Thursday, March 31, 2005

A nation's priorities

I'm a firm believer in learning about a people and their culture through the small things. Sure the French are whiney smokers and Americans obese capitalists, but these are such easy stereotypes. What you need to look for are the details which reveal just a little bit more about each country. I find the grocery store aisles to be particularly revealing of a nation's priorities. The French, for example, have a rather large yogurt aisle which normally runs into or is found across from the dairy section. The yogurt selection ranges from organic basic yogurt to fruity milk products with only traces of yogurt. But any point on the spectrum tastes better than its equivalent in the US. (the same goes for chocolate which represents a rather large wall at the grocer's.) The dairy section is, as you can imagine, mostly cheese. But oh what a selection! It sure beats Velveeta or Cheez Whiz!

By the way, if you're ever in the French supermarket Monoprix, the toilet paper is by the wine, coke and water, it's not by the facial tissues and diapers. Must be an essentials vs non-essentials thing.

On the other hand, American supermarkets are dominated by the cereal aisle. Have you ever seen such a sight? What choice! Americans clearly take their cereal seriously. Unfortunately, the majority of them are simply colored crunchy sugar. French cereal (which normally occupy less space than the chocolates) ranges from sweet granola to chocolate versions of every other major cereal grain (oats, rice, corn, etc.) This comes, undoubtedly, from the rich French heritage of a bowl of hot chocolate for breakfast. The Marshall Plan introduced breakfast cereals to the Europeans. I guess the chocolate versions was their way of making it "French."


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

From the "you gotta be kidding me" file...

Is it possible that the individuals who expressed support through emails to the Schindler family are now regretting it? That's quite possible according to an editorial in Monday's Washington Post. It seems the Schindler family...
"...have authorized a conservative direct-mailing firm to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups.

"'These compassionate pro-lifers donated toward Bob Schindler's legal battle to keep Terri's estranged husband from removing the feeding tube from Terri,' says a description of the list on the Web site of the firm, Response Unlimited, which is asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses of people who responded last month to an e-mail plea from Ms. Schiavo's father. 'These individuals are passionate about the way they value human life, adamantly oppose euthanasia and are pro-life in every sense of the word!'

"Privacy experts said the sale of the list was legal and even predictable, if ghoulish."

I'm speechless.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Declaration banned in school !?!

The previous posts offer ample evidence that the culture wars of the United States often play themselves out in the nation's classrooms. Students, teachers, school board members and parents are often drawn into heated debates about the curriculum used in schools. The US, as you may or may not know, is one of the few (if not the only) country in the world without a set of national standards for subjects like history. Math and the sciences are easier to agree on (except for the E word!), but history is all about identity and values. The federal government has left the history standards up to the states, which many in turn have left up to districts, which many in turn have left up to local school boards, which are comprised of parents in the community. History "standards," in other words, can vary wildly from region to region. All this is fine and dandy until parent A's (mostly religious) values conflict with parent B's. Or until a teacher with one set of religious values decides to make them part of the curriculum. Naturally, we have a story to illustrate this point.

Since this story is akin to a Corneillian tragedy, let's make like Corneille and paint the characters before the action begins:

* Stevens Creek Elementary School : California public elementary school, total enrollment - 642
* Steven Williams : Fifth-grade teacher at Steven's Creek and a professed Christian (since 2001)
* Patti Vidmar : Steven's Creek principal (a Catholic)
* Alliance Defense Fund: conservative (read as: religious) group suing school district
* The Easter Assignment : a real winner (scroll down to read comments if you want an idea of how polarized this type of debate is)

This is the kind of hot button issue that just polarizes debate in the US today. A simple google search shows dozens of articles and blog entries that react at a gut level to the issues involved without reading up on the facts. But as has often been the case when arguing with extremists, the facts are irrelevant. Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for being willing to sift through the facts right on a potentially explosive issue.

Additional note: California HAS state history standards and they DO acknowledge a national Judeo-Christian heritage. Interesting.


Monday, March 28, 2005

Easter thought - Creation v. Evolution (part II)

Here's a very interesting (i.e. challenging) comment left on our blog concerning our latest posting on 'Easter thought : Creation v. Evolution' to which I would like to respond :
I sympathize with much of what you've written here--and am not inclined to argue about the rest--but here's what's problematic about a straight-up evolutionary history of creation:Evolution depends on death. Yet Biblically death entered creation after the original work of creation was finished.This isn't a question of whether the Bible can be read scientifically. It's a question of whether death and life are of a piece, whether unrighteousness and righteousness have fellowship or light and dark have communion.
Genesis itself does not state that death entered the world after the fall, and in fact if animals (especially carnivorous ones) lived and moved before the Fall, it is likely that something else had to die - even if the bible gives no explicit account on how animals and humans behaved. (unless those animals 'evolved' into carnivorous ones after the Fall)
In the same way, it also seems that pain must have been part of human life before the Fall as God to Even said 'I will increase your pain in childbearing' (Gen. 3:16) ['increase' implies previous existence].
Through man's original sin, evil entered the world, and the question may very well be whether death and/or pain were evil in pre-Fall creation. There is nothing in the bible showing that carnivorous activity by various animal species is the result of human sin and not that of God's goodness. It is all a question of perspective. Hugh Ross, in his great book "The Genesis Question" suggests that physical death can be seen as 'a tool for reastraining the spread of evil, and that wicked people are limited by death in the amount of people they can torture or kill.' (p.99). So one can argue that even if detah and pain existed before the falln it good still have been the result of God's goodness and not that of man's sin.
Another point is that 'evil' clearly existed before the fall of Adam and Eve. Satan's rebellion against God existed before the Fall, which means that spiritual death (i.e. spiritual separation from God) had already occured.
As for the famous passage in Romans 5:12, when Paul talks of death as the result of sin, one can easily see through context that he was referreing to 'spitirtual death' resulting from our broken relationship with God.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter thought - Creation v. Evolution.

Lately there’s been a lot of controversy about the use of religion in U.S. politics and for making legislation based on religious principles – the Terri Schiavo case being the last skirmish in the ongoing cultural battle to put Christianity at the heart of legislation and politics.

