There are fun exploitable ambiguities, like how Russian Romani činel means both "cut down, mow" and "write." Or how English "enjoin" means itself and its opposite.

But then there are ambiguities that confuse me, make it impossible to know what you mean, and generally leave me feeling like a caveman trying to decide between cellphone providers. I submit that if you're writing about the languages of the balkans, you should just never use the word "Romanophone." That word means a) a speaker of a Romance language, b) a speaker of the Romanian language, c) a speaker of Romani, d) a speaker of Latin.

Any and all of these could come into play, in any and all combinations, when you're writing about Balkan languages. There have been people whose ancestors spoke Romance but now do not e.g. the Pannonians. There are the Albanians whose ancestors were bilingual in Latin at one point, but instead of switching to Latin like the ancestors of the Romanians, became monolingual in their local language. There are people in the Balkans, and in Romania even, who speak Romance languages other than Romanian. There have been Istroromanian-speaking Roma....

Why would you ever use the word "Romanophone" in this context unless you were secretly hoping that your ideas would remain a secret? Unless you were, say, trying to avoid taking a position as to whether Istroromanian, Aromanian and Meglenoromanian are separate languages from Romanian, the use of this word is about as graceful as a concussed ox trying to help a toddler rewire a fusebox.


When ideology is your alpha and your omega, when you are willing not only to believe an ideology but believe in it, abiding any charismatic charlatan or intellectual hipster if it will be of service not necessarily to the world but to the worldview, sacrificing intellectual rigor and moral instinct if need be, you are developing the capacity to feel like you have more important things to care about than a little bit of evil visited upon the innocent. When you yield all deeper moral interrogation to the demands of pure ideology, you are setting yourself up to behave sooner or later as an intellectual cripple and a smaller human being.

A curious irony

For Marx and Engels, Russia was the reactionary behemoth and America was the great hope of liberation. This is not something they teach you at school. In either country.

A Strange Case

The tale of Zionism and Fascism in the pre-war 30s is a weird, unpleasant and contradictory one. Parts of it have been told well enough, but not the whole. Very different historians have had very different ways of telling it very badly. This is in part because it is hard to see clearly when your view is obstructed by an enormous axe which you are forced to grind.

A good comprehensive book on this topic is sorely needed in a western language. It would need to take fascism into account for what it genuinely was: the only genuinely new political ideology of the 20th century, which influenced a broad array of movements with its centripetal power.

It would have to be written by somebody more interested in what actually happened rather than in either vilifying or beatifying the modern State of Israel. Somebody who couldn't be dragooned onto either side of the polemic war of attrition that has slowly engulfed all discussions of the history of Zionism. Somebody with a fanatical devotion to historical truth. Somebody able and willing to conduct tedious archival research in at least seven languages.

Good luck finding that somebody anywhere in the historiographic landscape of today.

Obi Wanna Go Craycray

I do not think Obi Wan is well. In Star Wars IV, he looks at R2D2 and says "I don't seem to remember ever owning a droid." I contend that this is a sign that he was coming undone, and was only saved from the more obvious signs of psychotic senility by Vader's murder. If you cannot remember the droid who saved your life on multiple occasions, you are very near that climactic moment where you will be seen dropping your pants in the poultry aisle of your local grocery store and proudly declaring yourself to be a poached egg.

Genesis, by Francis Carsac

By Francis Carsac
Translated from French by A.Z. Foreman

The ship circled the planet for the seventh time: vast desolate expanses, tremendously stirless mountains, empty plains. A lifeless and absolutely sterile world, it seemed, much like its only moon which had already been visited. There remained the seas.

The ship landed, and the exploratory pod disappeared into the surge of indefatigable waves licking the beach's pale sand. A few hours later, the skipper recorded the sensor reports: no trace of life, however small, could be detected in the wind-churned mass of liquid. The ocean nonetheless contained — in appreciable quantity — complex carbon compounds actinically synthesized under the young sun's rays.

