Monday, October 31, 2005


Tonight, I had a couple of kids knock at my door for candies. Unfortunately, I did not have any sweet - except for some dark chocolate - irk! The reason why I was taken aback is that... I live in Paris and not in the U.S.

Since the late-90s, Halloween has become more popular with French kids. But it has been very controversial - a lot of (especially older) people see it as another sign of American culture invasion and as a marketing strategy to sell more stuff to the kids. (France Télécom, McDonald's, Disney, and Coca Cola have been using pumpkins and other Halloween images for years) - so this year, it has been much more discreet. Hardly anything in the stores...

My position is : who cares one way or the other if it makes the kids happy! It is probably better if it's not used as a marketing tool for sure but the celebration itself by the kids, why not... [I just don't think "trick or treat" would translate! ]

Besides, there is some irony in this celebration.

Let's remember that Halloween was originally a Pagan Celtic celebration of the spirits that rose from the dead and mingled with the living. Some sources say that Celts in northern France also celebrated Halloween, but this is unconfirmed. In any case, Halloween is not a traditional French holiday. In any case, the present Christian celebration (which is a traditional holiday in France) was established to detract attention from the pagan celebration. November 1st is All Saint's Day (la Toussaint) in France, in celebration of saints who do not have their own holy day. Traditionally, it is a day of remembrance of the dead.

Etymology : "Halloween" is derived from Hallowe'en, an old contraction, still retained in Ireland, Scotland and some parts of Canada, of "All Hallow's Eve," so called as it is the evening (or eve) before the feast of All Saints, which used to be called "All Hallows" derived from All Hallowed Souls [hallow = to render holy]

If you want to know more about Halloween in France, go there and more general info on Halloween, go here. .


Supreme Court Nominee - From Bad To Worse

Bush's new nominee, Samue Alito (not official yet but CNN gives the news) to the Supreme Court makes you wonder if Miers was not better after all.
Sure, cronyism sucks but ultra-conservatism sucks even more. In his present weak condition, the president has folded under pressure from his far-right base, as one might have expected and he appoints someone who has proved in his track record that he would strike down Roe, among other things as you can read here.
Bush is going downwhill and he's taking the whole country with him by giving even more power to a minority of ultra-conservatives who want to go back to the 50s.

Hopefully this is not the end of it...

Note: In the meantime, the nation is paying tribute to Rosa Parks!


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Nice but Worrisome Weather....

Even as today, we turned the clock back to winter time, it felt like summer in Paris. Blue sky, sunshine and 22°C (72°F). Now those of you who know Paris in October may be surprised and indeed, this is really unusual - an average of 6°C (43 °F) to 8°C (46°F) above average. In some parts of the country, it was even more than 10°C (50°F) above normal.

Nice while it lasts but maybe worrisome too...

Now I don't know if the following pieces of information mean anything.... but it makes you wonder:

  • In Brighton (Britain) , Oct 27th was the hottest on record.
  • According to NOAA, The average global temperature anomaly for combined land and ocean surfaces for September (based on preliminary data) was 1.13°F (0.63°C) above the 1880-2004 long-term mean. This was the warmest September since 1880, the beginning of reliable instrumental records. The second warmest September was in 2003 with an anomaly of 1.02°F (0.57°C) above the mean. Land surface temperatures were highest on record for September with temperatures more than 5°F (2.8°C) above normal across large parts of Asia and North America. Ocean temperatures were third highest on record.
  • In the meantime, as you can read here for exemple, the coverage of sea ice in the Arctic has declined for a fourth consecutive year, indicating an alarming long-term trend.The amount of sea ice in 2005 up to September -- the month when it typically reaches its minimum -- is anticipated to be the lowest in a century.
  • And in Brazil, a severe drought continues to ravage the world's greatest rainforest as the Amazon is now facing its worst drought in 40 years.
On the other hand, a professor from The University of Reading’s meteorology department says the rumour that a particularly chilly winter is on the way could be true....

Not enough evidence for Global Warming, they say... Right....

Canoes stranded on the Lago do Cristo Reis during one of the worst droughts ever recorded in the Amazon region

Photographer: Daniel Beltra *


Falling Back in Time... Sweet... !

It's that time of year again when you set the clocks back and gained an extra hour of sleep. I love it. It's the end of what is called "Summer Time" in Europe and "D.S.T" (Daylight Saving Time) in the U.S. which is designed to give an extra hour of daylight in the summer for outdoor activities.
However controversial it may be, I like it as it gives a seasonal feeling to our activities (which is not much compared to the 1 extra hour of sleep). I also like mornings and so I enjoy getting more light earlier...
  • Daylight Saving Time begins for most of the United States at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of April. Time reverts to standard time at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday of October. In the U.S., each time zone switches at a different time.
  • In the European Union, Summer Time begins and ends at 1:00 a.m. Universal Time (Greenwich Mean Time). It begins the last Sunday in March and ends the last Sunday in October at 1 a.m. In the EU, all time zones change at the same moment.
So the end of DST or Summer Time coincided both in the U.S. and in Frnace. Today, approximately 70 countries utilize Daylight Saving Time in at least a portion of the country. The only major industrialized country not to have introduced daylight saving is Japan.

In some ways, the this Daylight Saving is a Franco-American idea - it was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin (portrait at right) during his sojourn as an American delegate in Paris in 1784, in an essay, "An Economical Project."

(back of the Orsay Museum Clock in Paris)

More information about Daylight Saving can be found here.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Fitzgerald's (Very American) Press Conference

While watching his press conference, I was quite impressed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's by-the-book, just-the-facts approach. It had just enough idealism to please an American audience. In this aspect it was very refreshing.
He also did an excellent job at explaining the indictement with down-to-earth illustrations. He used some great analogy that typifies an pragmatic understanding of reality. He made himself understandable to all Americans by using a national paradigm, even if , as you can see in the following extract, such a paradigm means nothing to most non-Americans (and that's the beauty of it!):
I know baseball analogies are the fad these days. Let me try something.