As much as the whole controversy over the presence of the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol in Texas is of little significance (it is right that ‘the efforts to secure some sort of quasi-official recognition of Christianity or "Judeo-Christianity" as America' faith’ is nothing to worry about – as Matthew Yglesias says it), but on the other hand , when a science museum decides not to show an IMAX film because it refers to ‘evolution’, you may think there is way too much compromise made to evangelical populism.

Not only that, but in 19 states there are battles over the teaching of evolution in public schools by school boards with religious fundamentalist members who feel emboldened by the country's conservative currents and by President Bush, who angered many scientists and teachers by declaring that the jury is still out on evolution.

It as if we were back to the 1920s, when the ‘Monkey Trial exemplified the rift between Christians and non-Christians, when in fact it illustrated the gap between the fundamentalist Christians who were on the defensive for not being able to cope with an ever changing modern world they failed to understand and the progressives who were embracing modern ideas.
But even though the 'E word' has now become a dirty and infamous word in many evangelical circles, there are lots of Christians who do not have a problem with evolution and I am certainly one of them.

Now on this Easter Sunday, I have tried to reflect on the whole idea and I’m going to try to give my two-cent worth ‘theory’ which basically says that ‘Evolution’, which may be quite accurate as a scientific theory, bears not the slightest threat toward religion.

  • First the bible is intended to be read and understood by people living in eras spanning at least 3,500 years so in this post-Darwinian period we cannot have exactly the same thoughts that Augustine, Aquinas, or even that our grandparents and parents had. Today we need to recast all of theology in our new (ever changing) understating of the reality around us. Indeed the text of the Bible was composed in a pre-scientific age, so its primary goal is not to give a scientific account of the creation, and one has to take into account the social, cultural and historical conditions in which the books of the Bible were fashioned over thousands of years.
  • Second, translation is interpretation. So there are different ways to understand the same text. All texts can be subjected to critical analysis. English and French have more words than biblical Hebrew, so a word in ancient Hebrew has many meanings, and any linguist (see Lakoff) will tell you that there is always subjectivity in our understanding of words.
  • Third, one of the things we know about the nature of God is that He is a God of Love (John 1:16) and love never coerces. In other words, God is not a magician or a dictator and so it is sensible to say that there has to be room for indeterminacy in the universe, and the randomness in evolution can be one instance of it. This is why the idea of chance and evolution occuring is in accordance with the scriptures (and from a biblical perspective the primary cause is still God of course). This is also why it makes sense universe should not be finished all at once but remain eternally unchanged.
  • Fourth, if Genesis does clearly not give a scientific account of how the world came to be, it describes in just a few dozens sentences the sequential steps, in correct chronological order by which God prepared Earth for human habitation (the right initial conditions, the right events accurately described and correctly sequenced, and the right final conditions.) There is nothing in science contradicting the essence of the Genesis story.
  • Finally, it should not be forgotten that all Darwin's theories as well as modern sciences are the result of our Judeo-Christian culture. So science is no threat to Christianity and in the same way, Christianity should not be a threat to science or our civilization will fall into the darkest form of Taliban-like society.

Evolution makes sense to me because I believe in the power of reason and science. Now as far as my belief in the bible goes, it is based on something entirelly different - on a highly subjective (and personal) matter called 'Faith'.
Either you have it or you don't but there is no possible debate about that.


Saturday, March 26, 2005

Ill-informed people.

A poll published in Le Monde today shows that a greater majority of French people (55%) seem to favor a 'no' vote to the referendum on the Constitution. The most interesting development is that the N°1 reason (31%) for voting 'no' is the opposition to Turkey entering the Union which is most interesting since... the Turkey question has absolutely NOTHING to do with the Constitutional Treaty and a 'no' vote will make virtually no difference one way or the other.
Draw your own conclusion...


Friday, March 25, 2005

If you want to live longer, live in France!

The French media have celebrated encourageing news : at more than 80 years France has the second highest life expectancy in the world after Japan.
France's progress follows 60 years of steadily rising life expectancy, but the increase of the past two years has been unexpectedly fast. This improvement is said to be due to advances in the fight against cancer and heart disease, more extensive screening against diseases, and lower rates of smoking and alcoholism -- particularly among men. So it seems that prevention is the key word which makes a case for a good - albeit costly - healthcare system.
There is concern of ageing population drainning the economy but with a birth rate of 1.9 per woman, France is better positioned than most of its neighbours to cope with the imbalance.
In the U.S. life expectancy average is 77.2 years but there are predictions of a possible decline due to the increase of obesity in younger generations. Illnesses caused by obesity are already shortening the average U.S. life by at least four to nine months.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

The 'culture of life' propaganda.

Watching from Europe, the fuss about the Terri Schiavo case makes very little sense – especially at a time when the U.S. has so much on her hands already but if this case has drawn so much attention, it is because there is more to it than the ‘mere’ issue of euthanasia.
It is a symbol of the broader cultural and ideological war raging in the U.S. which is splitting the nation over other issues such as abortion, stem-cell research, prison reform or even evolution which were all at the center of the 2004 elections. The polarization over those issues has made it almost impossible to take into consideration the complexity of their moral implications. The thought of a life in a body that will not respond to thought is pretty horrifying and there is no easy answer no matter what.
That is why the high drama played by conservative politicians over the Schiavo case is pretty sickening. What has been going on with l’affaire Schiavo is typical of what has been going on with all the other issues in the last few years – the appropriation by the religious-right of common values shared by all Americans which has de facto thrown the liberals on the defensive.
The emotionally-chargedcuture of life’ theme promoted by the GOP Conservatives, including President Bush is sheer propaganda used to energize their religious fundamentalist base. And it works - the expression has been dominating the airwaves the whole week. It has also made the other side look bad (anti-life?). This is the same strategy used by the religious-right on abortion (the term ‘pro-life’ is more powerful than ‘pro-choice’), or by Neo-Cons with the ‘war on terror’ rhetoric ( the use of ‘terror’ has kept the fear active and made people ready for compromises on their personal freedom).
Many have been quick to point out the contradiction between the ‘culture of life’ rhetoric and the actions by the Bush administration and the Republicans on the Hill, including cutting Medicaid funding, voting for a bankruptcy bill that will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness. We won’t even mention the cluster bombs used in Iraq or the refusal by Texas Governor Bush to grant clemency to people on death row whose cases were in serious doubt (Terry Washington, a mentally-retarded thirty-three-year-old man).
No we won’t mention that!
If nothing else, this issue will at least divert the attention from Tom Delay's legal and ethical problems in the House and from the discussion on the privatization of social security. No wonder why Delay was so quick to 'defend the cause'. He even claimed that
murder is being committed against a defenseless American citizen in Florida"
On the positive side – it seems a majority of people are not buying it, according to a recent ABC poll:
"Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, with sizable majorities saying Congress is overstepping its bounds for political gain. . . ."
It has even been suggested that the action may have helped rather than hurt the right-to-die movement. So maybe these Conservative Republicans can't get away with everything after all...


