Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Black Celebration of Napoleon.

Napoleon is often cited for his military genius - particularly for his victory at the battle of Austerlitz that too place two hundred years ago this Friday, and in which the 71,000 men of his Grande Armée routed their 91,000 adversaries in just six hours, killing 19,000. Historians usually agree that this was some accomplishment.
But it seems that the French government is actually planning to keep a low profile during the bicentennial of the French victory, and the celebrations will be kept to a minimum.

Interetingly enough, this is happening right during a controversy surrounding a new book by a French historian and black academic Claude Ribbe who accuses the emperor of the genocide of rebellious blacks. Mr Ribbe goes as far as suggesting that Napoleon provided the model for Hitler's Final Solution with the slaughter of more than 100,000 Caribbean slaves. While this may be going a bit far, the book has the merit of undermining a French historical myth, something unthinkable a few years back.

It is very unlikely that this book alone explains the attitude of the French government. I think they may simply want to avoid any controversy surrounding an anniversary that underlines the divide between the way the French black living in “departments et territories d’outre-mer”, also known as DOM-TOM (the French overseas departments) see their history and the way the rest of the French have been taught about it.

One thing quite well known in those “overseas” territories but completely ignored in Metropolitan France is that whereas France abolished slavery and freed all enslaved people in her colonies in 1794 (France actually never authorized slavery on its mainland), Napoleon re-established slavery in 1802 along with the reinstitution of the "Code noir", prohibiting Blacks, mulattoes and other people of color from entering French colonial territory or intermarrying with whites. Thousands of people of color were killed in Guadeloupe alone as they fought to retain their freedom.

According to Ribbe, Napoleon ordered the killing of as many blacks as possible in Haiti and Guadeloupe to be replaced by new, docile slaves from Africa.

It’s about time that France acknowledges that a reassessment of history is much needed in the current tense situation that led up to the social unrests of last month. Integrating “visible minorities” might begin with making them part of the national history. This is all the more important when there is pressure for re-writing history from a ‘pro-colonialist’ perspective, as we discussed before on this blog.

On a (lighter) note: a re-enactment of the battle of Austerlitz will be staged on the actual historical site and Napoleon will be played by….. by an American ! The irony is just too perfect.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Climate Change: The South Is Moving North!

While nobody seems to be giving a damn about the Climate Conference in Montreal, a tropical storm just battered the Canary Islands - which are actually closer to Europe than to the tropics.

The South is moving north...

As we have mentioned on this blog (see here), this got to be THE most dramatic, most challenging and most pressing issue of this century, but both the media and political leaders are too preoccupied with short-term goals and won't listen to the scientists who know a few things.

A good comparison has been made and 'should' appeal to the American audience:
Climate change can be likened in its destructive scale to the effects of using weapons of mass destruction, according to Britain's leading scientist. (The Independent)

But this will probably not result into a war against... CO2 emission!


Total Hypocrisy.

In a statement, Total said it had always fought against forced labour but acknowledged it still was prevalent in Burma. "Further to this agreement and for humanitarian reasons, Total has agreed to compensate the plaintiffs," it said. It added: "Total upholds denial of any involvement in forced labour and all accusations of this nature." (BBC)

Humanitarian reason, hey? Right.... It's all about tarnished image rather.

For more details, see the 'Burma Campaign' for human rights report on Total in Burma (now called Myanmar by the junta) or go to Total website for their version.

They actually say a few things quite bluntly:
Unfortunately, the world’s oil and gas reserves are not necessarily located in democracies, as a glance at a map shows.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Chirac & Bush, Low & Lower.

Bush and Chirac could soon become "lowness buddies". Today the French daily Le Parisien published a CSA Poll that shows that:
  • 60% of the French asked think the French president has no or little influence in Europe,
  • 66% think he has no or little influence in the world,
  • 72% think he has no or little influence.... in France.
Although at first glance it seems that Chirac has some way to go to reach Bush's "lowness", some numbers are strangely similar:
  • 56 % of Americans say Bush "won't be able to get much done" (Newsweek poll) and,
  • 56% of the French do NOT trust Chirac to deal with the issues of today's society. (but 40% do). Down 2 points from the previous month.(another CSA poll)
Even if the question asked is different it is similar enough to be meaningful. Maybe now, Bush and Chirac could work on a rapprochement since they obviously have a lot more in common than they think.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Effect Of Bombing -al Jazzera-Plan Allegations In Arab World

The White House may deny all they want or call it "outlandish", the claims that Bush wanted to bomb the most popular TV in the Arab world is already having a ripple effect throughout the Arab world, damaging even more the image of the US in the world. It strangely parallels Bush's approval rate in the US... You think it may have reached bottom but it is still getting worse. How much lower can it go? The divide between the Arab world and the US is widening by the minute. The long term effects have yet to be felt, and the media in the US have seemed so far unaware of this.
Newspapers in the Arab world have reacted with a mixture of anger and disgust over allegations that US President George W. Bush suggested bombing the popular Arab television station al-Jazeera. BBC
The White House surely cannot just ignore it and hope it'll go away somehow...


Follow-up on the Bush-Bombing-Al-jazeera Memo

As we have already talked about (here and here), the allegations that Bush wanted to bomb the news channel al Jazeera are likely to have some political and judicial effects.

Today on the BBC:
The head of al-Jazeera is delivering a letter to Tony Blair demanding the facts on reports that President Bush suggested bombing the Arab TV station.
But more interestingly is this part:
Cabinet Office civil servant David Keogh has been charged under the Official Secrets Act of passing the memo to former Labour MP Tony Clarke's researcher Leo O'Connor. Both men are due to appear at Bow Street Magistrates Court next week. Last week Labour MP and former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle tabled a Commons motion calling for the memo to be made public.
He accused ministers of using the Official Secrets Act to save political embarrassment rather than protect national security as it is intended.
Both in the US and in Britain, "Leak" seems to be the word of the year!
The best part is when some government officials say it was a joke. Some joke! Nobody's buying it of course. It appears that the same memo has some other embarrassing elements which may explain why it has not been made public yet.

The Guardian has an extensive article with some interesting details. While the news has not been all over the media yet, it has "reached mythic proportions among bloggers on the Internet" (including conspiracy theorists).


The Economist : Why America Should Stay.