The astronaut recorded in his log: "Star Z-221 — 44-767. Planet 3. Sterile. After spectroscopic examination of the sun it is safe to conclude for certain that the stage where life might have arisen has already passed. Other planets in the system are either too far or too near the sun. Average mineral wealth. System of no interest. Not to be revisited."

He carefully emphasized the final words.

"Great Thyophan," he sighed "those bumptious morons on the General Galactic Committee should understand once and for all that no expedition has ever once encountered life this far from the center! There must be something these stars at the periphery just don't have. Meanwhile the Exploration Service is sending poor guys like us out for months and years to do the work of biologists!"

On the beach, something seemed to be moving in the surf. Could the auto-analyzer have been mistaken? He stepped out to check, without his suit —which would be useless in this nontoxic atmosphere — with a simple respirator on his face. Sterile air, at any rate. Absolutely sterile. He took a few steps onto the beach, thinking: these will be the first and the last footprints ever to mark this sand. All that was floating in the spume was a mucus of organic compounds in which the detector could not, even at close range, discern any sign of life. Then, his mind now at ease and full of contempt, he spat into the sea.


Pour la septième fois, l’astronef fit le tour de la planète : de vastes étendues désolées, des chaînes de montagnes formidablement immobiles, des plaines vides. Un monde sans vie, absolument stérile, semblait-il, comme son unique satellite, déjà visité. Restaient les mers.

L’astronef se posa, et, dans le déferlement inlassable des vagues qui léchaient le sable pâle de la plage disparut la torpille d’exploration. Quelques heures plus tard, le chef de bord enregistra le rapport des appareils : pas la moindre trace de vie n’avait pu être décelée, si infime soit-elle, dans cette masse liquide qu’agitait le vent. Cet océan contenait pourtant, et en quantité appréciable, des composés carbonés complexes, synthétisés par l’action actinique des rayons du jeune soleil.

Au journal de bord, l’astronaute consigna : « Étoile Z-221 – 44-767. Planète III. Stérile. L’examen du spectre de son soleil permet de conclure avec certitude que le stade où la vie aurait pu apparaître est déjà dépassé. Quant aux autres planètes, elles sont ou trop loin ou trop près du soleil. Richesses minérales moyennes. Système sans intérêt. À ne pas revisiter. »

Soigneusement, il souligna les derniers mots.

« Grand Thyophan, soupira-t-il. Ces imbéciles prétentieux du Comité Central Galactique devraient bien finir par comprendre que jamais aucune expédition n’a rencontré de vie si loin du Centre ! Il doit manquer quelque chose à ces soleils de la Périphérie. Et nous, pauvres bougres du Service d’Exploration, on nous expédie au loin pendant des mois et des années, pour faire le travail des biologistes ! »

Sur la grève, quelque chose sembla bouger, dans le ressac. L’analyseur automatique se serait-il trompé ? Il sortit pour vérifier, sans scaphandre, inutile dans cette atmosphère non toxique, un simple respirateur sur le haut de la face. Un air stérile, en tous cas. Absolument stérile. Il fit quelques pas sur la plage, pensant : les premiers et les derniers qui se marqueront jamais dans ce sable. Dans l’écume flottait seulement une glaire de composés organiques dans laquelle le détecteur ne put, à bout portant, déceler trace de vie. Alors, la conscience tranquille et plein de mépris, il cracha dans la mer.

Another Day in the Life, by Marcel Battin

This story was written in 1958, when the post-atomic horror genre was really febrile in Science Fiction.