If you saw a baseball game and you saw a pitcher wind up and throw a fastball and hit a batter right smack in the head, and it really, really hurt them, you'd want to know why the pitcher did that. And you'd wonder whether or not the person just reared back and decided, I've got bad blood with this batter. He hit two home runs off me. I'm just going to hit him in the head as hard as I can.

You also might wonder whether or not the pitcher just let go of the ball or his foot slipped, and he had no idea to throw the ball anywhere near the batter's head. And there's lots of shades of gray in between.

You might learn that you wanted to hit the batter in the back and it hit him in the head because he moved. You might want to throw it under his chin, but it ended up hitting him on the head.

And what you'd want to do is have as much information as you could. You'd want to know: What happened in the dugout? Was this guy complaining about the person he threw at? Did he talk to anyone else? What was he thinking? How does he react? All those things you'd want to know.

And then you'd make a decision as to whether this person should be banned from baseball, whether they should be suspended, whether you should do nothing at all and just say, Hey, the person threw a bad pitch. Get over it.

In this case, it's a lot more serious than baseball. And the damage wasn't to one person. It wasn't just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us.

(you can read the rest of the transcript here or watch the video here)


Elizabethan Theater.

Most students in the English-speaking world have studied and mostly loved (but sometimes hated) William Shakespeare (never mind, as we mentioned before, he actually wrote his plays or not ).

As a teacher of English myself, I find the following information (taken from York Notes Advanced) a very illuminating way to contextualize Elizabethan theater for my students. It is also something that helps each one of us put the plays in the right perspective.

Modern fiction and drama are, by and large, realistic; they seek to persuade us that we are reading or watching what is really happening.
There is a great deal of psychological accuracy in Shakespeare’s plays, but we are far from any attempt at realism.

In modern theatre there is no communication between the audience and the stage, but in Elizabethan theatre, this distinction did not exist for 2 reasons

  • the performance took place in the open air and in the daylight
  • the spectators were all around the stage and they were dressed no differently than the actors who wore contemporary dress.
As a result they could not lose their identity in a corporate group, nor could they forget that they were spectators at a performance.
Besides, t
he Elizabethan audiences had none of our deference: they did not keep quiet, or arrive on time or remain during the whole performance.

As a result the Elizabethan theater utilized its very theatricality. The plays acknowledge the presence of the audience. It is addressed not only by prologues, epilogues and choruses, but also in soliloquies. (there is no realistic reason why characters should suddenly explain themselves to empty rooms.
Soliloquies are not addressed to the world of the play but to the audience – and the audience’s complicity is assumed.

So the plays are aware of themselves as dramas – they are self-reflective


Friday, October 28, 2005

What is a Grand Jury...

Everybody's talking about it but on one has explained what it is or how it works.
I knew the basics just like everybody else... oh well, at least I thought I did... but I also knew I certainy missed a few details.
Thankfully NPR has fixed this with a very illuminating article on how Grand Juries work.

To put it in a nutshell:
A grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence -- only whether there's probable cause to believe a person or persons committed a crime. A grand jury decides whether to bring charges via a written indictment.

Federal grand juries are composed of 16 to 23 individuals selected at random "from a fair cross section of the community" in the district in which the grand jury convenes, according to the Federal Grand Jury Handbook. The names are generally drawn from lists of registered voters. Twelve of the minimum 16 members required to be present must vote in favor of an indictment before it can be returned.


Fitzgerald Says It Best.

From the OSC's press release:
“When citizens testify before grand juries they are required to tell the truth,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

“Without the truth, our criminal justice system cannot serve our nation or its citizens. The requirement to tell the truth applies equally to all citizens, including persons who hold high positions in government. In an investigation concerning the compromise of a CIA officer’s identity, it is especially important that grand jurors learn what really happened. The indictment returned today alleges that the efforts of the grand jury to investigate such a leak were obstructed when Mr. Libby lied about how and when he learned and subsequently disclosed classified information about Valerie Wilson,” he added.


Oil-for-Food Scandal.

The credibility of the Bush administration in the world has been severely damaged by the lies and the spin over Iraq and the WMD. It is likely that future (and probably valid) accusations by the US government on the international scene will be called into question; and that's a serious problem

But the recent report on the oil-for-food scandal equally undermines the credibility of those governments so strongly opposed to the war – particularly its most vocal opponents, France.

It is particularly interesting to see that the report shows (something we already guessed with little proof) that most of the contracts went to Russian and French companies and individuals.

Even though there is no direct connection with the French government, it is likely that the word was out among officials that there were “national” interests involved and the pressure for a certain kind of policy must have played a part in the decision to oppose the war.

The scam was so massive that it could not have been ignored by the government. It involved

  • No less than a former French ambassador to the United Nations from 1991 to 1995 (Jean-Bernard Merimee, now detained in Paris and charged with corruption by a French judge).
  • a former French interior minister, Charles Pasqua (he has denied of course – saying : "Someone used my name" just like a schoolboy caught (almost) red-handed )
  • Total, the French oil group
  • even France's BNP Paribas, the bank chosen by the United Nations to handle payments under the program, didn't scrutinize money flows that investigators found were part of the corruption
  • the secretary-general of the French-Iraqi Friendship Association (Imagine that!) and an advocate for the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Iraq, Gilles Munier. (who has the guts to say that he is “paying for his support of the Iraqi people.").

So the French people have also been lied to, both by their government and the media (who have been unwilling to investigate the persistent rumors, even accusing the U.S. of false and unfair charges against France).

Now you may think that French are really really bad, but hold it, there are actually 66 countries involved, including

  • the governor of Italy's Lombardy region and a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.
Many prominent companies such as
  • Volvo of Sweden
  • subsidiaries for Siemens, one of the world's largest electrical engineering and electronics companies.
  • Daimler Chrysler

and a British Member of Parliament named George Galloway, made famous for his opposition to the war and to the Bush administration during Congressional hearings.