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Fresh eyes

Sometimes it's good to see your own city through fresh eyes. Remember what it was like to be young in a foreign city?


Honesty and integrity - hallmarks of a good President

Well they're at it again. The President and his circus are taking the debate on Social Security privatization to the people in an effort to have an honest conversation with ordinary citizens. Well if you remember what "open and honest" meant during the presidential campaign, you won't be surprized to learn that these ordinary citizens are not so ordinary:

...take a look at the ongoing 60-stop "presidential roadshow" in which Mr. Bush has "conversations on Social Security" with "ordinary citizens" for the consumption of local and national newscasts. As in the president's "town meeting" campaign appearances last year, the audiences are stacked with prescreened fans; any dissenters who somehow get in are quickly hustled away by security goons. But as The Washington Post reported last weekend, the preparations are even more elaborate than the finished product suggests; the seeming reality of the event is tweaked as elaborately as that of a television reality show. Not only are the panelists for these conversations recruited from administration supporters, but they are rehearsed the night before, with a White House official playing Mr. Bush. One participant told The Post, "We ran through it five times before the president got there." Finalists who vary just slightly from the administration's pitch are banished from the cast at the last minute, "American Idol"-style.

Are they honestly incapable of having an open and honest debate on the merits of their plan at this point? President Bush is pushing for support of his SSP plan which at this point he's not willing to outline since it would just be criticized.'re supposed to simply support one of the biggest pieces of legislation to come down the pipe without any of the details just because he says it's good. And we can trust him?! Why sure, look at the debate he's having with all the ordinary citizens.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Here's a comment worth quoting by FoxNews host John Gibson who after reporting that the N.York Post called Lance Amstrong "a traitor" for supporting the 2012 Paris Olympics bid said:

Paris is the perfect place for the Olympics. Why? Because I'm tired of big, high security events in New York. They're just too draining. We all walk around on eggshells. I always carry a gas mask for instance. And we're always worried about big events attracting whack jobs that want to blow something up.

So you know what? Let the whack jobs go to Paris in 2012. New York really doesn't need more of that, and Paris hasn't had quite enough of it as far as I'm concerned.This sounds more and more like a Paris thing. They like all those terrorists anyway, and I'm sure they'll all be nice and cozy together for a summer of Parisian Olympic fun.

As you can see some Conservatives really know the true meaning of the word sportsmanship.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Is something rotten in the state of Harvard?

Some of you may have read about the uproar created by the comments of Harvard's president, Larry Summers, from a conference talk he gave in January. Simply following the media one could easily conclude that the furor created is a case of feminazis armed with torches and pitchforks ready to burn down the house to get the monster. This horror-flic interpretation is fostered by reactions to his comments like this:

"I felt I was going to be sick," said Nancy Hopkins, a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who listened to part of Summers's speech Friday at a session on the progress of women in academia organized by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass. She walked out in what she described as a physical sense of disgust.

Although this sort of information leads to an amusing portrait, it is not altogether accurate. It took a NYTimes book review in Sunday's paper to finally go beyond scratching the surface of the matter. Those of us who earn our paycheck from Harvard understand that for three years there has been more than a bit of animosity expressed toward president Summers, a man who takes no apparent interest in the humanities and sees every department in terms of the bottom line. But enough of this, go read the book review and judge for yourself


Friday, March 18, 2005

It's the poor, stupid!

In Britain, there has been suggestion recently that black boys should be taught in separate classes from their white peers to help them do better at school.

Surprisingly, this comes from Trevor Phillips, chairman of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, himself a black man of course, who sees himself as one of the few lucky ones who “escaped the fate of most black men of his generation”. He is also suggests that schools should hire black teachers to teach black children. The problem is undeniable : just 35.7% of black Caribbean pupils in England scored at least five C-grades at GCSE, [General Certificate of Secondary Education] compared with a national average of 51.9%.

But the answer is certainly not to be found in ethnic separatism. This suggestion is partly based on the “cultural deficit theory” which says that Afro-Caribbean pupils are not culturally prepared to learn in (white) schools and that (white) teachers treat them more harshly.

A recent article in The Economist shows that if indeed blacks perform worse among children as a whole, the result is quite different among poor children. It is then the whites who perform worse. In fact, the white poor have the worst performance of all the ethnic groups in the bottom social class. This shows a universal truth - that the school system simply fails the poor. So let’s not add racism to a problem that is already very hard to solve as it is.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Turning U.S. Democracy into a Farce.

It just baffles me to see how some Republican politicians can get away with almost anything these days to the point that it makes Italy look like a working democracy and Berlusconi like a champion of justice.

House Majority Leader Tom Delay is the second most powerful man in the U.S. Congress and turning out to be quite the role model. Showing more brass than brains, more moxie than morals, more insolence than intelligence, Delay has apparently adopted the credo, "If you can't beat the system, change it!"

Already under investigation for fundraising "irregularities" in Texas and manipulation of the makeup of electoral districts (‘gerrymandering’), Delay was further admonished by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (the “ethics committee”) last September for having made an offer to endorse the son of a retiring Representative for his seat if he would vote in favor of his bill. As a result the House (Republican) leadership not only sacked the committee chairman, they also rewrote the committee’s rules, making future investigations more difficult by requiring the consent of a majority of its members for investigations. (new rules also limit the committee to 45 days to decide whether a complaint warrants investigation, and allows it to let the complaint die by taking no action.)

