Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Word of the Year 2005.

In this time of recollection of 2005 events, I think we can grant the word "leak" the title 'Word of the Year' - at least in American and British (Secret memo...) politics.
What will it be for 2006? "Impeachment"? "Resignation"? Unfortunately, I doubt it. "Investigation" most likely... and hopefully, if I may add.

v. leaked, leak·ing, leaks
v. intr.
  1. To permit the escape, entry, or passage of something through a breach or flaw: rusted pipes that were beginning to leak; a boat leaking at the seams.
  2. To escape or pass through a breach or flaw: helium leaking slowly from the balloon.
  3. Informal. To become publicly known through a breach of secrecy: The news has leaked.
  4. Informal. To disclose without authorization or official sanction: leaked classified information to a reporter.

Note: now for our French and Francophile readers, a leak is "fuite" in French as in "fuites publiées dans la presse". [Incidently, the word "fuite" also means "flight or escape"]. As often in French the noun does not turn into a verb and so the verb is entirely different, it becomes "divulguer" (as to divulge, or disclose). But to be fair, there is a whole "leak culture" in the Anglo-Saxon world that does not exist (yet) in France. Hopefully some day...


There is leak.... and there is "leak".

The Bush administration which has [yet again] taken a lot of heat recently for its warrantless (and most likely illegal) domestic spying is fighting back. The are now launching an investigation to find out who leaked the information. Their defence thus is to attack. No one is buying it.

Guest blogger Steve Benen on Political Animal, sums it up well:
In other words, Bush circumvented the law with warrantless searches, but it's the whistleblower who's facing a criminal investigation.
In the meantime, I have yet to hear a good legal argument from the right that makes sense with regard to Bush's disregard for the law. All I hear are moral arguments, but the "rule of law" still means something in this country, or have I missed something?
As Benen pointed out for those right-wing binary minds, there is huge difference between the Plame leak and the spying-leak (also called "snoopegate") as there is a "difference between exposing official wrongdoing and exposing a CIA agent to help cover up bogus pre-war claims", or does it get too subtle for them?


U.S. failure in Iraq may be huge.

What we said about the influence of Iran on Iraq's latest elections is confirmed by other sources as you can read in this well-informed article in a Turkish newspaper. Of course, the Turks do not want an independent Kurdish state but they want even less an Iran-controlled neighbor:
The historically clumsy result of America's much-contested invasion of Iraq was the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-based dictatorship - and as though it were the plan - to hand the country over to a pro-Iranian elected theocracy. At least that's what the election results indicate.
"clumsy" may turn into "tragic" if this comment by Patrick Cockburn one the most experienced commentators on Iraq comes true:
The breakup of Iraq has been brought closer by the elections. The great majority of people who went to the polls voted as Shiites, Sunnis or Kurds -- and not as Iraqis. The forces pulling Iraq apart are stronger than those holding it together. The elections, billed by Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair as the birth of a new Iraqi state may, in fact, prove to be its funeral.

So as we said before, it looks like the invasion of Iraq could breed a monster, and you can kiss goodbye to the 'spread of democracy" in the Middle-East as asserted by the neo-conservative version of the domino-theory [which claims that by invading Iraq a democratic government could be implemented, which would then help spread democracy and liberalism across the Middle East.]. Instead of a secular state, Iraq may soon be under the rule of a theocracy.
But this - strangely enough - does not seem to be discussed in many blogs or in many papers either in the U.S. or in Europe. No one seems to care any more. Americans probably just want to forget about the war and bring the boys home or maybe that's just because of the "holiday season" .... or maybe because some people are too busy recovering from more serious and immediate concerns like the War on Christmas!


Friday, December 30, 2005

Kurdish independence

It really seems amazing that the media is still acting surprised by Kurdish plans to set up their own independent Kurdish country should things go “awry” with the fragile agreements in Iraq. The question is, why would they want to stay? They've got more riches, more security and more infrastructure than any other region in Iraq. It's only goodwill keeping them at the table, and undoubtedly lots of US pressure.

Kurdish leaders, by filling regular Iraqi army units with thousands of loyal militia members, have laid the groundwork to seize a large swath of northern Iraq and establish an independent Kurdistan, if -- as they expect -- the fragile threads now holding the nation together disintegrate.

With 10,000 former militia members in army divisions in the north, those leaders are prepared to send them south to take the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region -- arranged independently and without a customary U.S. military escort -- suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq by training and equipping a national army aren't working. Instead, some troops formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.


Onward to Canada

As if in response to our recent guestpost by our Canadian friend, the WaPo publishes an article today outlining the "recent" (1930) plans drawn up by the US government to invade and conquer Canada. I've seen Canadian history textbooks, they tend toward the paranoid, but perhaps they were right all along! Canadian textbooks explain that their great union of providences came about because they feared a victorious northern army in the American Civil War. They justify this fear by pointing out that the US had already invaded their country twice (1776 and 1812). Well, apparently even the most outlandish fears are sometimes justified. It now appears that the US had plan to invade Canada until the Second World War, if ever the friendship came to blows I guess. One can only assume that no plans to invade Canada currently exist, although with the current administration, one is allowed to doubt that wisdom.