ABC also reminded us that the Americans should not rejoice either:

The report found that even firms in countries supportive of the sanctions, such as the United States, found ways to manipulate the system illegally sometimes by using Russian firms as middlemen.

While most of the names of those individuals and companies were known, the extensive involvement of U.S. firms will be embarrassing to the United States government, which has been a leading critic of corruption in oil-for-food.

So what’s next? Well, it seems that it is now up to each country to prosecute their own companies and citizens. France and the U.S. have already started, but let’s hope they’ll finish the job. Let’s also hope that this time, the media will do theirs.

And last, let's hope that people will cnot again uphold their governments out of naivety and ignorance., but that may be wishful thinking.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers steps down

To noboby's great surprise, Harriet Miers withdrew herself as a nominee for the vacant Supreme Court position today. This was bound to happen with so much opposition from her own party. We wish her well in whatever line of work she chooses, perhaps full-time presidential cheerleader.


Freedom of the Press in France and the U.S.

Better yet, Reporters Without Borders just published its Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2005.
The index measures the state of freedom of the press in each country, and the efforts made by the states to respect that freedom. It is based solely on events between 1 September 2004 and 1 September 2005. It does not look at human rights violations in general, just press freedom violations.
  • The United States (44th) fell more than 20 places, mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources.
  • France (30th) also slipped, largely because of searches of media offices, interrogations of journalists and introduction of new press offences.
Then again, the least corrupt states (see our previous posting on corruption), the Northern European countries, are also those at the top of the Index. Long Live Scandinavia!

[chart also found on Superfrenchie]


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

France and the U.S. - Partners in Corruption Index

Transparency International has issued its annual report on corruption. (the top ones, Iceleland, Finland, etc... are the least corrupt)
France is 18th in the world (out of 159 countries) but it only ranks 12th in Europe and the U.S. is just one spot ahead of France (17th) and 0.1 point better…

[found on Superfrenchie]


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Lingua Franca

I spent an evening last week listening to a talk by one of my favorite African writers, Henri Lopes. A Congolese from both sides of the river, he's written extensively on the African identity in a post-colonial setting, a setting I might add in which he feels rather comfortable. He's done well for himself, former PM, and ambassador to the UN, England and France. His French is impeccable and his English, more than passable.

His talk centered on his role as a writer and what that means in Africa today and was full of anecdotes and quotes from other authors. While the talk itself was interesting, it was the follow-up discussion that I want to write about. He was asked, rather pointedly, about why he writes in French instead of, say, his native Lingala. His response, because the market won't support a book in Lingala. There are not enough readers to buy his book in Lingala and make it profitable for any publishers. He also noted that given the linguistic landscape of Africa, it is not in his interest to publish in Lingala to appeal to only those who speak Lingala. His audience, in his eyes, is larger than any one language group. French offers him the lingua franca necessary to appeal to a broader market, not only to neighboring villages but to distant countries.

When one Camerounian accused him of perpetuating a colonial attitude, he responded with humility and candor. "I don't agree with you that my language is colonized. It is a language that I choose to use for many reasons. It is a language that many of us choose. Even in my own country I approach a stranger in French for fear of offending him should he come from a different language group. In international affairs, we need a lingua franca to get beyond linguistic borders. French gives us that. We are also learning English, as is Ghana; the two allow all of us to communicate with ease at UNESCO, for example." Say what you will, this is a very reasoned response to this sort of harsh liberal critique of post-colonialism that often prevents people from acting. There are many valid points to criticize in French colonial policy (including its present paternal relationship to its former colonies), but ripping up the roads and tearing down the schools is not one of them.


Bush is Angry!

I'm watching Bush live on CNN as he's giving a speech on Iraq...
Is it me or he really sounds angry? He sounds like he's mad at the audience, doesn't he? I feel like I'm being yelled at. Very strange. How do you explain this... Too much stress? The job-approval rate? The leak? Name it...


Crisis over Internet Governance.

The media have been very busy with all sorts of international crises (Iraq, the Middle-East..), but they have missed one major source of disagreement among nations: the Internet and yet this has the potential for major problems.
What is at stake is no less than the administration of the net. This may come as a surprise to a lot of people, the common idea being that the Internet is completely uncontrollable and decentralized. That is actually one of the greatest myths of our time. Well, at least, it is partly a myth. If it is a huge and free collection of networks, it also needs a common set of communications standards to stay interconnected.
So in some critical areas, the Internet requires coordination and oversight. In short, those critical areas are
  • the domain names, the ".com," ".net," ".info," and others
  • the Internet Protocol numbers, the up-to-12-digit codes, invisible to users, that every machine on the network needs to have in order to be recognized by other machines)
  • the root servers, (nameservers which have responsibility for the . domain and know about which servers are responsible for the top-level domains. there ten root servers are operated from the United States and one each from Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Tokyo.

Basically, the governing body which is responsible for managing those aspects of the network is a non-profit private organisation named ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) based in California. This is not surprising if you consider that the Domain Name Server system was invented in the U.S.

ICANN [pronounced "I can"] is an organization officially independent of any government and staffed by an international crew. It was set up in 1998, by the Clinton Administration with the promise of autonomy from its oversight in 2006, and in November 2004 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a 40-person working group to address questions of Internet governance.

But the current administration has recently announced a unilateral change of policy (yes, I know - hard to believe these days!) : the United States would retain its authority over ICANN, period.

This can be explained by the increasing importance of the internet in the economy which makes the US government more nervous about risking any change. In addition, the more countries clamored for power, the more the United States reconsidered its policy of relinquishing control. It has been increasingly seen as a matter of national security.

At the same time, as an article in Foreign Affairs pointed out,

Watching the United States go to war in Iraq despite global opposition, diplomats saw ICANN as yet another example of American unilateralism. What would prevent Washington, they argued, from one day choosing, say, to knock Iran off the Internet by simply deleting its two-letter moniker, ".ir," from the domain name system? Surely the Internet ought to be managed by the international community rather than a single nation.