In the meantime, Delay is receiving still more scrutiny and possible charges for trips paid for by organizations registered as (Korean) foreign agents despite House rules that bar the acceptance of travel expenses from foreign agents. Under the new rules it has become almost impossible for an investigation to begin, so the Democrats have blocked the whole process in protest. A Democrat Representative (Rep. Howard L. Berman) has sponsored a resolution that would cancel the rule changes, saying that Democrats will not allow the committee to resume its work until the rules are rewritten.

"If you aren't going to create an ethics committee right, don't create it at all," he said. "Otherwise, it is a great farce of this body, not to mention the American people."

The legal-defense fund for Tom Delay, which has dramatically expanded lately, includes two lawmakers who were placed on the House ethics committee this year, a corporate donor indicted in the Texas investigation, and a Texas political-action committee formed by DeLay that is the focus of the criminal inquiry...but donations continue to flow.

In case you are not familiar with Delay’s political views, he has a made a name for himself in the 80s for attacking the National Endowment for the Arts and the Environmental Protection Agency. He is a ‘Christian’ fundamentalist, and furthermore a strong 'Christian' Zionist who is opposed to land concession by Israel which made him popular in Israel’s far-right National Union Party when he made a speech at the Knesset. His position makes the Likud [Israeli Conservative Patry] look liberal.

And yes, he is the second most powerful man in the U.S. Congress! Quite the role model.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Wacky Weather....

While 'sunny' California is trying to recover from its recent record-breaking deluge of rain this winter, the American Northwest, where it is supposed to rain, is experiencing a stunning lack of precipitation that prompted the state of Washington to declare a statewide drought emergency Thursday.
In the meantime, Europe is threatened by dry weather - Portugal has had its driest season since 1931 with dire economic consequences and France is taking measures to fight one of the worst droughts expected.
Is this just the news becoming global or is something wacky with the weather?


Monday, March 14, 2005

Se souvenir...

Symbols of a national identity

A famous French historian of the Annales school, Marc Bloch, once said this about the process of remembering:

The operation of the memory implies a great spiritual activity; to remember is not to watch passively as a spectator as images heretofore hidden deep within me surface on their own to a more knowable/visible form. It is to actively reconstruct the past.

Another Annales member, Jacques le Goff, traces this reconstruction during the 19th century through a series of phenomena which we often take for granted: museums, which were formerly the collections of an elite; libraries, which provided access to reading materials about the past; monuments, through which we commemorate certain events and people; and photography, which multiplied, democratized and sharpened memory, putting it into the hands of the masses. What are family albums after all, but small monuments to the family?

It is worth considering what things our societies value and choose to commemorate. The US flag and constitution are two highly charged symbols in the United States. And war is a common focal point, either through politics, film, literature or monuments. In France, the focus is elsewhere. There are common symbols:Marianne is a statue found outside many of the public buildings in France. She dates from the French Revolution, as does the coq gaulois. And there are major symbols: Museums, architecture and literature are all very important in France since they preserve a certain sense of history that endures over generations. The French are often satirized for their reputed quick retreat in war, but if your history/identity is in your buildings, you do what you must to preserve them. And it comes out in other ways as subversive literature by French authors. It is remarkable that the French tried and executed a French intellectual following their liberation for 'conspiring with the enemy' (Robert Brasillach). Even after the Franco-Prussian war (1870) when the Paris communards burned their own city, they burned the political buildings as a final defiant statement and couldn’t bring themselves to burn their own cultural heritage (i.e. Notre Dame and the Louvre).

One notable difference between the two countries is their treatment of tragedy: Americans tend to enshrine it while the French prefer to let history erase it. France has had an intimate history with terrorism, mostly as a result of its policies toward its former colony, Algeria. But whereas the French choose to commemorate bombings and attacks with plaques, Americans have historically chosen to honor the dead through permanent memorials and often elaborate ceremonies. Think of how many times the term "heros" was used to describe the various victims of 9/11. There is a conscious effort NOT to forget. The most carefully preserved (and some would argue beautiful) war memorial in France is the American cemetery at Omaha Beach.
Two distinct cultures; two distinct ways of (re)constructing a history and an identity.


The benefits of strikes and protests.

This is a note to remind everybody why strikes and demonstrations are so much part of French culture.. well, this is simply because.. it works and the French can also be very pragmatic.
Yesterday, French Prime minister Raffarin announced an increase of pay for public employees as well as encouraging talks in the private sector for widening share ownership. The prime minister said the government had a "slim room for manoeuvre" thanks to unexpectedly high tax revenues.
This of course comes after last week's strikes and demonstrations on Thursday when over 1 million people took the street. This also comes after France's top publicly-quoted companies reported record profits just as unemployment climbed above 10%.
What to conclude of that?
France is still the "same good old country", and if you want the government to listen to you in France, you just need to let them know loud and clear and the only way to do that is to go on strike, demonstrate and "walk the street for money". It just works ! That may sound a bit archaic to a lot of people, but that's the way it has been for a long time. Just read 'Asterix'. ;-)


Sunday, March 13, 2005

A padded childhood

What to make of David Brooks op-ed piece in the NY Times over the weekend? Americans, according to Brooks, seem to be concerned about all the wrong things. We blindly give in to excess as long as we hold strong in some small symbolic way, like decaf. But not only do we hold firm, we make a moral virtue out of it and occasionally propose it as law. (oh alright! I'm actually enjoying the smoking ban in Boston) While I agree that this lack of moderation is one of the defining characteristics of my compatriots, I must take issue with the "raising of our children" paragraph.

I blame parents. Kids are raised amid foam corner protectors and schooled amid flame-retardant construction paper. They're drugged with a vast array of pharmaceuticals to keep them from becoming interesting. They go from adult-structured tutorials to highly padded sports practices to career-counselor-approved summer internships.

For a columnist who is occasionally praised for his deep understanding of "red America," he sure doesn't appreciate what we had to go through growing up. We are not all coming out of a drug-induced childhood stupor. Some of us (stupidly) played war with bb guns and bottle rockets. (ok, that's not great evidence against drugs) We drove the farm truck when we were 10, the tractor by 8. My cousin mowed off half his finger because he tried to clean out the lawn tractor deck while the blades were still engaged. My brother rode his motorcyle in the ditch to and from town. We learned to ride bike on gravel and knew about thistles from playing in them (only once!). I know from friends that stickball is as common in urban areas as frisbee is in the country. We haven't all come through a padded childhood. Some of us actually have the scars to prove it.