As we posted a couple days ago, The Economist has taken a strong stance against the US pullout of Iraq. Their point is essentially that a precipitate withdrawal would do more harm than good as long as the Iraqi forces are not ready to take over and that it would embolden Zarkawi and his fanatics who have been killing more Iraqis than Foreign troops.
It seems to me that the main danger would consists in giving way to the terrorists and turn Iraq into a training field à la Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. On the other hand, it is true that some of the insurgents are fighting because of the presence of American troops. What percentage exactly? Well, it's not like we have polls on that!
The mainquestion may not be so much the"when" as the "how" to withdraw troops. The US has a responsibility to ensure that as they stand down, the Iraqi forces are standing up, like connected vessels working together.

Two things The Economist says that I definitely agree on :
1) If the Iraqi government formally ask the troops to leave, they should do so.
2) The argument about whether the US should quit Iraq is not the same as the one about whether they should have gone there in the first place. (and unfortunately this often confused in the many discussions).


Accountability... or Accountabilties?

Here's an interesting suggestion by an found on "Common Dreams" :
I would suggest that any member of the US Congress who, despite a plethora of international evidence that the reasons for this invasion had been faked by the Bush administration, had voted for it, should be barred from ever running for any public office in America ever again! Because either they are too careless and gullible or else they are too stupid for the job, and they have unnecessarily endangered and killed many lives, not least many fine young Americans in their prime.
Last, but not least, I have no words for the contempt I will forever feel for the majority of the American mainstream journalists for not having informed the American public about the facts.
After all, the rest of the world was fully aware of them. So it wasn't rocket science to learn and report them as well.
While this will never happen, this "Austrian conference interpreter, occasional writer and political activist" has a point! The very fact that a majority thought (or may still believe) that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11 is a good illustration of the propaganda that occured. If only, the US had waged war to get rid of a brutal dictator, they would have had some moral credibility in the world today.
Despite all of that, let's not simplify history - I still believe that French President Jacques Chirac also has his own responsibility - notably for not letting the US Council hold a vote, or for being unwilling to suggest a clear time-table for inspections with a list of to-do tasks with a definite dealine. No doubt the Bush administration would have been upset but they would have probably been forced into accepting it by the British and by public opinion.
And let's not forget Saddam's own responsibility for playing with fire. He dug his own grave by not giving full access to the inspectors, thus giving a pretext for the warmongers in the White House and the Pentagone.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Snow in Paris

This morning we this year's first snow in Paris... Started with a few flakes but now it's snowing hard. It came a bit earlier than usual but it probably won't stick very long. It is supposed to rain next week. Nice while it lasts.

Here's a view of the Sacré Coeur. (The many Paris webcams can be fun to watch even if you don't see much while it's snowing..)

: the snow is almost all gone this afternoon. Too bad... but this is only the beginning of winter.


Friday, November 25, 2005

The Economist Against American Pullout.

This morning I got this week's The Economist in my mail box. I can't wait to read their detailed arguments (even though I still think this is far less crucial than the environment issue previously discussed on this blog). In any case, their conclusion is pretty clear:

More later...


What Really Matters : CO2 Levels and Climate Change.

In the grand scale of things, the war in Iraq, terrorism, the French riots or Bush himself all seem irrelevant news compared to this:

A new European study looking at ice taken from 3km below the surface of Antarctica pulished in the Journal of Science, today has concluded that current levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years.

The project leader Thomas Stocker from the University of Bern, Switzerland said:
"We find that CO2 is about 30% higher than at any time, and methane 130% higher than at any time; and the rates of increase are absolutely exceptional: for CO2, 200 times faster than at any time in the last 650,000 years."
This only confirms what has been know for a long time about the rise of greenhouse gases:
Some climate experts not involved in the research said the findings also confirmed that the buildup of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe emissions was taking the atmosphere into uncharted territory. (NYTimes)
Another study reported in the Journal of Sciene also claims that for the last 150 years, sea levels have been rising twice as fast as in previous centuries.
I don't know how much this is going to make the headlines, especially in the American media but it is high public opinion should pressure their governments. Next week, the UN Climate Change Conference begins in Montreal.
So far, the US - the world's biggest polluter - has rejected the Kyoto protocol claiming it was too costly and wrongly excluded developing nations. The result is that this gives plenty of excuses for develloping countries to follow the path of the rich nations and global warming will only worsen.
The Kyoto protocol ends in 2012 so a new round of talks is going to begin in Montreal. The main problem is that the Bush administrations has [as we have all been clearly aware of with Iraq] a very short-sighted view. After years of denial and misuse of science, they have finally acknowledged the reality of the contribution of human activity to climate change. But now their absurd philosophy is to
rely on free-market mechanisms and the widespread introduction of new technologies to improve energy efficiency and slash pollution.
This is idiotic because technologies will take years to improve enough to have a significant impact on CO2 emissions and free-market mechanhisms are concerned with short term benefits, not with long term needs.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Other Thanksgiving Tradition...

- that of the column in which Art Buchwald, the famous American humorist (and Francophile) explains Thanksgiving Day to the French. It was first written in 1953 when Buchwald was the Paris correspondant for the International Herald Tribune and, and it has been reprinted every November ever since. It is hillarious to read if you don't know it.
Go to Le Grande Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving or "Joyeux Jour de Merci Donnant" ;-)


The Moral Stakes of Withdrawing Troops.

The Christian Science Monitor has a good piece on the 'Moral Stakes of Exciting Iraq'. If the whole idea that international politics should be somewhat 'moral' seems quite foreign to the many Europeans (who after two World Wars have adopted the more cynical Machiavelli's-The Prince philosophy into their own), "Americans like to think of themselves as a moral people, a champion for good in the world" , the CSM reminds us.
Despite all the heated rhetoric and animosity among the different camps, there exists a common thread: a sense of responsibility over what conditions the US-led coalition leaves behind when its troops inevitably depart.
Since the Weapons of Mass Desturction were never found, the other 'casus belli' that can be used to justify the war is to get rid of a brutal dictator but:
... the moral case for ridding the world of a thug - a central argument in the run-up to war - gets trumped in the event that the US leaves behind something worse.
The morality of the war has also become harder to sustain in the light of the many violations of human rights (torture, Gitzmo or the use of white phosporus weapons) that have come up. How much 'evil' can be good for a greater 'good'? This is I believe where the gap between the American public opinion and the Neo-cons is the greater.
Europeans would also have a problem with that but they think that wars can't be moral anyway... That's why they tend to be against it, as a pricniple, even perharps when they shouldn't. It is not just the two World Wars, it is also the result of the post-WWI colonial wars. Europeans have a colonist complex unknown to the Americans.
But if, as suggested in this article, the situation in Iraq is worse when the US leaves than when they came in, it'll be hard for most Americans to see themselves as a force of good. The situation may have the sour taste of Vietnam all over again, and as we are beginning to see, the result could be a growing isolasionist sentiment in the American public opinion.


