains) no longer provide nutritious food. Of course, they do. Choice is up to each shopper. Those who load up their carts with only Twinkies and canned spaghetti can hardly blame the store.

The “mainstream” is shot full of failings, but its broad reach provides essential basic coverage. That’s a start. Countless other sources add detail, verify or dispute facts, fill in context and sketch human backdrops. Anyone who fails to grasp global realities isn’t trying hard enough.

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Tour de France (a nearly Trump-free Dispatch – and No Bicycles)

BEAUNE, France - Tête de noeud, meaning dickhead, describes a lot of French labor leaders and bosses. Now they're playing chicken over train service. But the strawberries are ripe, and spring lambs are fat on clover, so I drove backroads from Provence to Paris, stopping at any excuse to investigate life in a socialist gulag run by silk-tie capitalists.

Any wine snob will recognize this dateline. The Hospices de Beaune auction each year offers velvety Burgundy vintages, redder than the Wyoming voters who can afford them. And their origin says much about France.

A nobleman named Nicolas Rolin built the splendid Hôtel-Dieu, with its colorful tiled roof, as a hospital for poor people and war veterans. He gave vineyards to the church to pay for free medical care. That was 50 years before Columbus happened upon America.

I've lived in France way too long for any illusions. It is often infuriating. No one anywhere is more galling than a prime French connard. A butthead. Yet there is also the opposite extreme. Beware of any sentence beginning, “France is…” Yet some basics apply.

Fraternité is iffy, and Liberté is getting stressed a bit. Egalité, however, is anchored in stone. Small-s socialism means you can be vastly rich, but you don't brag about it. Safety nets – human rights, not charity – keep people from starving or dying from lack of care.

That extends to politics. Short campaigns have strict rules and evenly shared TV time. Nicolas Sarkozy, who lived high in the Elysées, could be jailed for 10 years if convicted of taking funds from Muammar Qaddafi (who he later helped depose). Corruption is hardly unknown in France, but here you can get punished for it.

And that’s why unions, maddening as they are, are crucial. They keep big business and state from tipping a delicate balance.

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Photo © Alison Harris. www.alisonharris.com

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