Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Don't ask don't tell" is a problem only because Americans chose to turn it into one

Americans don't do subtle. The expression wearing your heart on your sleeve for Americans applies to everything, everything has to be worn on the outside, including your religion, your private life and people think your are weird if you don't. When Tony Blair was asked why he would not talk more about his faith he replied "I don't want people to think I am a nutter." This very British approach would be lost on Americans. If you are religious you have to tell everyone, if you breastfeed you have to do it in the middle of a crowded restaurant so that everyone knows, if you don't drink or smoke you have to lecture everyone about it. This brings us to gays in the army.

I always thought "Don't ask don't tell" was an intelligent and pragmatic solution to a thorny issue. You don't judge my private life, I don't rub it in your face. Let us be realistic, soldiers are not among the most enlightened people around, there is a very strong chance that quite a few of them are homophobic. Is our goal really to reeducate a whole class of people which are already doing a difficult job, on the benefits of progress and a liberal mind?

One might argue this is unacceptable, society has to move forward, one should not condone intolerance and bigotry. The argument would continue saying that otherwise one would say that desegregation should not have happened since the feelings of Southern whites might have been hurt. It is different, segregation applied to a person's entire life, we are not advocating "Don't ask don't tell" as a blanket policy everywhere, only in very specific circumstances of a very specific and unique job, a job that affects a tiny percentage of the population.

I see a similarity in saying, I have the right to walk in the most dangerous part of town in the middle of the night, dressed in bright yellow with 100 dollar bills pinned on my jacket and come out safely. Considering this statement ridiculous does it mean that we condone crime? Certainly not, we just say that one has to be realistic. The state does its bit by trying to protect normal citizens going around their business, the citizen does his bit by not being stupid with the above request. "Don't ask don't tell" was a way of being pragmatic and a reminder of how Clinton could be a great politician.

Leaving all reasoning aside, I have another feeling. Advocates of the ban talk about "The right of men and women to serve their country .... ". My feeling is that gay men and women who really want to serve their country they do it keeping their private life private, advocates of the ban are just troublemakers who want to make a statement. I am always doubtful of decisions made with an argument that at the end boils down to "Why not?".

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The bitter after taste of the Kerviel affair

Behind the ferocity with which the French population treated the women who had slept with Germans after the war, one could see the frustration of men who wished had done something but instead cowardly stayed on the side.

I cannot but see something similar in the sad affair of Jerome Kerviel. First of all the punishment. What does it mean to make him pay the entire sum he lost, reducing him to a life of bankruptcy? It really looks like the shortsighted thinking of the housewife "he lost (stole) all this money and he has to pay it back". It does not work like that. If one accepts a certain system (and the French broadly speaking they do) one accepts that Jerome Kerviel was not playing with his own money and yes, even if he lost it, he has not to pay it back from his own pocket. A reckless container ship captain will be punished but will never be made to pay for the replacement of the container ship he lost.

I hate what the Italians call "dietrologia" (more or a less a penchant for conspiracy theories) but I wholly agree that someone else must have know and kept quiet when things were going well. It is unbelievable that he was made to bear the brunt of the punishment all by himself. Where is the officer spirit? A superior should always be punished and it is this responsibility that should justify a superior's role, authority and rewards. Nowhere this is better expressed than in the support the troops offer to their major in the Bridge over the River Kwai. There was only finger pointing where there should have been hand wringing. The pointing was done in only one direction.

And finally something else which is only a feeling, but I feel it strongly. BNP and SocGen are outstanding institutions and world class players. Having said that they are no Goldman or Morgan Stanley, when the going was good they played second fiddle to the American giants which means that rewards and compensation were dished out accordingly. Was everyone balancing this with the supposedly warmer working environment (of which I am not even sure) of a European bank? I doubt, there must have been some resentment. It seems to me that the punishment of Jerome Kerviel is a way of venting this frustration. Shaving a woman's head is easier than shooting a German.