Let's Go Concrete.. again!

A while ago (right after Hurricane Katrina) we posted something on the benefits of concrete in making houses and buildings in areas hit by hurricanes. Well, it seems that a new French-made concrete has a number of other (new) advantages:

  • It is a tensile material... So it works well in seismic building conditions.
  • It's dense, but you need less matter... So buildings are lighter and cost less and can optimize bad lands for foundations.
  • It allows for fire regulations... Much better then steel, as it keeps it's mechanical properties much longer.
  • It's watertight...
  • It's "easy" to make...
  • It's molded... As all concretes, and can be readily prefabricated.
  • It allows for nano technology...

This is according to a posting on the blog 'European Tribune'. It has more fascinating details on the history and making of concrete. And guess what? It was written by a Frenchman of course!

Note : In these times of urban renewal and tower projects blown up, a question remains - how easily can this better concrete be destroyed?


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Signs of the times... to come.

What we said yesterday is happening sooner than expected. Here's a hint:

"I do not think that American forces need to be there in the numbers that they are now because - for very much longer - because Iraqis are stepping up," Rice told Fox News in an interview Tuesday. "This is not just a matter of training numbers of Iraqi forces, but actually seeing them hold territory."


Picture of the Day: Towers Blown Up.

AP article through the Washington Post:

The 1960s Ramon towers in the Val-Fourre housing project of Mantes-la-Jolie, west of Paris, collapse in a cloud of dust as they are being blown up Sunday, Nov. 20, 2005, as part of a planned restructuring project of the Val-Fourre district. The district, known just a decade ago as the meanest suburb in France, has been engaged in an urban renewal program that encourages home ownership among families in housing projects -- replacing towers with residences built on a more human scale of two or three storeys instead of the 17 that is the norm for French housing projects. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)


More on the Bush-Bombing-Al-jazeera Memo

As we said yesterday the 'secret memo' of the conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush in which the US president considered plans to bomb the satellite TV station Al Jazeera was leaked by the Mirror. One word of caution needs to be made here, The Mirror is not known for being a quality paper to say the least and it has a shaky reputation. It is a tabloid of sorts with a tendency to support a Labour's perspective.
That being said, the news they leaked could still be true. Today the Mirrror has an artible in which they say that the (British) Attorney General ordered them not to publish any further details from the document as it would be a "breach of the Official Secret Act". As expected both the British and the US governments have denied to comment, but the pressure is most certainly going to mount to have the ranscript of that conversation made public, and this is going to be interesting since it's always the cover-up or the lying that matters (and is fun to watch, I must admit), rather than the initial leak itself. How creative can they be this time?
[One hint from yesterday's Mirror article, one government official said (unofficially) that Bush's threat had been humorous, not serious. Any possible future line of defense here? It's going to be hard to make people swallow it!]


Sarko's media-savvy

Guest Blogger: LB

In September or October, Sarko gave the order to evacuate by force an apartment building judged insalubrious and inhabited by immigrants of dubious official standing. It was a “coup médiatique”: as it turned out, the families living in that building were scheduled to be relocated the following week anyway. The recent declaration that any foreigner (documented or otherwise) involved in the riots of the past 18 days will be immediately deported is a very similar manoeuvre. It is, in fact, an almost empty gesture, one that is more bravura than actual brawn. Why? Because out of the 1800 people arrested, only 120 are technically “deportable”; out of this 120, a certain number of people will fall into protected categories: minors, spouses of French citizens, parents of minors, for example. So a percentage of those 120 cannot be deported. Result: since the measure was announced, only 10 cases have proven to be “deportable”. So while Sarko has pulled a veil of “expulsion immédiate” over the eyes of his faithful electoral base, the facts are that this action will simply be a personal drama for the dozen or so people it affects. Does this truly make Sarko “tough on crime”?
J2T commentary: is it any wonder that Sarkozy supporters are quick to compare him to Rudolph Giuliani?


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Pressure For Troops Withdrawal!

The greatest pressure may not come from Congress or from Jon Murtha but from abroad... well that is from those most concerned:

Given that
"President Bush said in an interview on January 28, 2005 that he would withdraw American forces from Iraq if the new government that is elected on Sunday asked him to do so"
and that today,
About 100 Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders, many of whom will run in the election on Dec. 15, signed a closing memorandum on Monday that "demands a withdrawal of foreign troops on a specified timetable, dependent on an immediate national program for rebuilding the security forces," (NYT)
The pressure is going to be greater on the Bush administration to start acknowledging a withdrawal time-table. They may also be tempted to use it as an excuse to leave graciously. But how can 2,000 dead and many more wounded can make them look good? how much of a victory can this be?
All that for that...?


Bush Said To Propose Bombing al-Jazeera

That's what the Mirror is saying anyway. According to the British newspaper, a "Top Secret" memo from the British prime minister's office shows that US president George W. Bush planned to bomb the satellite TV station Al Jazeera (owned by the Qatari government, a key US ally) and that Tony Blair talked him out of it.
We may eventually find out whether this really happened as there is increasing pressure on the British government to release the five page transcript of that conversation that took place between the two leaders during talks in April last year, when Blair visited Bush in Washington.
If that's true, we have yet to grasp the full scale of Bush's careless stupidity!


The Other Pandemic... Almost Forgotten!

I find it really puzzling that the media are all so obsessed about the bird-flu which has killed... 60 people so far while another 5 million have been infected with HIV this year, thus making a total of 40 million of people with the virus. (read here)
I understand of course that people are less scared of what they are familiar with. Besides, there are ways to protect yourself from it. Future threats, especially carried through a flu virus are definitely more scary but sill, the media coverage of the new UN figures about HIV has been shamefully low. The fact that it concerns mostly su-saharan Africa and not 'us' directly has probably a lot to do with it.


A New French Strike...

For some more details on the rail strike in France today, read the Herald Tribune here. The French media see it mostly as a big test for the unions who have been losing a few fights lately (including a strike in the public transport in Marseille). The unions also seem to be losing the support of the public opinion as people have become less sympathetic to their actions in the current gloomy economic situation and in this post-social unrest era.