Not to be outdone, the Canadians had a war strategy of their own which included an agressive assault on a few "key" US cities - Albany, Minneapolis, Seattle and Great Falls, MT. I hear tell that the mayor's residence in Great Falls was highly prized by the Canadians. (Targets today might include the Mall of America or Wall Drug in South Dakota.) Such an invasion would have been the first sign of the southern migration of hockey which, from all indications, didn't need any sort of military stragety. Canadian hockey has successfully left Canada and migrated south to warmer climes with its aging population. A current Canadian strategy would necessarily involve infiltration from within or addiction to Canadian pharmaceuticals.


Why the US is pleasing Iran.

Last night, the NBC evening News reported on the use of torture by Iraqi police. When this is no surprise, what follows is more worrisome:

The Iraqi police who run them, U.S. officials say, have been infiltrated by Shiite militias that target Sunnis, and can no longer be trusted.

It seems that the strategy of the Shiites has been to have their own militia members in the police force. Worse still, the Kurds have been doing the same thing. In the meantime, Sunni Arabs and secular Shiites have refused to open discussions with the Shiite religious bloc leading in Iraq's parliamentary elections until a full review of the contested results is carried out.

Interestingly, while the elections themselves have received great international coverage, the preliminary results have been hardly mentioned anywhere in the media. No one is suggesting that it is because it is a (Shiite) religious group - the United Iraqi Alliance with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution at its center- which has won a large number of the seats and has now become the N°1 political force in the country. No – because the implications would be that the US is going to have to face the fact that it is helping create a parliament led by religious leaders connected (at least ideologically) to their Iranian counterparts. The results most certainly please Iran which has tried to clearly meddle with Iraq’s internal affairs since the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime – even especially in the last elections (here or here).

Already, the police that the US helped create is going out of control. So the future looks quite bleak with the strong possibility of a civil war, or with Shiite Mullahs in power.

Once again, the US is helping create a possible monster – now, hold on, yes, this is has already happened before… Remember Afghanistan? When the CIA played and armed the fanatical Muslim fundamentalists against the Soviets – fanatics who later turned against the US. (here and here) This is becoming a recurrent theme isn’t it? I guess someone has not learned their lesson!


'Munich' Upsets Conservative Hawks.

When a movie takes some heat from both sides of the issue it is dealing with, one should at least start paying attention. This is definitely the case with Steven Spielberg's latest movie, Munich - the story of the track of the Palestinian terrorists who assassinated Israeli athletes during the Olympic Games of 1972 in Munich by a Mossad agent. Spielberg is accused of pandering to the enemy by one side (here), and of the so-called “sin of equivalence” because it depicts wrongs committed on both sides (and so it "rationalizes terrorism") by the other side (here). Which side accuses him of what is easy to figure out. Thankfully, there are also some good reviews from both sides (here and here).

It takes courage to even tackle such a hot issue in this day and age and for that alone, we should give Mr Spielberg some credit. His movie also helps clarify the differences between conservatives and the rest of us over the issue of "war on terror". The fact that it has been heavily criticized by American conservative papers (here) and blogs (here) is something I greatly appreciate. What has upset the conservatives is that the movie seems to show the moral ambiguity of the situation and the complexity of the whole issue as the movie also denounces what leads to an endless cycle of violence. Understandibly, this is something foreign to the binary minds of Hawkish conservatives and of those who buy into their views out of laziness and fear.

Note: Munich was released in the US on Dec. 23rd and will be out in France on... Jan. 25.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Confusion and Ignorance Lower But Still High.

Here are some interesting figures from a recent Harris Poll with regard to the number of Americans who believe in Saddam Hussein's link to Al Qaeda or 9/11. While there is some great improvement, one may wonder why there is still such a high level of confusion and ignorance in the American public.
Well, the lies and spin of conservative pro-war advocacy groups like Move America Forwards certainly entertain all sorts of confusion and ignorance as you can read in details in this free online article in the Wall Street Journal.
                                           Oct.  Feb.  Dec.
2004 2005 2005
% % %
 Saddam Hussein had strong links with
Al Qaeda. 62 64 41

Saddam Hussein helped plan and support
the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on
September 11, 2001. 41 47 22

Iraq had weapons of mass destruction
when the U.S. invaded. 38 36 26

Several of the hijackers who attacked
the U.S. on September 11 were Iraqis. 37 44 24


Breaking News : Bush Reads!

In a not-so-subtle PR move, the White House has released Bush's reading list for his Christmas holidays, making a point that "He is an avid reader" and a "history buff". Apparently, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said that with a straight face. The news makes me ponder... (see picture below for more cause of ponder)
Duffy also made clear that "the president is the president 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as we all know, wherever he goes". Phew! He got me worried for a moment....

[Look at what he was holding in his hands when this picture was taken... Ooops... That was just for the picture of course but it's funny anyway!]


Wednesday, December 28, 2005


The state of Minnesota has long been known for two things, cold weather and progressive politics. Now weather and politics are coming together to provide electricity to some of the state's energy consumers. Southwest Minnesota is the land of flat terrain and high winds. This combination makes it ideal for wind farms, those rows and rows of modern wind powered generators which turn the bland landscape into something...well, European. This past summer I spent a month in Minnesota on my parents' farm and watched truck after truck hauling the various parts of the generators out into fields that electric cooperatives had leased from farmers. These farmers, a breed of American many of us took for extinct some years ago, are coming back. If they're not leasing their land to energy companies at high prices, they're banding together to put up their own wind power generators.