So while someone like David Brooks can write about the "pansy nation," he's doing so from Bethesda, Maryland - suburb of Washington DC. A ha! maybe it's the suburban parents.

Come on, Brooks, you suburbanite - live a little. Take the caffeine!

UPDATE: seems the children in San Francisco are doing alright as well.

There on the street was a five-year-old puttering around on a bicycle (with no training wheels! Impressive; I didn't learn to do that until I was around 11 or so…) somewhat unsupervised and lo, without a helmet. I also spotted one of those miniature cardboard "Slow Children At Play" signs in the driveway, which might support Brooks' thesis, except that it was pretty firmly crushed under the wheel of a parked car. So, you know, even here in San Francisco, where we practically invented lily-livered decadence, the kids are alright.


French Victory!

Another good reading for your Sunday afternoon is the great French 26-19 victory in the Six Nations rugby tournament in Dublin yesterday. With this victory, France shattered Ireland's dream of a first grand slam in 57 years. Now only Wales can make the grand slam.
Christophe Dominici scored two tries, and Benoit Baby also crossed the Irish line as the French cruised into an 18-9 halftime lead.
"The better team won," Eddie O'Sullivan, the Ireland coach, said. "France deserved it. People wondered whether they would turn up and they certainly did. That is one hell of a French team. If they're rebuilding we're all in trouble. I thought at one stage we had them where we wanted them but we can't beat ourselves up about this defeat, as disappointing as it was".


The Lord's day...

Today being the Lord's Day, here's a little encourageing thought to those of us who are christian and actually feel isolated for believing that Christianity is based on love, tolerance and not on religious bigotry and political hatred. No, not all Christians (even in the U.S.) are conservative or fundamentalist and the world should know that there are progressive christians out there... somewhere...
Here are two inspiring links for you to read on your Sunday afternoon: one is a posting by Amy Sullivan, Whither the religious left?..., on one of our favorite blogs , and the other is also an article by Sullivan in the Washington Monthly, called The Good fight.
And if you have some time left, you can also have a look at The Sojourners, a progressive Christian magazine, committed to peace and justice.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

Anti-UN Neo-con nominated US Ambassador at the UN

Despite the smooth talk in Brussel about a 'rapprochement' (Mmm... a French word!) with 'Old' Europe, Bush has actually nominated John Bolton, the most viciously anti-UN person neo-con the administration could think of, to be the new US Ambassador to the U.N.
As the Nation reminds us, he is:
The man who ordered a CIA probe on Hans Blix for not finding weapons in Iraq when ordered, who contrived the dismissal of the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and who in 1999 wrote for the American Enterprise Institute of "Kofi Annan's UN Power Grab," has recently been trying fire Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for not finding nuclear weapons in Iran.
In fact, it seems that Bolton is dreaming of a US-controlled UN as this interview on N.P.R (published by the International Herald Tribune) makes it clear:
Bolton said, "If I were redoing the Security Council today, I'd have one permanent member because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world.
"And that one member would be, John Bolton?"
"The United States," Bolton replied
Bolton also sees no obligation in paying UN dues or even, worse still, no binding of international treaties, and no need for the 'rule of law' outside the US.:
"Treaties are 'law' only for US domestic purposes", he wrote in 1997 in the Wall Street Journal, "In their international operations, treaties are simply 'political' obligations.
So what message is Bush really trying to send here? Probably that Europe is kidding itself. His intentions are NOT to play the multilateraly card and surely, the feeling in the rest of the world will be again that the big bully is still let loose.


Friday, March 11, 2005

French Politics: The King and the Prince!

Last week 'Salon de l'Agriculture' [the French national Agricultural Expo] is over but its popularity shows in that no politician would miss a photo op amid cows and sheep. Chirac knows exactly how to do that –drink beer, pat the beasts and eat the cheeses from the 22 regions of France for the camera, and smile to the camera. The competition is hard for who plays best on the nation’s nostalgia for its rural roots and Chirac is a master.

Now of course, and as always, Sarkozy is right there behind him. As expected, he made it to the fair as well. Now for those who don't know, Nicolas Sarkozy is a man you need to remember for you'll probably hear about him in the next French presidential elections in 2007.

He is Chirac's main rival but is also at the head of Chirac's ruling centre-right party, the UMP. 'Sarko' (as he is called in France) has a unique brand of retail politics. He takes on issues that resonate with the public, finds a quick fix and then capitalizes on the media attention. His popularity soared when he played on the fear of rising crime and the sense that illegal immigration was out of control. He ordered high-profile raids on organized crime gangs, chased prostitutes out of residential areas, and built detention centers for illegal immigrants, always with a media blitz. To sum it up, he 's a populist but it seems to work.

The effectiveness of his measures may be doubtful but perception is what matters, and he's good at that. That's why he showed up at the fair of course, always more or less campaigning and leaving very little rest to Chirac.
Critics actually call him more "American" than French, but he seems to be able to afford his pro-American rhetoric. His actions receive wide and positive coverage by US media of course (but in other countries too), as we could read in Business Week, last year, when Franco-American tensions were still high over
Iraq: .

[Sarkozy] gave a speech saying he was "proud" when critics called him more American than French. "There are many good lessons that we must learn from America," he said. "Sarko," as he's widely known, is a new breed of French politician. Dynamic and unabashedly ambitious, he puts pragmatism ahead of ideology, taking his case directly to the public.

These days, he is perceived (for obvious reasons) as the most likely next French President, with a left that seem to propose no alternative, and has no charismatic figure. A poll conducted on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, 2005 shows this:

Many adults in France think former finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy could be a successful head of state, according to a poll by BVA published in Le Figaro. 57 per cent of respondents believe Sarkozy would be a good president.
Yet despite his popularity, and even though some of his ideas are pretty good (such as more equality for minorities), it is too early to tell whether he'll succeed, and he may have a hard time selling his free-market ideas with cuts in government spending and a more flexible labor market. A good reason why I will probably not vote for him. His overexposure in the media may also be too much for most people, including myself.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Outsourcing... what?!