UPDATE on Tuesday night: well if the strike was a test, it has failed. Only 22,8 % of the rail workers were on strike according to the managemet and no more than 31 % according to the unions themselves. It was said that anything under 40% would be seen as a failure. That may be why the media are becoming more critical of the strike this time.


L'effet Sarko

Guest Blogger: LB

When I returned to France this fall after two years' absence, "Sarko" was already quite familiar to me. He had made quite a name for himself when I was here in the 90s--at that time he was the mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine. Although I'd never had any particular fondness for the bloke, I admit that I was loathe to fall into the habit of Sarko bashing, something I feared was simply a pastime for the intello/gauche-caviar set. So I watched and listened with a dose of skepticism.

And as if my worst fears weren't already confirmed when he headed out to Argenteuil armed with Karcher and a powerful word--"racaille"--his handling of the situation has thoroughly disgusted me. Where to begin?

Were he anything of a diplomat, he might have seized the occasion early on in the riots to truly reach out, to make an example of himself by apologizing, by going to the people. But diplomacy is not his point fort: last week on the set of "A vous de juger", he poured gas on the fire when he responded to a young man from Seine-St-Denis:

"Je n'accepte pas votre discourse. Je n'accepte pas votre discours parce que vous parlez mal." [I refuse to listen to your reasoning. I refuse because you speak poorly.]

If the young man had been given a chance to respond, he might have turned Sarko's words right back at him.

As very few people have pointed out, although this bomb went off when Sarko lit the fuse (and when two young men were electrocuted), as far as governmental hierarchy and delegation is concerned, he is not the one who should be making decisions about how to change the situation. These decisions are the domain ofthe Ministre de la ville, or any other number of ministeries who should be involved in questions of education, housing, urban planning. Sarko needs to get the police under control, but after that, do we really need to see him on TV? Yes, yes we do, because monsieur is on the campaign trail...


Monday, November 21, 2005

Bush's Door Incident.

I don't know about the US, but this has been on every European TV channel:

"After meeting with reporters in Beijing, Mr. Bush tried to exit through a locked door. Realizing the mistake, he made a mock grimace, and an aide pointed the way. He joked: "I was trying to escape. It didn't work." NYT

The pictures almost have a silent-movie quality to them. I have not found the video on the net but it's almost better in still pictures.


Launching a crop war!

The WTO will meet once again in three short weeks in Hong Kong. One of the items on the agenda is the pursuit of an agreement to reduce tariffs and subsidies on agricultural products in order to more fully open the international market. Brazil, Argentina and many of the African nations have been persuaded by Europe and the US to open their markets to US products but haven't seen similar action from these blocs that heavily subsidize their own farmers. These developing markets are now refusing further action until they see some compromise from their American and European neighbors, which is exactly what they'll be demanding Dec. 13-18 in Hong Kong.

The event is splashed across the economic pages of the leading journals, but what is striking in some of the reporting is the imagery of warfare:
While negotiators hammer away at the complexities of global farm trade a legalistic morass of budgetary "boxes" colored amber, red, green and blue — soybean farmers in Iowa and cattle ranchers in Texas ponder the impact on their bottom lines.
You'd think we had a threat alert for soybeans and corn.

"We have to be extremely careful not to support reducing price supports for false access or limited access," says Kirk Leeds, chief executive officer of the Iowa Soybean Association. "We're not going to unilaterally disarm if we don't see similar reductions in Europe."
This sounds suspiciously close to my childhood when my brother and I used to shoot soybeans at each other on the farm. It was our own little commodities war and we kept them in our pockets as well as in colored boxes. But I don't ever remember him asking me to unilaterally disarm. I guess we were just too bellicose; nobody ever told us we could enter into negotiations. Do you think this is what the trade talks are all about? Just a bunch of adults in one big bean shoot-out!?


Americans Growing More Isolasionist!

Funny, this is almost seems a response to the previous poll.


Didactorship Has Better Image Than Democracy

This poll is very revealing of the poor image of the US abroad:
Eleven of the 16 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center — Britain, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and Indonesia — had a more favorable view of China than the United States.
India and Poland were more upbeat about the United States, while Canadians are as likely to see China favorably as they were the United States.
I find it particularly triking that America's closest ally, Britain also has a more favorable image of China. That's a sign that things are really going down the loop for the US in the world and the war is Iraq is to blame. Unilateralism is also what makes people so angry:
The survey found that a majority in most countries say the United States doesn’t take the interests of other countries into account when making international policy decisions. It also found most would like to see another country get as much military power as the United States, though few want China to play that role.
Aren't we glad that "few want China to paly the role of the US" ?! Personally, I'd still rather have a democracy, however imperfect with so much power than a dictatorship.
(more details here)


Do you want to take that chance?

I am not a supporter of capital punishment, and this is just another reason why.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

More Evidence of Spin.

In case we didn't already know that the Bush administration 'sexied up' the intelligence they had to sell us the war, here's more:
The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Clearly such exaggeration amounts to a lie - not to a Grand Jury, just to the American people.


Ethnic Diversity on French TV (or the lack of it)

The N.Y Times had a good analysis of the reasons for the lack of ethnic diversity on French television. As they said, things are changing though… but...:

[the] efforts to promote the visibility of minorities have lagged, in part because of the French ideal, enshrined in the Constitution, that all citizens are equal regardless of race or religion. The clause has long been interpreted as prohibiting affirmative action for ethnic minorities, even if such initiatives have been undertaken in less sensitive areas.

This is what we have been saying on this blog : the idealism the Republic myth has made it impossible to even address the issue. As we said earlier there is no ‘scientific’ tool to measure the visibility of minorities in France.

A journalist of Algerian descent in France added

"We've adopted a law to help women, a law to help the disabled," he said. "The only sector of society that we haven't dared touch is the ethnic-racial realm, which affects society most deeply.", adding that “the weight of centuries is against it [positive discrimination]”


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Quote of the Day:

"If I would do another 'Terminator' movie, I would have 'Terminator' travel back in time to tell Arnold not to have a special election,"
Actor-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in The San Francisco Chronicle.


Pushing the Limits of Television.