They're also selling their corn to ethanol plants which produce the newest alternative fuel which dilutes our dependence on foreign oil. Here too it's a case of weather and politics. In both cases, the technology is only slightly ahead of the dreams, which means it is only barely profitable, but it shows a desire to move toward alternative fuels - an admirable goal. And with demand for alternative fuel sources, there is the demand for new technologies to make them more profitable. And to think this is coming from America's heartland. Now if we could just get those liberals on Cape Cod to approve the off-shore wind farms.)


A Canadian Perspective on Canada Bashing.

After French-bashing, it seems that Canada-bashing has been a great sport played by some die-hard Conservatives in the United-States as you can read here, here or here. So we have decided to give a voice to Canada.

Guest Blogger I.C.:

To give an official response from a Canadian who has extensive connections to the US :

Canadians have a love/hate relationship with the US. We love to hate the US. Prime Minister Paul Martin knows this, and is shamelessly using an anti-american stance to promote his chances in the upcoming election. Canada is a peace-keeping nation, so when our politicians' popularity is struggling, unlike the US we can't go out and invade some poor middle-eastern country to get the voters back on side. However, we can pick a small fight with our large neighbour to the South. This happens fairly regularly - Lumber issues, Mad Cow issues, not participating in the Iraq invasion, etc. The main difference this time is that the US media is paying a small bit of attention to this tiff.

Like everything else in the US, the media, and particularly the right-wing media can't take any sort of criticism without hitting back below the belt. Saying that the US lacks a global conscience for disregarding the Kyoto Protocol, while during an election campaign is not what I would call particularly inflammatory, given that the US has been roasted about this many times from other sources. In response to this, however, for Tucker Carlson to comment that Canada is like a "Stalker", or a "retarded cousin", and that "everyone intelligent has left Canada for New York" shows that he obviously cannot handle a real discourse using fact-based arguments, and is content to drag the discussion down to a base trading of insults. I would expect nothing less from a former host (and I use the term lightly) of Crossfire, possibly the worst example of partisan, shock-jock political commentary that I have ever had the displeasure of watching. The brain drain that Canada is facing is a serious issue, and not one to be bandied about lightly by morons such as Tucker. Until Canada figures out how to make it easier for the middle class to get ahead, the brain drain will continue. I am a living example, however, not for the reasons that he cites.
The only US news show that has retained any sense of sanity, and which hasn't turned each and every global tragedy into a slogan (such as CNN's "War on Terror", "Tsunami of Death", etc.), is Jon Stewart's show on Comedy Central. For anyone who hasn't seen it, please do at, and also check out his visit to the Crossfire show - It is a bit old, and still painful to watch, but very good in how he calls them to task for promoting division and partisan politics in the US, and cheerleading for the politicians & corporations. I still can't believe he's American, but oh wait, he's on cable...

In any case, this issue between Canada and the US will blow over, because the US is truly not interested in having a meaningful dialogue with Canada. We're just too small to warrant it. Which in some ways is fine with Canada, as if they did, we'd have to grow up and learn how to play with the big boys. And we're still not ready for that... Canada may not be a retarded cousin (and I'll leave the comments about Tucker Carlson's family background for another day...), but we are still the mouse next to the elephant...


Another great "Intelligent Design" moment.

When you get a chance to listen to die-hard defenders of "Intelligent Design" - and when that happens on Fox News, you know you're in for some very entertaining moment. And this time they have once again met - if not beaten - our expections:
[This was on the FoxNews show Hannity & Colmes of Dec. 23 . Just before this excerpt Michael Behe said that ID is "not religion" but that it "has religious implications, much like the big bang theory has religious implications", and so that it's a "scientific theory".]

COLMES: Who's the designer?

BEHE: Well, as I've said since 1996 when I published "Darwin's Black Box," I'm a Catholic. I think a good candidate for the designer is God. But that is not straight — that's not a conclusion that you come from ,from the structure of the bacterial flagellum.

COLMES: What would be the other options if it's not God?

BEHE: Well, you know, other things that would strike us as, you know, as pretty exotic, you know. Space aliens or time travelers or something strange.

COLMES: What about any of this is scientific?

BEHE: I'm sorry?

Yes... so are we... for you!


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Is Chirac simply bored or is he losing it?

Here's a funny account from Ron Howard in a Newsweek's article on the shooting of the Da Vinci Code in Paris:
Then, in early December, while Howard and Grazer were in Paris auditioning actresses for the film's female lead, they got a call from the office of French President Jacques Chirac inviting them to swing by and say bonjour. "We thought it was going to be a five-minute thing, like a trip to the Oval Office—a photo and a handshake," says Grazer. But Chirac asked them to sit down and get comfortable. Coffee was poured. They ended up staying close to an hour. Chirac insisted that his guests alert him if their request to film at the Louvre hit any snags. Not only that, he offered them some ... pointers. He suggested they cast his daughter's best friend—an actress of some acclaim in France—in the role of Sophie Neveu, the elegant young cryptographer at the heart of the book's mystery. And he wondered aloud, half seriously, if they could sweeten the paycheck for actor Jean Reno, who'd already been cast as the relentless French detective Bezu Fache. "That was hilarious," says Howard. "Fortunately the deal was already closed."
Is this guy for real or is he trying to resemble his character in Les Guignols de l'info [a popular satirical puppet show in France] in the vain hope to regain popularity? At least, Howard seems to have a good sense of humor about it. It is hilarious... or is it?


