Archive for December 11th, 2010

The Prince And The Paupers

Western Europe is entering an interesting period.

World War I collapsed the last of the aristocratic dynasties that had dominated the region for more than a millennia; those that survived were vestigial, without real power or influence. And out of the rubble of World War II emerged democratic-socialist states that sought, for the first time, to secure “the four freedoms” for all people living within their borders. The nations of Western Europe united as a common entity, a notion that Napoleon tried to bring into the real through force of arms, and that George Orwell, in full Eeyore mode, in the late 1940s pronounced unachiev-able . . . well, it has, in fact, been achieved.

Today, however, in a world of diminishing resources, and with Western European na-tions maintaining neg-ative population growth, there is arriving an era described in varying ways as one of “austerity.” Governments are declaring that some dearly beloved social-welfare programs are no longer sustainable. These range from the truncated work week and early retirement age of France, to generous government subsidies for university students in Great Britain.

How European peoples are responding to these measures tracks roughly established national character. In France, a country known for pouring 100,000 people into the streets to disfavor the arrest of a prostitute, millions of citizens rhythmically shut down Paris over a period of months, to protest one two-year hike in the retirement age, and another to qualify for full pension benefits. In England, by contrast, opposition has been confined to bloviation, with occasional rude outbursts of boorish behavior by street yobs, a la A Clockwork Orange.

And so on Thursday, some ruffians out and about to say “no” to increased tuition fees, set upon a Rolls Royce limousine bearing Charles and Camilla of Great Britain, shouting “off with their heads,” splattering the vehicle with paint, pelting it with rubbish, and thrusting a stick through an open window to jab Camilla in the ribs.

My, my.

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When I Worked

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