Another Day In The Life
By Marcel Battin
Translated from French by A.Z. Foreman

I wanna go play with my brother, so when mom says I gotta go check the traps I say "genetic" to her and of course she smacks me like she always does when I say a bad word. But it doesn't matter cause she's not real strong anyhow and I'm used to it.
Well anyway, she's right and if I don't go check the traps we're not gonna eat and I'm gonna be hungry soon. Dad doesn't say nothing cause he hasn't been able to talk for a long time. Without mom seeing me I kick him when I pass him. He really grosses me out with his scabs and blisters that don't heal and stink when they pop. So I tell Roger to come and we go check the traps.
Turns out we got five rats, and believe me that's great. Ever since we had the idea of setting traps next to the bone mounds in the underground tunnel, we've been eating till we're full. Even Dad eats all he wants now. Cause before when we were trapping in caves and holes sometimes there was just one for everybody, and when mom wasn't looking me and Roger would chomp Dad's share. Not like it was much of a risk anyhow cause he can't talk. And oh man it was hilarious when mom shouted him out about eating too fast and eating the bones too. No wonder the sickness in his genetics never got better.
We come back to our cave and of course mom's happy with us. She says we're good kids, but not always and we should listen more. We don't say nothing. Looks like we're really gonna stuff ourselves. We skin the rats and can't stop laughing at how dad's eyes boink out of his head watching us do it. He eats a whole one and we crack up seeing him jump around on the ground, which means he wants some more. Mom gives him another half of one, but says that's all. 
After that it's playtime, so me and Roger go down into the underground tunnel. We see who can walk fastest on the metal strips. At one point Roger's foot touches ground. He thinks I didn't see it but I did, so I won. Then we run some and go inside the machine. 
It's there on the metal strips, balancing on the round things. When we found it we wanted to live there but mom didn't wanna cause of the air flow. Me and Roger go inside and sit on the benches and sleep some. I jump awake when I hear Roger crying cause a rat bit his hand. I squeeze the wound to bleed it, without paying attention to my brother's yelling, and I spit on it like mom taught us to do. 
Then we come out of the tunnel and play hide and seek, but not far cause there are so many hiding places we might not find each other and that wouldn't be funny.
When we're done we go to the Tower. Roger climbs a lot slower than me so I give him a head start but that doesn't matter cause I still get to the deck a while before him. From up there you can look real far and it's always just as pretty I think. Just a bunch of holes and humps and huge heaps of rock all jumbled every which way. I look at the big ditch too. Mom said it used to be a river. I'd really like to see a river someday. Then we go down the broken side of the Tower that touches the ground pretty far from there. 
Me and Roger are covered with red dust, so we go take a bath in a water hole and dry ourselves in the sun. Before we go back we check the traps we have in another part of the underground tunnel pretty close to the Tower (the Eyeful Tower as mom calls it.)
We got three more rats.
When we come back mom's all crying. Dad's stopped moving, and his eyes are open and all covered with flies. Well seeing as how she isn't much good for anything when she's crying like that, which happens a lot, we wrap dad up in some old rags and start carrying him. It sorta pisses us off to carry him all the way to the tunnel, cause we're tired, but if we leave him here he's gonna stink the place up so bad we can't take it, and then mom's gonna yell about how we didn't bury him and all the evil that's gonna bring. 
It's almost night when we come back and we figure with bait like that in the metro tunnel, there are gonna be rats everywhere. Me and Roger are gonna have to make some more traps tomorrow. We tell mom we definitely buried him and that we said some prayers over him. 
After we've had dinner we kneel for prayer time, and then we go to bed and sleep.  