UPDATE on King George.

This article called The Hidden State Steps Forward from The Nation starts like this:
The Bush Administration is not a dictatorship, but it has all the markings of one in embryonic form.
So other people out there think that W is looking more like King George.


No Evidence Hangover Cures Work.

The BBC had a great headline today, No evidence hangover cures work.
For a second or so, I thought it odd. After all, if anything, a good hangover makes you work twice as hard the following afternoon.
Well now we can put the punctuation 'No evidence' hangover cures work and if it is still a bit confusing... you need to see that 'cures' is a noun and 'work' is a verb. It is normally a question of stress (When you are speaking English the words you stress can change the underlying meaning of a sentence - see here as well) but of course, it is a different story when you read it.
This shows the importance of punctuation [the quotation marks also called 'inverted commas'] which reminds me of this an old joke based a wildlife manual which claims a panda "eats, shoots and leaves" instead of "eats shoots and leaves.

NOTE: Eats, Shoots & Leaves is also fun book to read (on the importance of puncutation in the English language).

AND by the way, the BBC article actually said the study showed there is no cure for hangover and the research brillantly concludes: "The most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol-induced hangover is thus to practise abstinence or moderation." Duh! I don't know if they got paid a lot for it but apparently they had a lot of fun doing it... so they admit themselves.


Monday, December 26, 2005

King George of the United-States.

When a government starts spying on people without warrants [or any legal procedure], when they abduct innocent people and deny them basic rights, and when, finally, they start intimidating journalists into not publishing stories... all in the name of "national security", you should really start questioning the motivations of the people in charge.
And this is in the context of an administration that we know has manipulated the country into accepting a war with repeated lies. [Go and read your 1984 and remind yourself how mass surveillance and censorship of mass media are the foundations of dystopia. We are not there yet of course, but it's good to be watching...]

Yes, there should be "national security" concerns - especially after 9/11 but somewhere a line must be drawn. That's why there are laws. This nation is not even officially at war (Congress has not issued a formal declaration of war) and this administration is still supposed to subject to the rule of law, strict checks and balances and good governance.

When you read this (here):
President Bush has been summoning newspaper editors lately in an effort to prevent publication of stories he considers damaging to national security.
You are very tempted to believe that for Bush it is anything damaging his administration that's damaging national security. In other words, he now acts as if HE were the nation. He has become King George - who thinks L'état, c'est moi! [to quote a famous peer of his]. Unfortunately, that's what happens when you live in your own bubble, in denial of reality. It juts becomes a bit scary when you happen to be the most powerful political leader in the world.
(Picture foun on Daily Kos)


Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Bit (More) of Controversy Over Xmas...

Given the recent uproar about the so-called [made-up] “War on Christmas”, (here and here) I am surprised – if not disappointed that those conservative bigots have not yet expressed their anger against the spelling of Xmas [a very common use in English-speaking countries]. After all, this could very well be the sign of yet another conspiracy to (literally) take “Christ” out of Christ-mas! Even the British considered the issued last year.

The X in Xmas is actually derived from the word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Greek for Christ). According to Abecedaria and Wikipedia, Χριστος used to be represented by Χρς, or Χς, and by ΧΡ in art and other representation. X represented the Greek letter χ (chi in latin). It was pronounced with an aspirated [kh], which is the first letter of Christ's name in Greek. Then, with the beginning of the use of the vernacular languages in Europe, when the ending was no longer relevant, the last letter was dropped and X alone came to represent Christ. Xmas first appeared in English texts in the 16th century and it is thus clearly not a sign of disrespect. The Oxford English Dictionary documents the use of this abbreviation back to 1551, 50 years before the first English colonists came to North America and 60 years before the King James Version of the Bible was completed.

So all in all, it is hardly a sign of disrespect. Boy, am I disappointed there is no battle to fight here!

As far as France is concerned, no question of shortening the French word Noël for Christmas. NO? EL? Hardly...
Interestingly though, the word Noël [from Latin natlis (dies), (day) of birth] was commonly used in Middle-English and is still known from the famous Christmas carol “The First Noel” (also sometimes spelled Nowel). Another sign of the former and long gone influence of the French language. ... [sigh!] when even the English spoke French... well... sort of!

NOTE: And if you want to be a bit more provocateur, in a (not so) true spirit of Xmas, you can always wish your conservative brother or sister a "Merry Fitzmas" of course.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Are the French anti-American?

There is no denying that anti-Americanism exists in France yet it is far more difficult to conclude that the French as a whole are anti-American. The very nature of this anti-Americanism is also hard to define.

This question has been dealt many times on this blog (see here for instance) but Joker-to-the-Thief tends to think that the answer is both yes and no, however non-committal this is. The only thing we have constantly supported is the theory that the main reason for the bickering between France and the US is not that they are different but that they are so much alike (see here).