When you hear "outsourcing", you usually think "migration of jobs overseas". Well, this term is now also associated with a much darker and more sinister policy - that of 'ourtouscing torture'. It consists in seizing individuals in Africa, Asia, Europe, Canada or the United-States without even the semblance of due process and sending them off to be interrogated by regimes known to practice torture.
A chilling article by the New Yorker gives a detailed account of this secretive program called "extraordinary rendition". According to journalist Jane Mayer, the program, which was started during the Clinton aministration,
was originally carried out on a limited basis, but after September 11th, when President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the program expanded beyond recognition—becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, “an abomination.”
Canadian citizen Arar was seized because his name had turned up on a watch list of terror suspects. He was reported to have been a co-worker of a man in Canada whose brother was a suspected terrorist.
Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say.
Indeed, G.W. Bush might be inspired to watch a few episodes of season 4 of '24' and see that in the end, torture does not work anyway. So why bother?


"A dog worth more than a human being…"
This may be on the bitter lessons from the genocide in Rwanda. Two fictions about genocide were shown at the Berlin Film Festival last week. One is ‘Hotel Rwanda’ - about a brave hotel manager in Kigali who creates an oasis of safety amid the genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates - and the other is ‘Sometimes in April’, an HBO production not yet released which takes a much more explicit approach.

Both fictions have been criticized by some of the survivors of Rwanda's 1994 genocide for keeping the slaughters in the background. The idea that fiction cannot capture horror is nothing new. It was recently one of the questions addressed by Nazi Camp survivors during the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz concentration camp liberation last January, and they all disagreed. Hotel Rwanda’s Irish director and screenwriter Terry George makes precisely this point:

"When I made this film I deliberately did not want to make a horror show," he said. "The elements of genocide, the savagery, are impossible to recreate. What I wanted was to recreate the psychological atmosphere of genocide."
One more debatable aspect the film is, however, that [according to Francois Ngarambe, president of an association of genocide survivors] it neglected to portray the element of planning, which is a key element if we even want to begin to understand the scope of what happened. What is certain is that the political aspect of the genocide, including the role of the French, the Belgians, the U.N., and the U.S. was almost completely ignored in either movie. Yet if there is a lesson to learn, it is there. The greatest advantage of these fictions is probably that it reaches a rather large audience of people who may be touched by what they see. They may also be more willing to listen to the survivors who are be given more of a voice in the media.
The true hero of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ for instance (Paul Rusesabagina) now called the ‘Schindler of Rwanda’ has some thrilling things to say:

"It was a shame," said Paul, quietly remembering. "The United Nations abandoned these people -- these refugees who came to them asking for help. When the United Nations soldiers were leaving, children begged to be taken them with them. Otherwise they would be killed. But instead of taking them, do you know what they did? They evacuated the dogs of foreigners in Kigali. Do you know what that says to me? The life of a European dog is worth more than a Rwandan human being."
And while we are dealing with the shame, more Africans are being quietly killed in Darfur, Sudan. Let us hope that it is not a fiction that will teach us another lesson about Darfur.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Republicans and Middle America

When the Republicans solidified their majority in Congress last November, Democrats could often be heard muttering under their breath, "Good, now they'll have no opposition 'cover' to hide behind. Let them get blamed for their own mess." Now they can be heard gasping, "Aye, what a mess!" The party that supposedly reflects the "values" of mid-America sure knows how to sell them out. Two recent bills winding their way through Congress reflect this disconnect with the average worker. The first, a bankruptcy bill scheduled for a vote today will make it harder for individuals to file chapter 7 (a clean sweep), forcing them to file chapter 13 (with a stricter repayment schedule). Conservatives cite borrowers with no intent to repay their debt as the impetous behind this bill. Which sounds great, except that the facts say otherwise. Most bankruptcies are the result of medical emergencies or people losing their jobs - but the credit card companies want their money back so conservatives play along. Let's see, the party that labels liberals as elitists is selling out middle America to the credit card companies. Details here. (updated link)

Two bills dealing with raising the minimum wage were just defeated yesterday. The Republican version would have raised it to $6.25 while the Dems wanted it increased to $7.25. Read up on it for more details. Apparently, a Congress that raises its own salaries every year can't be counted on to do the same for the average worker in the service industry. That means that Joe Average is making less and less money (adjusted for inflation) and any late fee to his credit card company means his interest rate can jump to 36%. Now that's compassionate conservatism!

Quite a mess indeed!


Monday, March 07, 2005

You're Full Of It...

...or why Americans distrust and the French admire bullshit!

Before you sign off on this blog because of its juvenile vocabulary, bear with us a minute. Via
Kevin Drum, we have an intriguing discussion on the nature of bullshit (definitely worth a read for the references to politics). From our perspective here at J2T, the key lines are these:
"...the defining characteristic of bullshit is not that the bullshitter is lying, an act that requires the perpetrator to know the truth in the first place, but that the bullshitter doesn't care one way or the other. The actual facts are irrelevant, and if the bullshitter ends up telling the truth, that's fine. He just doesn't care."
This definition of bullshit spells out perfectly one of the biggest differences between French and American culture. The French praise it while Americans abhor it. To Americans it is a demonstration of intellectual dishonesty; to the French it is a superb display of intellectual capabilities. Whence the difference?

One need look no further than the famous American essay or the popular French dissertation. The former asks the writer to form a personal opinion and express it, while the latter asks that the student take a disinterested position and debate different sides of a main problematique/position. The essay inherently leads to an investment of personal beliefs and therefore personal feelings. A criticism of one's position is taken as a criticism of the person. The French, on the other hand, argue from a more removed position and are less likely to have a personal stake in the the debate. A debate about politics can remain just that, a debate about politics. It's not about hurting feelings, but scoring points.

A French bullshitter then is seen as someone who can take any position and argue it effectively while his American equivalent is considered by his fellow countrymen as morally depraved, someone with no moral compass, an individual with no interest in seeking the truth. So while the French vote for politicians who can argue effectively (who better to argue your interests?), the Americans vote for those with superior moral fiber (who better to represent you?). Yet one more reason that many Americans voted for President Bush and most French find his election incomprehensible - the French would much rather have a gifted speaker, the Americans a moral saviour.