Two things have been happening in the entertainment industry that might foreshadow what we should get used to. Both have in common that they blur the distinction between reality and fiction even more than before.
Not long ago, this blog mentioned how an ambiguous Web site seemed to cross the border between fantasy and reality (a Website that claimed to be the Home Page of some real guy was actually a fictitious element of the TV show ‘Lost', but there was no clear mention of it on the website’). Now on Monday, CBS is going to have you come to their internet site for the resolution of their CSI Miami plot.
But the most daring move comes by far from British television which is pushing the frontier of reality shows yet further: Channel 4 is going to pull off the biggest hoax ever since the beginning of television and if it reminds you of the The Truman Show, that’s because it is aa similar flavor
Their coming prime-time program, called Space Cadetsis going to show contestants preparing for an actual journey into space. The 9 contestants will be made to believe that they are actually flying 100 km above the Earth while in reality they will be in a disuse US military base somewhere in the UK. Apparently, the greatest Hollywood Special FX experts will be involved and the the participants will be joined by 3 actors whom they will believe are fellow contestants. (for the incredible details read here).
Talk about some practical joke!


Friday, November 18, 2005

A White House Cabal.

From anyone at a lesser level, the following comment would be taken as some biased political nonsense fueled by the paranoia from a Tom Clancy wannabe, but this is from LAWRENCE B. WILKERSON the chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell from 2002 to 2005.
IN PRESIDENT BUSH'S first term, some of the most important decisions about U.S. national security — including vital decisions about postwar Iraq — were made by a secretive, little-known cabal. It was made up of a very small group of people led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
When I first discussed this group in a speech last week at the New America Foundation in Washington, my comments caused a significant stir because I had been chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell between 2002 and 2005.
But it's absolutely true. I believe that the decisions of this cabal were sometimes made with the full and witting support of the president and sometimes with something less. More often than not, then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice was simply steamrolled by this cabal.

(in today's LA Times - full text here)


Reading Memmi Today

Guest Blogging: LB
Note: You are about to read the first in a series of posts from our colleague and friend at Harvard University, LB, who writes from the 14th in Paris where she has been observing the events of recent weeks and considering their source. Enjoy!

Writing a thesis on Albert Memmi's work has never seemed more timely. As I watch numerous news talk-shows, listen to the radio, devour the paper, I wonder why so many people seem to think that the current problem is due to lack of jobs, lack of opportunity, low levels of education, high rates of drop-outs, etc. The real question is: what is behind the lack of jobs, the lack of opportunity, etc. And unfortunately, the answer is very clear: it is still very difficult, even today, for the French to accept difference within their society."Je veux qu'ils viennent", says one of my friend's mothers, speaking of immigrants from Africa. "Mais qu'ils parlent français, qu'ils mangent français, qu'ils s'intègrent..." Yes, my dear lady, let them eat French. I still think Memmi has captured it best:

"Ce rejet d'autrui, par peur du différent, que j'ai proposé de nommer l'hétérophobie, n'est pas encore du racisme. Un ouvrier, interrogé à propos de ses voisins martiniquais, répondit qu'il abhorrait le boudin antillais, dont l'odeur empestait la cage d'escalier. Malicieusement titillé par le journaliste sur la soupe aux choux, son visage s'éclaira: 'L'odeur du chou, je l'adore!C'est celle de mon enfance."
[This rejection of the other as different, which I like to call heterophobia, is not quite racism. A worker, asked about his Martiniquais neighbors, responded that he hated the Antilles blood pudding whose foul odor filled the stairwell. Maliciously probed by the journalist to comment on cabbage soup his face lit up. "The smell of cabbage, I love it! It reminds me of my youth."]

--"La peur de l'autre" dans Bonheurs (52 semaies) Paris: Arléa, 1992.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Another Bush Moment...

Another great 'Bush moment' in Japan yesterday. In his press conference in Kyoto, he was asked a - most predictable - question about the time-limit of the Japanese presence in Iraq (whose self-defense forces are supposed to leave by next month). George Bush answered second after PM Koizumi gave a lengthy response. You might think this would give him plenty of time to be prepared for a routine presidential answer.

Well here is what he actually said:
Obviously, the extent to which uh... the Japanese government wants to give reconstruction money to Iraq is up to the Japanese government, and [pause ] to- to the- and I- as to the- [pause] the- the uh deployment of troops, it's up to- ..... it's up to the government. [pause ] 's what happens in democracies -- government makes decisions that uh [pause] that uh that they're uh capable of living with, and that's [pause] that's what we said, ((we)) said, do the best you can do; [pause] make up your own mind, it's your decision, not mine.
(check the audio clip it's a lot more fun)

You may think it unfair to focus on such trivial matter, but at the same time, you'd think that the representative of the most powerful nation on earth would know how to be verbally fluent!
Needless to say that the White House's transcript has none of the hesitations and self-corrections of the actual speech. It reads much better than it sounds. Unfortunately, the press conference was not in the written form.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Obviously, the extent to which the Japanese government wants to give reconstruction money to Iraq is up to the Japanese government. And as to the deployment of troops, that's up to the government. That's what happens in democracies -- governments make decisions that they're capable of living with. And that's -- that's what we said, said, do the best you can do; make up your own mind, it's your decision, not mine.

It reads much better than it sounds, doesn't it?


Quote of the Day:

I don't know if I would put it this way, but Mr Cohen has a point here:
It would be nice, fitting and pretty close to sexually exciting if Bush somehow acknowledged his mistakes and said he had learned from them. But more important -- far more important -- is what this would mean for the conduct of foreign policy from here on out.
by Richard Cohen in his editoral Ignoring the Facts in today's Washington Post.

Note: here's another good point he made:
Nobody has been repudiated by Bush for incompetence and dishonesty regarding Iraq. Instead, some -- former CIA director George "Slam-Dunk" Tenet comes to mind -- have received presidential medals. What's more, there's evidence aplenty that the sloppy thinking, false analogies and bad history that led to the Iraq war remain the cultural style of the White House. The president's recent speech, for instance, conflates all sorts of terrorist incidents -- from Israel to Chechnya -- neglecting that they are specific to their regions and have nothing to do with al Qaeda. Every bombing somehow becomes an attack on Western values "because we stand for democracy and peace." Oh, stop it!
Talking about a lack of accountability, this administration is definitely at the top!


France, the U.S., Myth and Reality.

It is one of the contentions of this Blog that France and the U.S. have a lot more in common than is usually believed. While there are notorious differences between the two countries, the similarities can be striking and they may very well be the reason why the two nations tend to disagree so much and even clash on the international stage. Both nations believe that their values are not only unique but also universal and that they should be spread. This can be partly explained by their view on their founding revolutions which have become national mythical events. However, such an idealistic vision of the past can easily lead to a denial of reality in the present. But sometimes reality strikes back at you.
This is what has happened with Katrina, and Iraq in the U.S. or with the riots in France. I find it particularly ironic that politicians and pundits in both countries have reveled so much in mocking each other’s perceived flaws and hypocrisies while failing to see their own just when the people go through some painful soul-searching anxiety.
It is also ironic to see that both governments’ failures can be traced back to a wrong assessment of reality.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Picture of the Day : the Evil Genie

Here's an interesting 'unfortunate' but quite revealing pose of Vice President Cheney, the prime mover behing the attempts to legalize torture.