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
This idea happens to be pretty much what this week’s The Economist contends in their article “Spot the Difference”.
They also add a few more interesting elements in their analysis of the issue, showing that the reality is of course more complex than it appears.
  • First they say that anti-Americanism is basically an elite doctrine which is not shared by ordinary people. While more French people disapprove of George Bush's international policies 85% than most other Europeans (72% on average), 72% of the French have a favourable view of Americans, [surprisingly] more even than in Britain (62%) or Spain (47%).

Another good illustration is this:

During the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings in 2004, politicians were frosty, but the people at large showed an outpouring of gratitude to American veterans.
And this has indeed the experience of American friends of mine who went to the celebrations of anniversary and felt warmly welcome and hailed there. Read also this article, No anti-Americans on my trip to Europe. One could also mention the success of many American products at a level that makes France seem more seduced by Americana than most other European countries.
  • Second, and more challenging is their idea that Anti-Americanism is used as a scapegoat by the political class for its own roubles. The French , and particularly the media, enjoy exposing American poverty, racism and ghetto life while failing to see their own as the recent events this year have shown (racism and poverty “revealed” by Katrina and the French riots). It helps them cope with their own sense that things are not going so well by sustaining the myth that things are even worse there. Unfortunately, this often prevents much needed self-examination.
  • Their last major point is that the French clash with America is not the result of antipathy but jealousy. This is also our theory of the rivalry of competing “universal values”. (after all both Republics share the ambition to spread their values abroad). In this respect, Dominique de Villepin [the Prime Minister] ’s words that France’s responsibility to bestow a conscience, a soul upon the Earth” and to enact “our universal and humanist dream” could be easily mistaken for Bush’s own rhetoric on America’s duty to spread freedom [except for the word "humanist" of course!]

Finally, the article provides another clue : anti-Americanism intensifies at times of French uncertainty and, well, this is definitely one of those moments today.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

What Makes (American) People Happy!

While some polls seem to suggest that support for Bush is picking up again, others say there is no change.

Now this graph offers a whole new what makes the President popular in the US. Whether it is true or not, it is cetainly something to take into consideration (available here):


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

French Secularism Explained.

As we discussed the recent battle for separation between church and state - or rather between religion and science - won in the U.S. , it is only fair to say that France is also undergoing a major "cultural" and political crisis ... with regards to its very strict secular view of the relation between church and state.
Joker-to-the-Thief has been dealing with this issue at great length (see here or here for instance) and so it is quite satisfying when an expert seems to express similar views as ours on the subject (in this article published recently in The International Herald Tribune). The article is, I think, an excellent way to tackle this very complex issue which is very hard to explain to people who have not lived in France long enough to hold a god grasp of its political history. It also shows why it is so difficult for French and Americans to understand each other in this respect.
Here are some good excerpts:
Nowhere else in the West is this division of church and state applied as diligently as in France.
[.../... ]
The French concept of "laïcité" - a term for which secularism is only an imperfect translation - has become an integral part of the identity of the French Republic, which in theory is blind to color and creed. Indeed, with President Jacques Chirac calling laicism "a pillar of the republican temple," some people say that it has become a state religion itself.
[.../... ]
The French are re-evaluating the concept, even more so since the November rioting.
[.../... ]
According to Martine Barthélémy at the Paris-based Institute for Political Studies, history goes some way toward explaining the French attitude toward mixing God and politics. For centuries, France was savaged by wars of religion. Then after the French Revolution in 1789, the Catholic Church refused to accept the values of the new republic, deepening a sense among political leaders that the state needed protecting from religion.
In the United States, where many early immigrants settled after fleeing religious persecution in Europe, the separation of church and state is in many ways perceived to be serving the opposite purpose, Barthélémy says, namely to protect religion from the state.
"We all have our founding myths," she said. "Our founding myth is the republican idea, and laicism is an essential part of that. In America, religious freedom is an important part of their founding myth - that's why we sometimes don't understand the Americans and vice versa."
That is also why, in France today, the head scarf ban is seen by many as protection from pressure at home for those Muslim girls who would rather go to school unveiled. Giving in on this issue, they argue, could be seized upon by religious Muslims to demand further concessions at odds with France's secular tradition, like separating girls and boys in swimming and sports classes, or taking girls out of biology class - requests that schools in Germany and Britain are grappling with.
"Where do you draw the line?" Barthélémy asked.


Intelligent Design Lost But Ignorance Remains High.

There are a few fascinating details about the decision by a Federal Judge to reject the teaching of “Intelligent Design” as an alternative scientific theory.
First, the judge - Judge John E. Jones III - is not some liberal activist who wants to destroy Christianity – he is a Republican appointed by President Bush and a Christian [albeit not of the fundamentalist kind – he is a Lutheran].
Second and more importantly not only did he give a number of legal arguments to show that teaching Intelligent Design was in “violation of constitutional provisions against the establishment of religion”, he also gave an abundance of logical arguments based on simple common sense, thus clarifying the boundaries between science and personal belief.
I am no scientist but it all seems to make sense to me and I think a few elements exposing the failing logic of those backing that Intelligent Design is a science are worth quoting.
Here are some of the major arguments he used in his 139 page-long judicial statement [available here in Pdf]:
  • science, by definition, deals only with natural phenomena whereas intelligent design invokes "a supernatural designer"
  • science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea's worth.
  • an argument against one thing cannot necessarily be interpreted as an argument for something else. For example, the fact that the fossil record is incomplete is not evidence that human beings must have been created in their current form.
  • the acknowledgment by notable mainstream scientists of the gaps in the Theory of Evolution does not amount to a new theory of life's origins and development.
Interestingly, the judge also exposed in his ruling the deceiving strategy of some leaders of Intelligent Design:
Two of the most outspoken proponents of intelligent design on the Dover school board, William Buckingham and Alan Bonsell, lied in their depositions about how they raised money in a church to buy copies of an intelligent design textbook, "Of Pandas and People," to put in the school library.
Both men, according to testimony, had repeatedly said at school board meetings that they objected to evolution for religious reasons and wanted to see creationism taught on equal footing.
Judge Jones wrote, “It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the I.D. policy”. (NY Times)