UPDATE: courtesy of an American reader, the following link gives you a bit more on the book and the relationship between bullshit and politics.


Halle Berry's 'Monster Balls'!

Three years after being the first black to win an Academy Award for best actress [for her role in 'Monster's Ball.'], Halle Berry received the Razzie Awards, the Golden Raspberry Award for worst actress, which was given for her title role in "Catwoman,'' a movie flop. .
Now as if that was not enough, she actually showed up to receive her award, saying
"You don't win a Razzie without a lot of help from a lot of people, so please indulge me and just let me ... go through this," she said, adding, "When I was a kid, my mother told me that if you could not be a good loser, then there's no way you could be a good winner,"
Needless to say,that awards founder John Wilson was thrilled:
"The idea that somebody was on our stage with an Oscar in one hand and a Razzie in the other, ... that was so great," he said.

One in each hand.
And that, I think, makes Helle Berry a hell of a woman. Incidently, Bush also won an award for his appearance in Michael Moore's documentary, "Farenheit 9/11.", but strangely did not show up.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Parisian Agriculture.

What other world capital plays host annually to its nation's farmers? Very few, I imagine. But right now Paris is hosting the national Agricultural Expo and having a ball. Imagine the biggest state fair in the US; now imagine it hosted in Manhattan. Seven out of the eight great halls at the Portes de Versailles expo center are taken over by animals, farm equipment, regional & international cuisine and media booths. The city mice are visiting their country cousins this week and it shows - suede boots have given way to rubber boots.

In the US this would be a truck-n-tractor pull.

France's rural roots run deep and have historically played an important role in the nation's (and EU) politics. France itself was still considered a rural country until less than a century ago. This emphasis on agriculture has meant that rural influence has outweighed its actual importance. From government subsidies on the international market to politicians courting the rural vote, the rural emphasis is a highly symbolic gesture since farmers now comprise less than 3% of the labor force (that's just twice the number of unemployed in France!). This symbolic gesture is hardly surprising given that many French urbanites identify themselves as rural and flee the city for the provinces whenever the opportunity presents itself.

The French may not in actual fact be paysans, but their national identity is tied up very strongly in this rural link.


Saturday, March 05, 2005

'Joker to the Thief' named 'blog of the day'!

"Joker to the Thief"' has been named 'Blog of the Day' on Gill's blog. Thanks, Gill. This is very encouraging. Go and visit Gill's blog, "Sometimes It's Peaceful"


The European Constitution needs deciphering!

President Chirac announced yesterday that France will hold a referendum on the European Constitution on May 29. That gives the French people 12 weeks to make up their mind.
I don't know if many people in Europe have started reading the actual text. I have, and I get headaches from its obscure wording.
Here's a good example:
Article I.11 (on the fundamental Principles of Union Competences)
Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.
And this is what the Europeans have to vote for or against! They probably need a college degree first. Interestingly, it is former French President Giscard who lead the convention that drafted the text and whose aim was to :
simplify EU Treaties, putting them into a language that anyone can understand and bring the organisation closer to citizens.
Good job to the old man! Not all hope is lost, however. There are great sites on the Web that dicepher the most obscure passages, and frankly it is worth the trouble in the end.
For English-speakers, there is, among many others,:
- What the Constitution Says (BBC site)
- Treaty Establishing the Constitution (from the free encyclopedia Wikepedia)


Friday, March 04, 2005

The fashion of conspiracy - life always better than fiction!

Here's a good idea for another Dan Brown's 'theological-conpiracy-thriller' novel (see 'Reading Da book'), and this time, it's... real. Well, sort of... as real as a British (S)Tory can be, that is!
[Found in The Guardian though, I kid you not]
A Tory candidate who believes the EU is a Catholic plot to impose Vatican sovereignty over Britain was today accused by the Catholic church of preaching a conspiracy theory traditionally associated with the far right.In an article in the Spectator magazine, Adrian Hilton, who is standing in Slough, argued that "a Catholic EU will inevitably result in the subjugation of Britain's Protestant ethos to Roman Catholic social, political and religious teaching".
His outspoken views prompted the spokesman for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, to accuse him of deploying "the sort of argument that tends to be made by extreme Protestants or radical nationalist".

Catholic church condemns Tory 'conspiracy theorist', by Matthew Tempest and Tom Happold in The Guardian , Friday March 4, 2005


A Government Derived from God?

After banning the death penalty for minors, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argruments about whether the display of the Ten Commandments on government property is constitutional. Not much to get excited about, you might say. Well, wait until you hear what Justice Scalia [the one who also opposed the banning of death penatly for minors] had to say:
According to Scalia, the Ten Commandments constitute "a symbol that government authority comes from God…it is a profoundly religious message, but it’s shared by the vast majority of the people…It seems to me that the minority has to be tolerant of the majority’s view."
So, in other words, the U.S. Supreme Court Justice believes that the authority of the United States government is derived from God. That has all sort of interesting implications, doesn't it? At the same time, a recent poll showed that seventy-six percent of Americans support this religious display - a fact which played into the hands of Justice Antonin Scalia. Now of course, Justice Scalia is know for religious conservative views (N.Y. Times article) :
"The Lord," Mr. Scalia explained in Chicago, "repaid — did justice — through His minister, the state." This view, according to Mr. Scalia, once represented the consensus "not just of Christian or religious thought, but of secular thought regarding the powers of the state." He said, "That consensus has been upset, I think, by the emergence of democracy." And now, alarmingly, Mr. Scalia wishes to rally the devout against democracy's errors. "The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible," he said in Chicago.

Now, apparently, Justice Scalia is also a (too) good friend of... Dick Cheney. How surprising! :
Two leading Democratic senators asked Chief Justice William Rehnquist on Thursday about the propriety of a hunting trip Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia took with Vice President Dick Cheney while Cheney has a case pending before the high court.

Scalia, 68, was named to the Supreme Court in 1986 by Pt Reagan.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Reading Da Book!

Over 20 million copies in 2 years, and the topic of discussions everywhere - in the media, among friends, neighbors, colleagues... If you think you can escape from it – good luck. Now it is even going to be made into a movie. Not only that, but look at the dozens of book on the novel that are being sold.