Un Jour Comme Un Autre

Moi je veux aller jouer avec mon frère, alors quand maman me dit d'aller voir les pièges je lui dis « génétique » et naturellement, comme chaque fois que je dis un gros mot, je reçois une gifle. Mais ça fait rien elle a pas de force et puis j'ai l'habitude.
Dans le fond maman elle a pas tort, et si je vais pas aux pièges on mangera pas et moi je sens que j'aurai bientôt faim. Papa y dit rien parce qu'il peut plus parler depuis longtemps. Sans que maman me voye j'y donne un coup de pied en passant. Y me dégoûte avec ses croûtes et ses cloques qui guérissent pas et qui puent quand elles crèvent. Alors, je dis à Rogé de venir et on va aux pièges.
Cinq rats qu'on relève et je vous assure que c'est beau ; depuis qu'on a eu l'idée de piéger à côté des montagnes d'os qu'il y a dans le tunnel souterrain, on mange à notre faim. Même que papa y mange maintenant son entier, parce qu'avant, quand on piégeait dans les caves ou dans les trous, des fois y en avait qu'un pour tout le monde, et quand maman regardait pas, avec Rogé on lui fauchait sa part à papa. On risquait rien puisque y parle pas, et qu'est-ce qu'on se marrait quand maman l'engueulait qu'y bouffait trop vite et les os avec, que c'était pas étonnant qu'il guérisse pas de sa génétique de maladie.
Quand on revient dans notre cave maman est contente vous pensez, on est des bons garçons qu'elle dit mais pas toujours, qu'on devrait être plus obéissants. Nous on dit rien, on pense qu'on va s'en mettre jusque-là et on dépiaute les rats en rigolant parce que les yeux de papa y lui sortent de la tête en nous regardant faire. Il en mange un entier et nous on se tient les côtes en voyant les sauts qu'y fait par terre, ça veut dire qu'il en veut encore. Maman lui en donne encore la moitié d'un mais pas plus qu'elle dit.
Après avec Rogé on s'en va jouer et on descend dans le tunnel souterrain. On joue à celui qui marchera le plus vite sur les tiges de fer. Au bout d'un moment Rogé met un pied par terre y croit que je l'ai pas vu mais je l'ai vu, alors j'ai gagné. Alors on court un peu et on monte dans la machine.
Elle est posée sur les tiges de fer, en équilibre sur des choses rondes. Nous quand on l'a trouvée on voulait y habiter, mais maman a pas voulu à cause des courants d'air. “Avec Rogé on rentre dedans et on s’assoit sur les bancs et on dort un peu. Moi je me réveille en sursaut et c'est Rogé qui a crié parce qu'un rat l'avait mordu à la main. Je presse la plaie pour le faire saigner, sans m'occuper des hurlements de mon frère, et je crache dessus comme maman nous a dit de le faire.
Après on sort du tunnel et on joue à se cacher mais pas loin, y a tellement de cachettes qu'on se trouverait pas et ça serait pas drôle.
Quand on en a assez on va à la Tour. Rogé grimpe bien moins vite que moi alors je lui laisse prendre de l'avance mais ça fait rien, j'arrive sur la plate-forme un bon moment avant lui. De là-haut on regarde et moi je trouve que c'est toujours aussi beau. Rien que des trous et des bosses, avec d'énormes tas de pierres empilées n'importe comment. Je regarde aussi le grand fossé. Maman nous a dit qu'autrefois c'était un fleuve, et moi je voudrais bien en voir un, de fleuve. Et puis on redescend par le côté cassé de la Tour, qui rejoint le sol à une bonne distance de là.
Moi et Rogé on est plein de poussière rouge, alors on va se laver dans un trou d'eau et on se laisse sécher au soleil. Avant de rentrer on va voir les pièges qu'on a à un autre endroit du tunnel souterrain, pas loin de la Tour (la Tourèfèle, comme maman elle l'appelle).
Et trois rats de plus qu'on relève.
Quand on rentre y a maman qui pleure et papa qui bouge plus avec les yeux ouverts et plein de mouches dessus. Comme elle est bonne à rien quand elle pleure et ça lui arrive souvent, on attrape papa avec des vieux chiffons et on le monte.
Ça nous embête de le traîner jusqu'au tunnel, parce qu'on est fatigués, mais si on le laisse là il va encore plus puer et on va plus pouvoir y tenir, et maman elle gueulera qu'on l'a pas enterré et que ça nous portera malheur.
Y fait presque nuit quand on revient et on se dit qu'avec un appât pareil dans le tunnel du métro, les rats y vont s'amener de partout. Avec Rogé demain y va falloir qu'on fabrique quelques pièges de plus. À maman on dit bien sûr qu'on l'a enterré et qu'on a mis des pierre dessus.
Quand on a mangé on se met à genoux pour la prière, et puis on se couche et on dort.