While this is a great battle won against ignorance, the war is not over yet. Most polls show that between 40% and 55% of Americans favor “a strict biblical creationist view of evolution”. (Wash. Post)
As you can read in details here, this is precisely because of the “low information” level of the public when it comes to both the science and the politics involved (as other poll results indicate). There is also “some evidence that science knowledge is fragmented, with little integrated understanding of how human origins might be connected to other dimensions of natural history.”
In other words, it is the ignorance of what science is that seems to explain such appalling results. It says a lot more about [the failures of] high school education than about anything else.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Those pesky policy reviews

In an interview with ABC's Terry Moran, Dick Cheney talked candidly about torture, domestic spying and the responsilibities of this administration:

On torture:
Moran: Are you troubled at all that more than 100 people in U.S. custody have died -- 26 of them now being investigated as criminal homicides -- people beaten to death, suffocated to death, died of hypothermia in U.S. custody?

Cheney: No. I won't accept your numbers, Terry. But I guess one of the things I'm concerned about is that as we get farther and farther away from 9/11, and there have been no further attacks against the U.S., there seems to be less and less concern about doing what's necessary in order to defend the country.

Hmm, I won't accept your numbers. I guess this is more than a tacit admission of the presidential policy which creates its own reality. If you don't like the facts, you can simply ignore them.

Cheney:And what I'm concerned about, Terry, is that as we get farther and farther from 9/11, we've got -- we seem to have people less and less committed to doing everything that's necessary to defend the country.

You really T have to O read between R the lines T to see what U the president R of vice is E saying here.

On domestic spying:
...these are communications that involve acknowledged or known terrorists -- dirty numbers, if you will.
This must be the new "Axis of Evil" - the dirty dozen!

It's been reviewed. It's reviewed every 45 days by the president himself, by the attorney general of the U.S., by the president's council, by the director of CIA.
Let's see, that means the President reviews himself. But that's not all, his AG can review his policies (this is the AG that wrote a memo defending torture), the President's council (that merry band of yeah-sayers), and the CIA director (cowed the administration into accepting responsibility for any lapses in intelligence or judgment.) This isn't exactly what I'd call strict oversight.

On oversight of the program:
This has been done, Terry, in a manner that is completely consistent with our obligations and requirements, I can assure you.

Whew, the Vice-President assures us. Now I can sleep again at night.

On Iraq:
Moran: You talk about undermining the legitimacy of the resistance. Before the war you said Americans would be greeted as liberators here, and yet your own trip here today was undertaken in such secrecy that not even the prime minister of this country knew you were coming, and your movements around are in incredible secrecy and security. Do you ever think about how and why you got it wrong?

Cheney: I don't think I got it wrong. I think the vast majority of the Iraqi people are grateful for what the U.S. did. I think they believe overwhelmingly that they're better off today than they were when Saddam Hussein ruled.

Mistakes? Wrong? what me? us? who? no....I think the question is just poorly framed. Because death and destruction is how we define success!

On the Valerie Plame Affair:
Moran: You mentioned Scooter Libby is a close friend, and...

Cheney: He is.

Moran: ... he's worked with you for a long time. What do you make of what he's going through?

Cheney: Well, I'm sure it's very tough. But he's a good man. He's a patriot. And as I say, he's entitled to a presumption of innocence. And we'll leave it at that.

Just remember, laws aren't written for patriots. I'm sure this applies to all members of the current administration as well. The best defense is the patriot defense.


Tautology and Denial.

Yesterday we were wondering what exactly he was talking about when he said "that being your president requires doing what I believe is right and accepting the consequences". Well, it seems that the mystery has deepened after last night's press conference when the President was unable to name a single mistake he has made during his presidency after he was asked once again (see here and here).
How can there be consequences if there is no mistake? That makes sense in the world he lives in.

Note: Bush's subconscious almost gave us a hint when he said "not enough troops" and changed it right away to "more troops". His PR team must have told him to not use that expression... but it's hard to remember all the things he is not supposed to say... too many of them... he can't keep them all in his little brain.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush Accepts ... what?

Last night, President Bush said:
And as your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq.
I know this war is controversial -- yet being your president requires doing what I believe is right and accepting the consequences.
What "consequences" is he talking about here? Any idea anyone?

NOTE: you will notice that the transcript does not render his speech problems. It reads "the result of that war was to rid the world of a murderous dictator" when he said "the result of that war was to rid a murder... the... the world of a murderous dictator".


More French Troops.