More to read here or here.


Bush's New Low

An illustration of what we were saying before....


Is Bad Parenting the Root of the French Riots?

One fact that has (particularly) stunned the French in the recent riots and car-arsoning is that about half of the youths burning cars and clashing with the police were under 18, and sometimes as young as 8 or 10.
Many people have been dumfounded and even outraged. How can that be? How can those young kids be left outside so late at night - while there is danger and social unrest? "How can 'those' people be so bad parents? It must be because they don't care". Such moral positions are natural but they do not help. There is something to understand there.
The immigrants are not necessarily bad parents, and the situation is more complex that it looks. Only the gap is so wide that it ecomes really hard to relate to their lives and their background. The problem is that if you don't understand the problem, you can't even conceive a possible remedy.
Here's a very good article from the Herald Tribune, called "Immigrant Parents Pressured in France", which gives some analysis of the riots from the angle of the parents whose kids may have been involved in the riots. What I find interesting is that it also correponds to my experience as a teacher in one of those 'banlieues'

Here's a good excerpt:
Illiteracy and poor French language skills are still common among immigrants, especially mothers who tend to be trapped inside the home, intensifying their alienation from a generation that grows up text-messaging and downloading music. The fathers, the traditional family authorities, often work long hours and do not see much of their children - and then find themselves stripped of their traditional way of diciplining their children who challenge them by citing recent French legislation against beating in the home.
Sometimes when teachers want to meet the parents, only a clueless mother shows up and sometimes with an older brother who translates for her. Even if they speak good French, those families are often clueless about the school system or French law anyway. Their kids are thus endowed with amazing power. The parents often depend on their kids to know what is really going on, they are told what the are 'really' supposed to do in France. Like other kids, they lie but the parents sometimes can't tell. This clearly undermines their authority. The backlash is that punishment often comes in bad beating too. I remember that one kid whose father had found out he had lied about going to school, started beating up his kids (even as we were in the school) so bad that we had to call the police. In the end the police could do very little and the kid eventually ended up in hospital a few days later.
A few more important things are not mentioned in the article, however. The fact that some of those kids live in crowded apartments (sometimes a family with 5 kids in a 2 room apartment) so they literaly live outside most of the time, and in the halls in the winter time, something not necessarily uncommon in the countries where the parents may come from.
Another issue is that some of the men have several wives who themselves have several kids who all live on family allowances under the same roof. But the problem is that even though their traditional life styles may not be a problem in a rural environment where ther grandparents and the entire vilage may be involved in the education of the kids, it cannot work in a French city environment. As a result the children are neglected and they are not given the proper education at home.
Also, and this is a more touchy topic, the lack of authority of mothers sometimes reflect the highly patriarcal culture they come from. As a result the boy in the family can get away with a lot, he is sometimes a little king of his own, and so it becomes hard for the mother to have any say. (that is why some teachers sometimes prefer to meet with the father...). It must be noticed that things are changing and a lot of women in those areas have become gradually more independent. In fact, it is mostly the women who have been in charge of many associations and clubs in the 'banlieues'. The daughters are also rebelling against such patriarcal system (a movement such as Ni putes ni soumises, contributed to the emergence of a how women should regain their authority.).

Clearly, I'm like everyone else, I dont have the solutions but those elements can partly explain the situation today. It does not mean we should not hold the parents accountable at some point but severe measures against them such as heavy fines and prison terms may not help that much in the end - at least in the case of many of them even if there are also those bad uncaring parents among them of course. It may only add to their sense of humiliation and undermine their authority even more.
I tend to think that parents are the basically the same anywhere - the vast majority of them care about their kids. There is no reason why those particular parents should be any different unless we think they are "genetically" made that way. But that is something I leave to Le Pen and his friends.

UPDATE: In the Financial Times this morning, French minister says polygamy to blame for riots:
France’s employment minister on Tuesday fingered polygamy as one reason for the rioting in the country.
While I agree that in some cases,
Overly large polygamous families sometimes led to anti-social behaviour among youths who lacked a father figure, making employers wary of hiring ethnic minorities,
I'm not sure this is a major reason for "the racial discrimination which ethnic minorities faced in the job market". It is good to address the issue but problems should not be mixed either.


Quote of the Day

"The last time I wanted to slap him for being rude, he threatened to report me to the police," said Mourad, 37, gravely shaking his head outside the bustling Sunday market in this northeastern suburb of Paris.

... in today's Herald Tribune.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The French Right - So Wrong!

Not to be outdone by their rightwing brethren across the Atlantic, France's own ultraconservative wingnuts in the Front National have taken it upon themselves to promote the recent riots for their political gain in the European elections. Their argument, neatly summarized, goes like this: We told you so! You've got to love it for its shear simplicity and...well, stupidity. Go take a look. (updated link)

It's the political version of a Kinkade painting. blech!! All cliché, no substance.


Chirac's Address to the Nation (part II)

Chirac’s address to France last night was pretty lame. The general tone was that of a moral lecture and the content looked more like wishful thinking. He acknowledged the "profound malaise" [It's about time!]. He told companies and unions and political parties that they must encourage diversity and support employment for youths from tough neighborhoods, saying it was important to fight "this poison for society which is discrimination". But does he do about it? At the same time, he dismissed the notion of affirmative action programs. "There is no question of entering in the logic of quotas," he said.
He also said that more cities need to abide the law asking them to have 20% of welfare housing (but the law also says they can get away with it by paying a fine - and most upper-class cities would rather pay the fine, and this is also why ghettos exist). There too, it is all wishful thinking.

The only new proposal, the set up of a voluntary "task force" which would help 50,000 young people in 2007- is so vague that it is really hard to see the point. It really seems like a drop in the ocean anyway.

What is needed is a more radical approach that we reconsider the whole ‘French model of integration’. We should make ethnicity not only OK to talk about but also allow accurate analysis (ethnicity is statistically invisible, it is against the law and republican principle to collect data based on race or ethnicity). How are you supposed to understand a situation if you cannot assess it? So far French idealism has made it impossible to even recognize the problem.