Times change and technology evolves. This is no longer the time when the Internet was made and kept up by Woodstock-era American engineers and academics as it was for 30 years. On the other hand their philosophy of political and economic liberalism which led to openness on a technical level must be taken into account,

On the one hand it is true that the United States has taken a liberal approach in keeping with its liberal values but there is no guarantee that this will continue in the current unilateral philosophy of the Bush administration (whose values are, everyone will agree, quite opposed to the “Woodstock values"!).

On the other hand, there is no more guarantee that an intergovernmental system would continue on such a course either. When you see that the most vocal critics of the current system are China and Iran, you may heave reasons to question the motivations for change. Is the Internet governance possible for an institution like the UN that requires the consensus of at least the Security Council to function? As always, Europe is in the middle between US unilateralism and much stronger demands from other countries for multilateralism.

Last but not least, a deadlock on the issue might result into the emergence of competing standards which would threaten the stability of the system. That is why what will come out of the next meeting of the World Summit of the Information Society scheduled for November 16-18 in Tunisia will be interesting.

Foreign Affairs has a good grip of the clashing philosophies at stake:

Ultimately, what is playing out is a clash of perspectives. The U.S. government saw the creation of ICANN as the voluntary relinquishing of a critical source of power in the digital age; others saw it as a clever way for Washington to maintain its hegemony by placing Internet governance in the U.S. private sector. Foreign critics think a shift to multilateral intergovernmental control would mark a step toward enlightened global democracy; Washington thinks it would constitute a step back in time, toward state-regulated telecommunications. Whether and how these perspectives are bridged will determine the future of a global resource that nearly all of us have come to take for granted.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Challenging Lifetime Nomination.

While there is so much talk about Harriet E. Miers, President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, I have hardly read or seen anything challenging the whole notion of nomination for life.
However, I find the whole idea, in today's world, when people can live older, work longer and thus have a greater chance of becoming senile, quite preposterous if not frightening. Where else do you see nomination for life but in didactorship?
So I was a bit relieved when I heard on NPR that some academics are suggesting that justices should not receive life tenure, but serve fixed terms (it has been suggested that 18 years would be a good basis). Great idea! Unfortunately, this has only been discussed by an informal band of prominent legal thinkers from left and right and no major politician has joined them.
Ronald Brownstein in the LATimes seems to believe that the current fight over Miers and the fustration in both parties may result in the exploration of this idea by politicians. I have my doubts. It often takes a major crisis for an Amendment to be passed and thus for a concensus to be found on the Hill.
To me, life-time nomination to the Supreme Court needs to be changed just like the sacred "right to bear arms", it may have made perfect sense in the 18th century but that does not mean it makes sense in this day and age! The Founding Fathers cannot have imagined people would live to a 100 years old. No matter how great John Roberts may be, do we really want him to rule for the next 40 years?
In any case, it would be nice if that idea was talked about a little bit more.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Oliver Twist - a Pleasant Surprise.

Last night, I saw Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist and, having had no expectation whatsoever, I was pleasantly surprised. The very beginning sets the atmosphere with its Gustave Dore inspired images.

But the best part is the playing - especially Ben Kingsley (in the role of Fagin) whose language and accents strive for authenticity so much so that it may be hard to understand some expressions at times. His make-up changes him beyond recognition and reflects quite well Dickens’s own fascination for the grotesque.

I also liked the changes made by the writer – some may lament that Fagin ends in prison but the prison scene makes the change worth it and it adds another philosophical dimension on the notion of guilt, forgiveness and punishment. Also, contrary to the original story Oliver is NOT reunited with rich parents which seem to be more fitting in this day and age. The only thing is that it is slow to draw out the emotions you feel when you first read the novel but this may be precisely due to the fact that the story is so universally known that it become shard to be surprised and, moreover we are so constantly emotionally solicited that we may have become a bit num to this kind of story (Been there.. Done that…).

But it is refreshing to be reminded of the old-fashioned thrills of good storytelling anyway, and it is definitely a movie worth taking children of 10 and above. Quite a change from the usual video-like movies marketed for kids.

NOTE: This drawing of Victorian London, by the French illustrator and printmaker Gustave Doré, shows the squalid conditions created for the urban labouring classes by the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution reshaped the urban environment, not least by concentrating workers in the new industrial towns and suburbs linked and supplied by railways. Doré documented some of the process in his drawings of London made between 1869 and 1871. The atmosphere and imagery of these pictures may have been influenced by his earlier cycle of illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, but many contemporary critics felt that, for the poorest sector of the working classes, the first Industrial Revolution had in many respects created a new workaday hell.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Eough of the Farm Subsidies!

France and the U.S. have one thing in common that is very little talked about – both countries have 'large' (or at least larger than other countries) farm communities “that benefit from tens of billions of dollars in handouts each year, allowing their farmers to export inexpensive food to world markets” says the International Herald Tribune.

The hypocrisy of the whole thing lies in the fact that those subsidies and tariff barriers hurth directly the ecconomies of those countries that the Group of Eight industrialized countries (G8) have publicly committed to help (by cutting debt for instance).

Four African ambassadors to the United States who were attending World Food Prize events in Des Moines said Friday that U.S. and European Union farm subsidies make it difficult for African farmers to compete in the world market and increase the amount of money needed for development assistance in Africa.

The United-States has promised to cut its subsidies IF the EU does the same (read here). The problem is that France is unwilling to lower subsidies and import tariffs on farm goods (read here). France is blocking any further negotiations at the WTO even if it is quite isolated in Europe.

Unfortunately just about all French politician have been blocking any change for years, for I think, mostly symbolic and electoral reasons, and for the fear of dire actions on the part of the (far too powerful) farmers’ union, and lobbyists. Even French rising politician Nicolas Sarkozy, the self-proclaimed king of reform, said in an editorial published Thursday in the business newspaper Les Echos that further reductions in farm subsidies were "not acceptable.". The silence of the left, including those opposed to a liberal economy may be explained by their failure to see the contradiction and the hypocrisy of supporting farm subsidies and aid for Africa.