Here is something I have not see much in the French or American media:
France [which already has 800 troops there] will send several hundred more troops to Afghanistan to reinforce security in Kabul, the capital, when NATO expands operations in the country next year, the French defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, said here on Sunday. (NY Times)


Which Bush's Speech Do You Pefer?

You may know that Buh gave a speech to the nation last night. You can choose to watch it here, or better yet, you can go here and make him say pretty much what you want on this site. The latter is much more fun. You can even make your own Bushism!


The President vs Congress

President Bush has recently shown great contrition in accepting blame for sending people to war with faulty intelligence information. Lost in the media gushing over the fine demonstration of character are the facts. Only one news source, Knight-Ridder, points out what was missing from the admission:

"It's true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," Bush admitted - omitting that he and top aides had ignored warnings from midlevel intelligence agents that some of the evidence was suspect - then quickly added that he has no regrets about his decision to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. (emphasis mine)

So while this much of an admission is commendable, it only goes part way. While we're at it, let's just take a closer look at that faulty intelligence and whether or not Congress had access to the same intelligence, a claim the President and his ever-shrinking group of defenders have been making relentlessly the past two weeks. In a publishe report put out by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), it turns out that...well, no that's not quite true. The President gets his own intelligence and some of it is shared with Congress. Question of trust apparently. You never know who's going to leak on you. (yes, pun intended). So while the President is running around trying to defend himself, perhaps he ought to just stick with the truth. Tony Blair has looked rather heroic getting pummeled by the media all the while telling the truth. At least he's not afraid (or incapable?) of telling the truth.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Iran's Game.

The resurgence of anti-Jewish rhetoric in Iran has had me puzzled even if it's an old trick used by other Arab figures in the past.
Some commentators have said that the Iranian anti-Jewish theme was aimed at unifying a country that is increasingly divided over the regime and even that is a sign that it is cracking up from the inside. In other words, the speeches by
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are to be understood strictly in the sense that they are aimed at the “domestic market” and that they are a sign of weakness rather than a real threat. That may be but the staging and everything else seems to indicate that the Iranian government is also trying to reach out to the rest of the Arab world. Pan-Arabism has always been, after all a dream of many Arab leaders, and what is better than some good old Israel-bashing and Holocaust-denying to rally divided Arbas around the green flag.
Matthew Yglesias, however, has a lightly different geo-political perspective that makes sense:

One key swing constituency in this whole standoff is the Arab world. The regimes in the Gulf and beyond the Egypt are not very excited about the prospect of a nuclear Iran which they naturally see as a threat to their own standing in the area. But the Arab public is pretty sympathetic to the Iranian position on this. If Teheran can successfully frame its nuclear program as directed at Israel, rather than the Gulf monarchies, then it becomes extremely difficult for the Arab regimes to support an anti-Iranian policy even though they'd be inclined to do so. In that sense, I worry that the tendency of western diplomats to explicitly link the Israel and nuclear issues every time Ahmadinejad launches one of these tirades is a mistake.
In this light, the news of Hamas' victory in the local elections in Palestine is something to worry about.


The Lure of Extremism : a Personal Anecdote.

As a high-school teacher, you can sometimes be confronted to the unexpected and this anecdote is a good illustration of this interesting facet of the job. Yesterday, I came across the fascination of a kid for religious and political fanaticism.

Context: At the beginning of class, I tend my students on the previous lesson which they are supposed to learn. It is usually an oral test on a few things we saw in class the previous time. When the test is “oral”, I’m usually pretty cool about it - the idea being simply to make sure they learn on a regular basis. So I don’t really grade them or fail them. If they don’t know their lesson, I lecture them and take note of it so that next time, I may test them again. So the stakes are not very high.
So I was surprised when one of the students overreacted because he had done poorlyl on the test. He decided to leave class without permission. His schoolmates asked him to calm down but he wouldn’t. I knew there was something wrong with him and it was obviously not the test itself. I didn’t want to worsen things as I could tell there was a lot of anger in this kid – but I did tell him that if he left the class, there would be consequences. He left anyway and I went on with my lesson with the other students.

I had noticed before that this boy was very sensitive and that there was also something eating him up. The key to undrrstand this kid had to do with in his first name – he is called “François” while his last name shows he is obviously of Arab descent. This is very unusual and when I asked him about it one day, he said that his parents chose a “French” name so that he would be better accepted into French society. Now yesterday was unusual as he has always behaved quite well, and even though he had sort of questioned a few things I said a couple times before, he had always done so politely. At the end of the period, he came to me and apologized. I decided to have little chat with him and this is when it becomes interesting.