The founding myth of the Republic that promises equality for all, says historian and sociologist Laurent Mucchielli, "is very beautiful — but it is abstract and today it blinds us and turns us into hypocrites."
More importantly, there should be some firm commitment to include ethnicity in the political parties. Mainland France does not have a single non-white MP, whether it is quotas or strong public commitment, something ought to be done quickly.
Many things have to change more quickly than they have so far if Chirac’s statement that "the children of difficult neighborhoods, whatever their origins, that they are all the daughters and sons of the Republic,"
should be more than mere wishful thinking

In any case, his poor performance is the sign of weakened president who is finishing his reign on sad note, underlying his failure to achieve any of his main goals for which he was elected : bringing down unemployment, shepherding through the EU constitution, and fighting social marginalization.

And as always, to end it on a typical French note : "Vive la Republique! Vive la France!"


Chirac's Address to the Nation.

French President Chirac addressed the nation on national TV tonight. Here's a picture of his appearance:

As always he spoke with a French tricolor and European flag behind him. Other than that, the background did not show the usual grand gilded decor of the Elysée Palace. Quite appropriate!
The oddest part is that for the first time in probably 30 years, Chirac was wearing glasses (as you can see on the picture above). Why did he decide to do that? Surely he carefully chose how he would look before the nation so I wonder what this means.. Any message here? Or is it simply the unfortunate illustration of his shortsightedness?
As regard the content of the speech... I'll say more later. Time to go to bed.


Bush's New Low.

A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday: (even considering the usual margin of errors, it remains impressive)

• Two-thirds of independents and 91% of Democrats disapprove of the job Bush is doing. Even among Republicans, who have solidly backed Bush in the past, 19% express disapproval — a new high.

• For the first time — albeit by a narrow 49%-48% — a plurality disapprove of the way Bush is handling the issue of terrorism. Six in 10 disapprove of the way he's handling foreign affairs, the economy, Iraq and immigration, and 71% disapprove of him on controlling federal spending.

• A 53% majority say they trust what Bush says less than they trusted previous presidents while they were in office. In a specific comparison with President Clinton, those surveyed by 48%-36% say they trust Bush less.

• A record high 60% say going to war in Iraq was "not worth it." In a finding consistent with previous polls, 54% say it was "a mistake" to send troops there.

No doubt this is going to make things much tougher for the President as more Republicans are going to distance themselves from the White House. George Bush is going to be increasingly isolated. This is what you get after years of unilateral governance. It's only fair.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Do Not Believe Right-Wingers' Theories About France!

I keep reading comments in the foreign press and particularly in some American media, that link the social unrests in France to the rise of radical Islamism but this absolutely wrong. If it were only right-wingers like Bill O’Reilly, who hold such views, it would be one thing, but I have also found some confusions in some liberal papers and blogs.

Time magazine has a good article that clarifies the issue. Here’s a revealing excerpt:

The driving forces are socio-economic injustice and racial segregation, not a thirst for infidel blood on the march to a global Caliphate. The infuriated youths burning cars and stoning police in the dismal suburbs of Paris, Toulouse, Lille, Rennes and beyond are demanding a piece of France's modern, materialist dream, not its replacement with some imported mixture of Shari'a and fatwas. They want the fraternity, equality and liberty France promises as national ideals—but largely reserves for its whiter citizens.
This is totally right. While the social reasons why the violence has erupted and spread are numerous and complex, religion has nothing to do with them. In fact, and quite paradoxically, the riots have shown precisely that the youths in those ghettos do not find the comfort they need in religion. That’s the positive aspect of the whole thing.

A religious interpretation of the events should not come as a surprise. It reflects the current prejudice against and fear of Muslims in our post-9/11 world. These events have been a great opportunity for right-wing conservatives to fire both at France (which they hate) and at a religion which they hate and fear even more. Indeed, fear is what draws people to believe in such extreme ideologies. You are scared of what you don’t understand. This is why it is important to understand what the current events in France are really about. Not because they are important to France but because a misleading analysis could have ripple effect. Indeed such rumors only serve to fuel the rhetoric of many jingoists who wish for a “clash of civilization”. But the Apocalypse is (probably) not for tomorrow.

As it turns out, immigrants in Europe, and their European-born children, do not want to change Europe but to be more part of it and not be spurned at every turn.


On the French Front (Monday morning)

UPDATE (Monday) : Well, the violence in France continues to wane to the point that this is probably be the last mention of it on this blog for some time... thank God!


Wal-Mart Satire.

For some fun illustration of the evils of Wal-Mart and corporate outsourcing, go to JiJab and play.


Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie....

France really needs some positive news these days... French tennis champion Amélie Mauresmo won the WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles (thus collecting the 19th and biggest title of her career) in the first-ever all-French final. (details here)
Granted she's not the most feminine French woman (hum, hum..) I can think of, but boy, is her game powerful and impressive!


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Picture of the Day - the Tragic End of a Presidency!

This man is clueless and it shows...


O'Reilly and France

Bill O'Reilly has been in the news lately for saying he would approve of an al Qaeda terrorist attack on the California city of San Francisco because "the left-wing, selfish, Land of Oz philosophy that the media and the city politicians have embraced out there [and it is] is an absolute intellectual disgrace". The stupidity of his comments is beyond belief, but those comments have exposed him for what he really is. It is just unfortunate that some people still listen to him and even take him seriously. Yep, there are people out there who do. Here's another exemple from last week's show.
The Bill O'Reilly who has been calling for a boycott of French products since the French government opposed the Bush administration over Iraq is having a riot(pun intended) with France's current social unrest but his comments are so out of touch with reality that it makes Chirac actually look real:
"Well, if you don't believe in karma after this story, what can I say. Let's start at the beginning. If France had demanded that Saddam Hussein allow the U.N. weapons inspectors full access, there would not have been a war in Iraq. But as you know, France was making millions under the table by working with Saddam. And that corrupt bargain hurt us all. Also, let's not forget the Chirac government and the French media have consistently undermined America's War on Terror. That's why [The O'Reilly Factor is] boycotting France."
But now the tide has turned, hasn't it? France is under bitter siege by Muslims. And the weak Chirac government has been exposed in front of the world. For nearly two weeks, Chirac has allowed the insurrection to build in ferocity, refusing to use his military, allowing anarchy in the streets. This makes Hurricane Katrina look like a comic book. President Chirac simply has no clue. And if the French people can't figure this out, their entire country's at risk.
For a man who accuses the people of San Francisco of having "absolutely no clue of what the world is", this is some great show of ignorance, but further comments are not necessary, the blunt bigotry of this man needs no further evidence.
But O'Reilly is right about this though:
We're living in a very dangerous world where fanatics and terrorists abound.
Yep, and and it takes one to know one!
[if you want more of that crap, the entire transcript is available here)