The interesting thing is that this news has not made the headlines in the French papers and has not even been mentioned anywhere in the French evening TV news - through which most people get their news.

It is also worth remembering that as we posted before:

Nearly half of the EU budget (48 billion Euro) of 98 billion Euro is allocated to agricultural spending, and France is the first beneficiary, yet the farmers represent only 2.6% of the working population in France (official data found on the website of the French Ambassy in the U.S.).

Moreover, the European C.A.P. has greatly encouraged corn production by giving more subsidies to cereal farmers which has resulted in a huge increase in water use (and this does not even take into account the other effects of intensive farming such as water pollution).

So to sum it up, the farm subsidies defended by the French leaders result in

- environmental problems in France,

- in making life even more difficult for poor countries,

- in international tension, including within the European Union.

- having most of the European budget spent on farming that could be other wise allocated to other more important spending.

All that for what?

For 2.6% of the population and to keep a dying symbol alive?!



Thursday, October 20, 2005

I'm going to have to disagree with you sir.

So says the regional FEMA director, Marty Bahamonde, to his previous boss, former FEMA director Mike "Brownie" Brown. Bahamonde is testifying before a Senate panel committee and spilling the beans, including emails which show a curiously unresponsive FEMA director when it came to the plight of hurricane victims. His response to news that the first levee had broken, "I'm going to have to call the White House." Presumably to talk to the dog since the President was still, working at the ponderosa in Texas. Hmm, now maybe they'll reconsider that $145,000 consulting salary, er, fee they're still paying him in Washington.


To No One's Great Surprise...

...but it's nice to have it in an official report. US National Guard preparedness has been severely hampered by the war in Iraq. So says a new report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO).


US Energy Policy (II)

In our last energy posting, we discussed the process by which new energy standards get introduced and approved. As I said before, I met my energy policy source for lunch last week and discussed a myriad of issues, most of which centered directly on US energy policy. At one point during our conversation, I asked my source for an ideal energy policy. The answer came in two parts, just as energy issues do - first, there is the transportation side of the energy issue, and then there's the electricity side. Both have their own set of problems and possibilities.

The first is particularly messy since the US has essentially painted itself into a corner with its history of short-sighted transportation policies. Fuel standards have never been as high as they could have been and except in a pinch (OPEC crisis) consumers have rarely been encouraged to conserve. At the level of infrastructure, the post-war incentives for returning GIs to build outside the urban areas, Eisenhower's interstates which cut through city neighborhoods, and the eventual white flight that drained the urban areas has led to the suburban sprawl that one sees so much of today. The problem is that the current model is unsustainable over the longterm. It relies on a non-renewable resource to fuel it. Eventually, the US will have to come back to more high-density living, which happens to be the most cost-effective. But to do so will require a major paradigm shift on the part of suburban homeowners, unless they can afford the inevitable premium price on a gallon of gas. So transportation is one issue, the solution being better fuel-efficiency standards and better incentives for high-density living which allows more options for public transportation.
The other side of the energy equation, electricity, is going to take some real ingenuity. Right now the two main sources of electricity are coal and nuclear. While nuclear is attractive, it also poses some serious long-term health risks due to waste transportation and storage. Coal is non-renewable and has its own evironmental baggage to go with it (strip mining and acid rain to name only two). For an idea of what's being discussed on the coal front, see the discussion taking place in Montana with its Democrat Governor, Brian Schweitzer. One issue that is rather new to the whole electicity equation, is the inclusion of environmental costs. The environment has never really figured into the cost/benefit equation when doing the analysis, but it is beginning to. And more and more, environmental groups are working WITH industry officials to work out a more eco-friendly approach to producing electricity. The whole credit system whereby one company can sell its clean-air credits to another is just one example. We also got into deregulation, which we both agree has done more harm than good in this sector. Why do utilities need to be private if they are providing a basic service at an affordable price? The basic rule of human behavior states that unless there is a rule against nasty behavior, someone will take advantage of the system for their own benefit. Enron just found all the nice little loopholes in the California rule book. They gamed the system. Why? because they could.
There is obviously much more that could be said about US energy policy, but just dividing it into two sectors that have little to do with each other is a good start. I'm not sure Bush has figured this out yet.


Give Peace a Chance...

Common wisdom has it that things are always getting worse - Things were so much better in the ‘good old times’… Think of ‘the cold war’ vs. the ‘terror and war’ of today. It makes you nostalgic, right?

Well, think again.... Common wisdom actually gets it wrong!

A recent study by the Human Security Centre shows that there has been a dramatic, but largely unrecognised, decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuse over the past decade.

What is interesting is to see how little media exposure this study has had since it came out on Monday. It is true that war sells better than peace.

Here are some of the key findings:

- The number of armed conflicts around the world has declined by more than 40 per cent since the early 1990s;
- Between 1991 (the high point for the post–World War II period) and 2004, 28 armed struggles for self-determination started or restarted, while 43 were contained or ended. There were just 25 armed secessionist conflicts under way in 2004, the lowest number since 1976;
- Notwithstanding the horrors of
Rwanda, Srebrenica and elsewhere, the number of genocides and politicides plummeted by 80 per cent between the 1988 high point and 2001;
- International crises, often harbingers of war, declined by more than 70 per cent between 1981 and 2001;
- The dollar value of major international arms transfers fell by 33 per cent between 1990 and 2003. Global military expenditure and troop numbers declined sharply in the 1990s as well.
- The number of refugees dropped by some 45 per cent between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came to an end; and
- Five out of six regions in the developing world saw a net decrease in core human rights abuses between 1994 and 2003.
- The average number of battle-deaths per conflict per year—the best measure of the deadliness of warfare— has been falling dramatically but unevenly since the 1950s. In 1950, for example, the average armed conflict killed 38,000 people; in 2002 the figure was 600, a 98 per cent decline;
- The period since the end of World War II is the longest interval of uninterrupted peace between the major powers in hundreds of years; and

- The number of actual and attempted military coups has been declining for more than 40 years.
- In 1963 there were 25 coups and attempted coups around the world, the highest number in the post–World War II period. In 2004 there were only 10 coup attempts—a 60 per cent decline. All of them failed.


