Thursday, 19 May 2011

Super-Cannes, Now!

"In the hills above Cannes, a European elite has gathered in the business-park Eden-Olympia, a closed society that offers its privileged residents luxury homes, private doctors, private security forces, their own psychiatrists, and other conveniences required by the modern businessman." Wikipedia

Super-Cannes is the name of a 2000 J.G. Ballard award-winning novel.

I won't tell you the details of the novel, as I highly recommend it: no one reads a story after knowing the details of its plot or how it ends.

Still, I will advance that it's a story about violence, crime, madness and highly unusual suspects. You know, the pillars-of-society kind of suspects.

If you have read the novel, you'll understand why Ben Stein's piece on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, is powerfully evocative of Super-Cannes.

Being fair with Mr. Stein: he reminds his readers that "in this country, we have the presumption of innocence for the accused."

Fair enough. Mr. Stein is right on that: Mr. Strauss-Kahn has the right of being presumed innocent. He also has the right to have his human rights protected, and to be placed in safety. Mr. Strauss-Kahn's health must be a concern for his custodians.

Although less clear, Mr. Stein might also have some reason asking why Mr. Strauss-Kahn was sent to Rikers Island, instead of "been given home detention with a guard".

But if Mr. Stein intentions were only to advocate for moderation and impartiality, then why cast doubt on the hotel chambermaid?

And this is what Mr. Stein does here:
"People accuse other people of crimes all of the time. What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman's word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail? Putting a man in Riker's is serious business. Maybe more than a few minutes of investigation is merited before it's done."
I'm no professional writer, but as a reader, Mr. Stein's protestations of love and admiration for hotel chambermaids, when paired with denunciations of lunacy, dishonesty, and irresponsibility sound not only dubious and disingenuous, but also cumbersome and unconvincing. It sounds like Mr. Stein is trying really hard to appear sympathetic to chambermaids, in spite of their unworthiness.

So, even if I am no professional writer, I will try to help Mr. Stein with this awkward problem. The first thing he needs to realize is that no law requires him to love and admire chambermaids or anyone else.

I've known personally chambermaids and on occasion I had to work with them. And I have no difficulty saying that I don't love each and every one of them. Neither do I believe they all are wonderful human beings, or beautiful, or smart or anything, for that matter.

Some of them are alright, some others are not.

See? No need to feel guilty about that.

But if Mr. Stein is ineffectual pretending a sympathy he can't feel, he's much more ineffectual hiding his true sympathies:

"In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category? Maybe Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty but if so, he is one of a kind, and criminals are not usually one of a kind."
 "In what possible way is the price of the hotel room relevant except in every way: this is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that's what it's all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He's got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine." (My underlined in both paragraphs)
So, what Mr. Stein appears to be desperate, but unable, to say is that it's the word of a chambermaid, a has-not, a nobody, against the word of a big time economist, a has-a-lot, someone who is one of a kind. And that should be enough for you.

So, again, it's not difficult to say, Mr. Stein.

What you seem to believe is simply the logical conclusion of the notion of meritocracy: you get what you deserve, and if you get little, you're fucked, and it's your own fault. Isn't that what inequality is all about?

And there's an even easier way to say it. As Mark Taibbi, from Rolling Stone, put it admirably: "crime is defined not by what you did, but by who you are". Which sounds a lot like Super-Cannes.

As for me, I'll say it simply: I don't know what happened between the chambermaid and Mr. Strauss-Kahn. And Mr. Strauss-Kahn has rights.

But to the chambermaid I'll say: if you feel you were the victim of a crime, fight for your rights, because you have rights, too. And you have also earned my admiration, not because I love all chambermaids, like Mr. Stein, but because it takes guts to stand against the powerful.


Some bloggers took the trouble of answering Mr. Stein's question ("can anyone tell me any economists who were convicted of violent sex crimes?"). See:

Answering Ben Stein's Question.


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