On the French Front (Sunday)

UPDATE Sunday: Last night was.... (almost) business as usual. Nothing happened in Paris. However, some cars were torched in the suburbs of Toulouse, in the south, as well as in the Lyon and Saint Etienne areas in the southeast. More worrisome, there were also some clashes between police and youths in the heart of Lyon on Saturday afternoon. Needless to say that those incidents made the headlines (read AFP news).
Yet there is some sense of weariness. A lot of people are also getting more upset at the international coverage which has been sometimes exaggerated. Many also fear it will have a lasting impact on tourism which is a significant portion of the economy. They find it unfair as those incidents have been highly localized.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Grammar Epidemic?

Have English grammar and spelling been going down the loop? Last night NBC News had an unusual report on the spread of bad grammar and spelling mistakes in the U.S. as it seems that most Americans “ain't talkin' too good, don't write worth a lick and are worser with e-mails.”.
If you were in France, you’d have writers and intellectuals on national TV for this and it would be treated as a national disaster worse than the current violence in the ghettos. But in the U.S. it is not the teachers, not the writers and certainly not the 'intellectuals' (sorry for using such an offensive word!) who are reacting, it is corporate America. Some companies are actually offering a very down-to-earth remedy : business writing class!
Fortune 500 companies [are] spending more than $3 billion a year retraining employees in basic English
The blame is put on the extensive use of computers, the Internet and instant messaging but also on all of us. As a teacher of English myself, I wonder what the 500 Fortune companies manage to achieve through their writing class. What sort of English do they teach? Corporate English? It is not or should not be the business of businesses to teach English.
As a teacher of English-as-a-foreign-language, I have always wondered whether I should correct my students when they say “good” instead of “well’ (a distinction that most Americans don't bother to make).
How are you? I’m good….
... is what you hear most of the time these days. I should point out that when I first came to the States, a lot of people said that it was not so much my (French) accent that sounded foreign, but the fact that my English was 'too good' (meaning too 'proper'). So over the years, I learned to make the "right" mistakes, and this is the hardest part for a foreigner. Making the "right" mistakes, the mistakes that natives make can become an art form. It takes time, patience and hard work. Most books and teachers only teach you "proper English", but if you want people to forget about your foreignness, you need to learn to make "their" mistakes, the "right" mistakes.
So I have decided to teach my (better) students both "Englishes" (and I mean this awful plural form!)– I do tell them that there are the things that most people say and the things that people should say.
[Let our non-French speakers be relieved though, the French have the same problems, but as you can see in the news, they have had more urgent business to attend to lately].

A few more things about the NBC report :

  • Despite what Roger O’Neil said, I would think there is a difference between ‘'at this point in time” and “now”. The former connotes the notion that the situation might change when the latter is more neutral.
  • As for the ‘awfully nice dinner you just served me’, it means that it was much better than just ‘nice’. If I'm not mistaken, this inversion of meanings (i.e. using ‘awfully’ as a positive adverb) comes from the “underclass” (this is the "underclass" that both the French and Barbara Bush have become aware of this year). It is also a generational phenomenon of course. In some segments of society, there’s been this game of using a word to mean the opposite, like “it’s bad” for “it’s good”. It has been a way to find a distinctive coded use of the language. It has now passed on to the rest of the language in a milder form.
  • As for the use of “anxious” as in "the president is anxious to meet the prime minister", I don't have a problem with it. I believe “anxious” also means “be eager to” precisely because the word comes from the noun “anxiety” and you can certainly have some form of anxiety when you’re excited about something, so the use of this word in this context seems legitimate to me.
  • Finally, the possible overuse of “unbelievable” may be the a sign of our times – we need to make things look extraordinary to be listened to and the media are probably partly to blame.[but that's probably better than burning cars, would say the French.... and here's a suggestion : maybe the end of the Académie Fançaise would help the banlieues ;-)].

I think it is actually a very good thing that American English is changing (even if it is true that text messages which turn the language into phonetics may pratty bad - in the true sense of the word!). It shows that the language is alive. Languages should not be static or else they die, so a bit of change is actually healthy. Besides, I don’t think that it is quite to the point that “We simply, now, must salvage American English." This seems a bit overstated wouldn't you say Mr O'Neil?

PS: If there are mistakes or inconsistencies in this posting... I plead guilty (as I wrote it in a hurry but feel free to let me know)


On the French Front (Saturday morning) - Paris on Edge.

UPDATE Saturday morning : Last night, while the violence in the Paris suburbs decreased, the number of cars torched throughout the country increased slightly (500 cars nationwide vs. 463 the night before).
It is worth noting that there are almost always cars burning but even most French people don't know that. It always affects the poor neighborhoods which are quite remote from the city centers, even there it is highly localized. It does not effect the economy and has virutally no impact on the vast middle class . In France, you just hear about the cars burning on New Year Eve, particularly in Alsace (eastern France) where it has been trated as a sad local tradition.
At least half of the youths committing arsons are under 18 and sometimes as young as 12 or 13. Their violence is neither a religious nor a political statement. It is a social phenomenon that has not been addressed soon enough.
As you can imagine though, the issue is now being addressed in the media through discussions with politicians, intellectuals and celebrities on the subjects ranging from police behavior to racial discrimination, unemployment and educational inequalities.

It is also worth noting that the authorities are still on edge and this week-end is likely to be a test. There have been calls on blogs, and text messages to gather in downtown Paris (particularly on Les Champs-Elysés) and committ violent acts on Saturday, as you can read here:
The police authority has banned all public gatherings likely to provoke a disturbance in the capital from 10 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday. "Messages sent over the past few days via the Internet and text messages have called for gatherings and violent acts in Paris on November 12," a police statement said. "To enforce the ban, the police and gendarmes already deployed in the capital will be considerably reinforced, and reminded of their instructions to arrest troublemakers.
This is clearly making the news, so in case, the wanna-be rioters did not know, now they do. I guess we'll know more in the next few hours...
MORE UPDATE : A firebomb was thrown into a mosque in the south of France, (Aljazeera also reports) - minor damage and no one was hurt... but sill....