Off to See the Wizard...

Another one ... (To get your day off to a good start)


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Apologetic Connecticut

To get your day off to a good start (or finish, depending on where you are in the world).... :
The sign reads: Connecticut Welcomes You. Birthplace of George W. Bush. We Apologize.

[from my friend Christine]


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

US Energy Policy

I sat down recently with someone who works on US energy policy. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my education the subject. An education is exactly what I received. Over lunch, he told me about how energy policy is set in the US. The Department of Energy acts on guidelines voted on by Congress. The guidelines, say tighter energy standards for toasters by 2010, are then sent off to their various laboratories throughout the US. These labs run the experiments that give the DOE its cost/benefit analysis. According to DOE rules, the results must be reported in order of most to least efficient. They have to justify why the most efficient standards wouldn't work - high efficiency toasters cost $x+3 to produce but will only save $x+1. In short, the intended goal is to find out the maximum efficiency standard any given industry can support.
It will probably surprise very few readers here to learn that according to this inside policy expert the current adminstration has watered down efficiency standards so as not to offend the various industries. Reports kept coming back telling them to retest their data without the complex formulas (sound familiar? EPA, Treasury, etc.) and/or to simply skew the data. I offer you the following anonymous example: it will cost X industry $200 million to replace a certain feature on their product line making these products efficient enough to save $12 billion over the next ten years. While this would seem rather straight forward, this administration refuses to back these standards since citing the cost as too high to the industry. The product, I might add, is not even a competive one. It's a protected industry in which they are the sole makers of the product. They could pass the cost on to the power industry. It gets complicated from here, but suffice it to say this this administration has consistently opted to go with the least efficient standards on a regular basis, to the point of asking the labs to simplify their testing which they think is too complicated (read as: gives too much credit to high-efficiency standards). When they don't comply, people are asked to leave or testing is taken elsewhere. I'm sure the industry would love to run some of these tests for themselves.
One other tidbit that I learned is a detail about something commonly known. I brought up the Cheney energy meetings which went on in DC shortly after Bush took office. I mentioned that it didn't bother me so much that industry officials should be present at a meeting to discuss US energy policy with other energy experts. His reply provided the missing detail, one which our readers probably already knew. The meeting on US energy policy was ONLY industry officials. There was NOBODY there from outside the industry. You have to give them credit for consistency. I don't think they've favored the consumer or the environment once.
I'll try to give you a bit more info on US energy policy - including my source's 'dream policy' - in the next few days.


Bring the (French) Troops Back Home!

When I read this news:
The former commander of French troops in Ivory Coast has been suspended for allegedly covering up the death of an Ivorian held by French forces.
I thought that if the French were the United-States, their army would probably make the same mistakes in Iraq. This is something that puts the criticism of others into perspective.
This is aslo something that is going to make the job of the French army in Ivory Coast much more difficult, so.... why not bring the troops back home and find some other countries to do the job? Is it really wise for the French, the former colonial power to be involved anyway?
Maybe the French should ask the Americans..
.Only the Americans don't care.
And the truth is, the French would never give up any bit of their influence in Africa to the U.S. anyway.!


Monday, October 17, 2005

The Genius behind the Stupidity!

Now if you really know the secret behind Bush's success, watch this hilarious video (found on BagNewsNote).
Good laugh guaranteed!


Isn't Mrs Rice a Bit Oreo Cookish?

Here is another excerpt from Dr Rice’s interview on NBC’s Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT : How troubling is that to you that only 2
percent of African-Americans say that George Bush is doing a good job as
SEC'Y RICE: Well, Tim, I don't know what to make of the
polls, and I'm not myself one who tends to put much faith in polls, and what
questions are asked and how they're asked. What I do know is that this has
been a president who has gone out of his way to be inclusive, not just in his
Cabinet and not just in everything that he has done, but who has cared deeply
about the progress of African-Americans.
MR. RUSSERT: Why do only 2
percent of African-Americans agree with you?
SEC'Y RICE: Tim, I'm a
social scientist and until I see a poll and how its questions are asked and what
the assumptions are, I'm not going to comment on a poll of that kind. I am
simply telling you that this president has an extraordinary record with
I find it really telling how Secretary Rice is quick to discard whatever does not look good. It is so typical of this administration – when the facts do not suit your ideology, just change them.
Well, let’s imagine that the NBC news poll is not quite accurate (it seems that this poll included 807 people nationwide, and only 89 blacks, and so as a result, there is a great margin or error indeed), and so let’s have a look at The Pew Research Center which has a larger sample… Well, it finds that Bush's approval rating among blacks is at 12 percent, which is still about the lowest a president can get.
So the fact of the matter is that Bush does have a problem with the African-American community, and it is time for Mrs Rice to face up to the facts.
This does not mean he is a racist, it just means that he is perceived as a very uncaring man, a man who totally ignores poverty and only cares for the people of his own kind.
Given Bush’s background, that has got to be really hard to imagine now, isn’t it?


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Iraq : the Root Causes of Terrorism?

For Condoleezza Rice to say this on NBC’s Meet the Press....
The fact of the matter is that when we were attacked on September 11, we had a choice to make. We could decide that the proximate cause was al Qaeda and the people who flew those planes into buildings and, therefore, we would go after al Qaeda […] or we could take a bolder approach which is to say we had to go after the root causes of the kind of terrorism that was produced there, and that meant a different kind of Middle-East. And there is no one who could have imagined a different king of Middle-East with Saddam Hussein still in power.