Pressed by the fuss made about it, I finally got down to read ‘Da Vinci Code’ in my holidays.

Guess what – it’s just a mostly entertaining cheap novel and nothing more. Basically it’s like all conspiracy stories (the literary equivalent of ‘24’): one-dimensional characters, simple vocabulary, many pseudo historical and religious references with, above all good thrilling suspense.
That’s all there is to it. So what’s the big deal?

My theory is that it is just in touch with today’s obsessions - religion and conspiracy, with a nice touch of feminist theory which finally empowers women with ‘religious’ status. It may also make people feel more intelligent in the end because of the many references (more or less accurately) explained. But if one wants to feel more intelligent, it would be better to read a good old Umberto Eco.

The dumb thing to do is probably to take ‘Da Vinci Code’ for more than what it is. Wake up people, it is just A NOVEL. Brown said it himself, it is a novel… well yes based on facts that are… wrong?

A good example is Brown's dubious sense of direction – in fact, someone should really have given him a map of Paris for, among many other mistake – there is NO WAY for you to go from Le Louvre to the US Embassy through the Champs-Elysées… no matter how screwed up your sense of discretion may be and that’s just in the first few pages… A mistake… Or maybe the obvious sign that it is not to be taken seriously. Da!

For more about the ‘mapping mistakes, go to

For Dan Brown’s own words, he has a site of his own:


U.S. Supreme Court on Death Penalty for Minors.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to abolish the death penalty for people under 18 comes after a series of decisions narrowing the class of people eligible for execution, having excluded the mentally ill 3 years ago and rebuked the lower courts for sending people to their deaths without the proper safeguards.

It is evidently good news for all those who are against capital punishment as it seems that the trend towards more regulation could in the end lead to the abolition of death penalty altogether. Yet this would be too big of a leap to make. It is important to remember that the US Supreme Court is supposed to make legal, not moral decisions. The Justices are bound to follow the 'will of the majority'.

Now it is interesting to look a bit closer at the reasons upholding the decision:

  • The decision was a close call was only a 5 to 4 vote. There was no consensus among the Justices themselves.
  • This reasoning for this decision is however based on "evolving consensus" with regard to what constitutes a violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution barring "Cruel and Unusual Punishment", saying that only a minority of states now execute minors. [In the meantime, that fact says nothing about the cruelty of the punishment, which is really a moral view]

In fact, this is a sign of healthy democracy for there is no will of the majority to support a ban of death penalty in the US. As a result, only a change in public opinion would pressure state legislators to abolish or at least hold a moratorium. The problem is that might take years [after all in 1791, when the 8th amendment was drafted, it was OK to most people to have 7 year olds executed. At this rate, it might take until 3561 to get rid of capital punishment altogether!]

  • The other interesting point is that Justice Kennedy acknowledged that international pressure has played a role.

"The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions."
It is thus clear that some international pressure is needed. Very few Americans actually know that the U.S. is the only Western democracy that still has capital punishment.

The problem when arguing against death penalty is that it quickly turns into very a philosophical debate based on relative arguments and personal emotion. The best point I have found against capital punishment is the risk of convicting an innocent person. Since there is no perfect justice system in any human society, there is absolutely no way a society can make sure only the real criminals will go on death row. In practice it is impossible. .

Then the question becomes, is the death of real criminals worth the death of a few innocents? – and it then becomes a bit harder to find a majority of people backing up that idea.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The place of religion in Europe.

The place of religion in public schools has become a controversial issue in Europe.

Here’s a good example in today's news:

Britain's Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday that a teenage student's human rights were violated by her school's ban on a form of traditional Muslim dress, a long flowing gown covering all of her body except her hands and face.

Whereas France has a law banning "conspicuous religious symbols" like Muslim head scarves from state schools, Britain does not have such a rule. France and Britain have obvisouly taken different paths. That should be expected: Britain has an official religion (the Church of England) when France is a strictly secular state.

I find it very hard to explain to non-French people the reasons and the background for the French law. In any case, there is a lot of missunderstanding between France and the rest of the world on this issue. So it is important to remember a few points (found in a very good BBC article, The deep roots of French secularism by Henri Astier)

  • The law of separation meant strict official neutrality in religious affairs.
  • The insistence on schools as religion-free zones goes to the heart of the French idea of citizenship.
  • The Republic has always recognised individuals, rather than groups: a French citizen owes allegiance to the nation, and has no officially sanctioned ethnic or religious identity.
  • Although it can be carried to extremes - such as colonial subjects being taught that their ancestors were Gauls - this view of citizenship is fundamentally non-discriminatory and inclusive.
  • School bans must be viewed in this context and are nothing new. (In 1937, the education minister of the day instructed head teachers to keep all religious signs out of their establishments. )This was not controversial - but then the state was confronted with a weak opponent in an overwhelmingly secular society.

Of coure, this raises questions in an increasingly integrated Europe claiming to share the same values. I personally disagree with the law while I understand where it comes from. I think France needs to redefine its secularism. But for now the French are not ready to concede any ground to their secularim as in France, secularism is at the core of the French identity and is in many ways the national religion.


The 'threat' OF or the 'threat' TO English?

This week’s issue of Newsweek international ask a good question on their cover Who owns English?.

In their article Not the Queen's English, they point out that non-native English-speakers now outnumber native ones 3 to 1, and as a result the language is changing. It is the controversial but interesting idea of an ‘International version of English. This is a challenge to all English teachers but also to English learners who tend to focus so much on learning ‘perfect grammar’. Maybe structural mistakes (such as forgetting the present simple third person ‘s’) should be accepted. Indeed who really needs Queen’s English?

The second interesting point is that we should not see English as a threat to other languages but as a new opportunity to enrich our culture by making us bilingual (after all, most people in this world ARE bilingual). This is something I can only agree with as I have never understood the notion of a language being a 'threat' to others.

Here are an excerpt (article Not the Queen's English can be read for free on the Net)

Not everyone is as open-minded about English, or its advance. The Web site of the Association for the Defence of the French Language displays a "museum of horrors"—a series of digital pictures of English-language signs on Parisian streets. But others say such defensiveness misses the point. "This is not about English swamping and eroding local identities," says David Graddol, author of the British Council report. "It's about creating new identities—and about making everyone bilingual."