…. takes balls!
Now this is really a fascinating spin, isn’t it? Given that it is al Qaeda that attacked America on 9/11 and that Bin Laden is still on the loose, and given that Saddam Hussein, as bad and cruel as he was, had nothing to do with the attack, it is amazing that Mrs Rice is still trying to implicitly connect the two.
More than that, it seems rather odd that someone – as intelligent as Dr Rice - could imagine a different Middle-East without a major change between the Palestinians and the Israeli, or without a change of leadership in Saudi Arabia (the funding state of Islamic fundamentalism and the obvious ideological “root cause of terrorism”). I’m not suggesting that we should have invaded the Saudis – that was clearly a definite no-no - but so much crap from the Secretary of State is almost an insult to our intelligence isn’t it?

PS: By the way, aren't we all forgetting that the rationale for going to war was the "clear and imminent danger" posed by the "weapons of mass destructions" that Saddam Hussein was said to possess? So I guess this statement by Mrs Rice is a way of acknowledging that that was not the reason... It was rather geopolitical motivation that led this administration to make war. Definitely a new and bolder view of casus belli which the Americans would have certainly not supported.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Franco-American Axis of Idiocy.

Following the news from both France and the U.S., can be very entertaining and I am quite amused by the irony of the current situation:

On the one hand, you have a major investigation of possible corruption by French officials and companies in Iraq which is making its way to the healines as no less than France's former ambassador to the U.N. was taken into custody yesterday. So far this is is the most senior former French official to be detained but the name of Pasqua, former French interior minister, has also come up several times in a CIA report. No doubt that more names and company leaders will come out of the investigation.

On the other hand you have a top White House official, Karl Rove, under investigation for leaking the name of a CIA agent. Karl Rove who is, according to The Wall Street Journal (not particulalrly known for its liberal views) one of the spin-doctors who sold the war to the American people:
Formed in August 2002, the so-called the White House Iraq Group, which included Messrs. Rove and Libby, worked on setting strategy for selling the war in Iraq to the public in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion.
In fact the reason behind the French-American crisis over iraq in 2003 may to do with having too much in common and that commonality is certainly not the interest of the people , no, it is rather the pursuit of self-interest and personal agenda.

Maybe in the end there will be some form of poetic justice coming out of the different investigations in both countries. In any case, I feel quite comforted in my criticism of both countries during the crisis that led to the war. Both governments made a mockery of internatonal diplomacy. Both Bush and Chirac lied to their people and they should be made accountable for their poor choices.
I am not naive enough to assume that decisions by world leaders are based on moral principles but at least I'd expect them not to get caught so plainly. I expect them to know how to lie a little bit better and be a bit more subtle about it, a bit more professional that is - out of respect for people's intelligence if nothing else, but no, they're not even that good! Well, for that alone, they should be impeached!


Wednesday, October 12, 2005


I link to the following news in order to baffle our non-American readers. This is the sort of mentality, especially the rhetoric, that just doesn't register abroad. When all the dust settles, and all the insults have been thrown; when all the bloody pens have been put away and we go out to the pub to share a drink, this is the one kind of story that draws blood again. Think about it, this one little article has everything: God, family (in the largest possible sense) values (in the narrowest possible sense), politics, American home-building, and a woman married at 17. Come on, where else can you find such adoring parents, excited at this birth "because it was the first time in eight years the family has had a girl."

And they want more!

UPDATE: of course, one could always read this as the main stream media trying to do a story on Red-State Americana in order to show how truly "in touch" they are. Really, is a woman having her 16th baby worthy of the national news? I can see local or state, but national? The only missing element in this piece of Americana is a terror threat and some demonstration of patriotism.


French Environment Law.

Yesterday, the French National Assembly voted unanimously a ban on all plastic bags by 2010 (as you can read here in French). This means that selling and making plastic bags will be unlawfull on the French territory. This aslo comes with a campaign launched in the media to encourage the recycling of waste.
It is about time! France is really behind other European countries in that matter. Despite Chirac's promises, not much has been done in the last few years. (like most other promises, needlsess to say)

Now, it seems to me that while plastic bags are still common in the US, paper bags have been the norm in grocery stores for a very long time. I wonder why that is. I'd be tempted to think that it is because they end up being less costly as otherwise, packaging in the U.S. is not necessarily particularly environment-friendly. Besides, it is a lot easier to use paper bags when you go straight to your car than when you have to take the bus or the subway and walk with them for a while. Of course, like most things in the U.S. it also depends on what part of the country you live in.
In any case, I don't think the French are going to be using paper bags. What may actually result from the French ban is a wider use of biodegradable plastic bags made with plant-base material as you can read here.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cronyism?...what cronyism?

According to documents just made public in Texas, Harriet Miers has long thought of her colleague and friend, GWB, as cool, the greatest and a blessing to Texas. Apparently you reward this kind of flattery with one of the most revered postings in the US - a seat on the Supreme Court.

Um, Mr. President, I think you rock! ...and I'd really like a tenure-track position at Harvard!

PS: For our non-English native readers, cronyism can be defined as "favoritism shown to friends and associates (as by appointing them to positions without regard for their qualifications)" [and it can be translated in French by "copinage"].


Perception of Islamic Extremism, Ban of Muslim Headcarves, & Montheist Religions

A new international poll by the Pew Global Attitude Project on Islamic Extremism had three very interesting tables.

1. Islamic Extremism Threat Perception.
This table shows some very interesting findings with regards to the perception of that threat, and we all know that perception is really what matters. Surprisingly, the numbers in the US and in France are very similar.

2. Banning Muslim Head Scarves

More findings show that France an India are the only countries vastly supporting the ban, followed by a smaller majority in Germany, and the Netherlands.
All the other countries in the poll, including Turkey which incidently bans Muslim head scarves in public offices, think the bad is mostly a bad idea.
The US, Canada, Lebanon, Great Britain and Turkey hold similar views with analogous numbers.

3. Perception of Monotheist Religions

There is so much to say on these findings that I'll let you draw your own conclusions:


Monday, October 10, 2005

William or not William, that is ......

Ever wondered how a man who is said to have quit school by the age of 12 or 14 managed to write the greatest lines of English literature?
How someone born into a family of modest means wrote plays which required detailed geographical and political knowledge and advanced skills in reading Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian sources and knowledgeable about Court politics?
How such a great man seems to have taken little notice when he was alive?
How come no manuscrips in Shakespeare’s hand have ever been found. No letters. No books or archives….

The mystery about Shakespeare becomes striking when you realize how little is actually known about him.

Well, there have been rumors before of course that Old Bill was not really William… and there have been hypotheses but the topic is so taboo in the academic circles that no serious conclusive research had been done. This time, a couple of scholars have come up with a theory that has the merit of addressing the issue intelligently, it seems. Shakespeare, they claim in The Truth Will Out : Unmasking the Real Shakespeare, was the ‘front man’ for Sir Henry Neville, an educated nobleman far more suited to the role of literary genius - a diplomat too close to the Platangenets and to the political circles to admit he wrote such controversial plays.

The theory is appealing. On the one hand, they seem to make a good case, supported by no less than Mark Rylance, artistic director of the Globe, who suggests in The Times that the fingering of Neville as the true author may prove to be a “historic” step.
If the plays had not been attributed to Shakespeare after his death, said Rylance, “he would be the last person you would imagine able to write such matter”.

On the other hand, more investigations should probably be undertaken as in this time and age, we should all be very careful with anything even remotely resembling a conspiracy theory.

But at least it has the merit of challenging years of painstaking study — not to mention academic reputations — of revered scholars. The Times also published the reaction of Peter Ackroyd, the historian and novelist, who wrote a 546-page biography of Shakespeare (that does not even mention Neville in the index). Not surprisingly, Ackroyd said

“I don’t want to know the evidence,” he huffed last week when asked about the possibility of Neville being the real wizard of the word. “William Shakespeare is William Shakespeare.”

Mmm… A very good illustration of those revered open-minded scholars!

Whatever the truth may be, you may start trying to make your own mind by reading what here, here , here or here. There is also an interview of one of the researchers available here.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

'Lost' is losing you!

Last Wednesday, episode 4 of season 2 of 'Lost' deepened the mystery surrounding the island where the passangers have been stranded since their plane crash in a very exciting way.
[Warning - the following contains some spoilers... ]

Well, in this latest episode, there is a reference to a mysterious a corporation that has built a center on the island where a team of two sits around to do tests on various studies. According to an orientation video, something has happened that has caused the scientific corporation, The Hanso Foundation, to create a countdown sequence that needs to be reset every 108 minutes.
Now this great episode quickly caused all sort of speculations on the Net as the mystery deepens but the interesting twist is that when you Google 'Hanso Foundation', you find a site for a real corporation. No reference to the TV show, just a few details about a guy named Alvar Hanso who is said to have addressed the U.N in 1967.
Kind of troubling...Is that for real? Is there actually A Hanso Foundation? Weird... but then,

... you hit "Terms of Use", and only then, do you see that the site was actually set up by ABC-Disney. Other than this link, the site looks like that of a regular corporation at first glance.
Pretty good advertising strategy - a way to confuse people that is really cool. As result, all the fans will most certainly get even more sucked into the show, trying to make some senses of the few (confusing) clues available. No doubt it'll even drive some people over the edge in their fascination for conspiracy theories...
But in any case, the confusion entertained by this advertising strategy is fascinating and it is most certainly the sign of more similar things to come. A great way to remind people to be careful in taking what's on the net for granted....


One Helluva Job-Posting

This came across the wire today:

Al Qaeda has put job advertisements on the Internet asking for supporters to help put together its Web statements and video montages, an Arabic newspaper reported.

In the time-honored tradition of satirizing the extremists...I'm just wondering if you're really good at your job, do they still make you go blow yourself up? "No, don't send Mohammed, he's the only copy boy we've got." Or do they just continue to recruit unemployed and disaffected youth? Can you imagine the office dialogue? "Harry, can you get me that sniper footage by Monday, and Sid, do we have any stock footage of Osama? He looks far too pasty in this latest reel."

The paper said the Global Islamic Media Front, an al Qaeda-linked Web-based organization, would "follow up with members interested in joining and contact them via email."

If by some rare chance you're actually interested, it seems that there's no address to which you might send your CV (how do you pad THAT CV? I really, really hate the Americans!). And if you do get through to them, what do you counter their offer with? more virgins in paradise?
The sad part is I'm sure they'll find their new "employees." But I guess if they're going corporate, we can rest assured that they'll end up poisoned by office politics. Go get 'em Dilbert!


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Milking 9/11 to Boost Job Approval

Here's an interesting point made by The Spiegel with regard to Bush's speech yesterday:

Yesterday, the same day New Yorkers were warned there was a "specific threat" of a bombing on their subways, President Bush delivered what the White House promoted as a major address on terrorism. It seemed, on the surface, like a perfect topic for the moment. But his talk was not about the nation's current challenges. He delivered a reprise of his Sept. 11 rhetoric that suggested an avoidance of today's reality that seemed downright frightening.

The president's inability to grow beyond his big moment in 2001 is unnerving. But the fact that his handlers continue to encourage him to milk 9/11 is infuriating.

The administration's penchant for using them as political cover is offensive. It threatens to turn our wounds, and our current fears, into cynical and desperate spin.

Their point makes all the more sense when you keep the following CBS Poll in mind:
President George W. Bush's overall job approval rating (down to 37%) has reached the lowest ever measured in this poll, and evaluations of his handling of Iraq, the economy and even his signature issue, terrorism, are also at all-time lows.


Friday, October 07, 2005

BBC Reveals God Told Bush to Invade Iraq.

This remains to checked but it is worth blogging as it may very well be true. [The source is the BBC and not Al Jazeera and the news is all over the media in Britian, here or here or here].

Nabil Shaath says: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …" And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"

Abu Mazen was at the same meeting and recounts how President Bush told him: "I have a moral and religious obligation. So I will get you a Palestinian state."

And the most disturbing part is that when you read this, you begin to realize that, whether it is true or not, it is plausible and believable - and that in itself is enough to be scary in this day and age.