He said that he had relationship problems with his family. Nothing unusual there but then he said that his have been mostly about “religion”. His parents who came from Iran before she Shah was overthrown are divorced and his mother is raising him and his older brother alone. They do not live in a bad neighborhood and seem to be middle-class. The older brother has done very well in school but François is not doing so well. He feels like he has been the black sheep in the family. Contrary to his family, he also feels very strongly about Islam. I asked him if he went to the mosque but he said that since he’s a Shiite, he doesn’t [most mosques in France are Sunni]. He also said that he recently contacted the Iranian Embassy so that he could go there and join the army or something. He said he wanted to fight Israel.
When you hear that, it tends to make you a bit nervous these days – not that I was scared but I felt some responsibility to find the right words not to scare him away on the one hand, but also to make him see that things are not exactly the way he thinks. He eventually said he had nothing against Jews as individuals but rather against the state of Israel which persecuted his “Muslim brothers” and that they should give their land to the Arabs. I could see the anger in his eyes even he was perfectly calm. I could tell he also resented his family for not being Muslim enough.
I asked him what he thought of the recent words used by the Iranian president but he didn’t seem to have any idea of hat I was talking about. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to pursue this conversation. I asked him if I could meet with him and his mother, he agreed but only if I didn’t tell her all of this. I don’t want to breach the trust he seems to have had when he confided in me and I think she already knows anyway. It has been obvious throughout the conversation that this boy has no one to talk or turn to. No adult anyway. It is a very sensitive situation and I have to make sure we are going to continue to talk so that in the end he sees that his problems have nothing to do with Israel, Iran or the Palestinians. I just hope he's not going to fall into the trap of religious fanaticism.
I think it would be ridiculous to draw some general conclusion out of this this simple anecdote. But it is interesting to see how easy it would be for some ill-intentioned people to prey on the weak mind of a teenager.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

The "True" Meaning of Christmas.

While Christmas is traditionally associated with the notion of peace – probably why even in 1914 during WWI, some German and allied soldiers made a 3 day-truce to celebrate it – in the US, it is strangely used for war.

This cultural war is led by FoxNews anchors John Gibson and Bill O’Reilly as well a right-wing fundamentalists christians like Jerry Falwell who claim there is a liberal conspiracy to rid Christmas of its “Christian meaning” (also read here and here).

So now, wishing “Happy holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas” becomes politically charged. (read this great piece by Wonkette on how Christians are being “persecuted” in the

In the meantime, some other Christians are taking a fight definitely worthy of the spirit of Christmas (or at least of Christ, which seems even more important for Christians) as you can read in this Washington Post article:

Leaders of five denominations -- the United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA and United Church of Christ -- issued a joint statement last week calling on Congress to go back to the drawing board and come up with a budget that brings "good news to the poor."

In other words, those Christians ask for a moral budget which does not cut food stamps for poor people for instance. And guess what? There were no conservative Christian leaders among them. No James Dobson. No Pat Robertson and no Jerry Falwell. Conservative Christian groups respond that it is a matter of “priorities” [i.e. by priorities they mean abortion, same-sex marriage and seating judges who will back their position against those practices]. (for more on the American Christian Right, go here)

So basically their priority is to have political influence. Fighting homosexuals is more important than helping the poor, and helping the un-born poor is more important that the actual (full grown) poor who may be cold and hungry on Christmas eve.

Some priorities indeed! I have yet to find them in the bible!

And by the way… did Jesus say anything about celebrating his birth? We now all know that Christmas was not celebrated before the 4th century anyway (when Pope Julius I set that date as an attempt to Christianize Pagan celebrations) and so Jesus was not even born on December 25th.

It is also ironic to remember that the Puritans thought that “Christmas was too strongly linked to the Pagan Roman festival and were opposed to all celebration of it” (here). If there should be one Christian Holy Day, it is Easter, not Christmas.

So let’s keep all the pagan stuff that comes with Christmas - the tree, the presents and Santa Claus - so that the kids can have some fun, and marvel just like when they watch Narnia (or even The March of the Penguin) when they wake up in the morning….


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Believers in God - Europe & the US.

As an addendum to our previous post on France & Religion, here are some figures on the belief in God in Europe and in the US.
According to a recent Gallup poll (Nov. 2005) 94% of Americans think God exists and 61% of those who seldom or never attend church are nevertheless convinced that God exists.
As can be expected the numbers are very different in Europe. While on average 71% of Europeans say they believe in God (here or here in French), there is a great variety of results between countries:

Poland : 97%

Portugal : 90%

Germany : 67%

The UK : 64%

France : 60%

The Netherlands : 51%

The Czech Republic : 37%

Interestingly,in an opinion poll commissioned by the BBC in ten countries (see here), it was the poorer nations which tended to have the highest percentage of believers. The United States was the exception - there, nine out of ten people expressed faith in God.


France & Religion.

We should probably add a few more things to our previous post with regard to how the French tend to see religion

In France religion is usually seen as a hindrance to humanity’s freedom and so the state is supposed to free and protect the individual from the abuse of religion. It all makes sense in a society that was for so long polarized over the role of religion – for the individual or the institution – and in which the state was clearly on the side of the institution. This did not end so long ago – this year is the 100th anniversary of the official separation of church and state. The process resulted in the law called “loi sur la laicité” [law on secularism] which did not pass easily and divided the nation even back then. The French Catholic church was extremely conservative and opposed to social reforms and progress. Therefore, it does make sense that religion is viewed as a divisive force since the church divided France for such a long time – from the Religious Wars of the 16th century to the early 20th century. And in France it is the secular state that has liberated people from the abuse of a tyrannical church, and this is pretty much the opposite of what has happened in the US.

In the US, for example, religion is mostly perceived as a positive force that has liberated the individual against abuses of power, especially the government’s. Freedom of worship is seen as a guarantee of other freedoms. In addition, the emphasis on “personal faith” of the protestant theology has resulted in a greater appreciation for personal responsibility. This also makes sense for a nation built by people who sought to leave tyrannical governments in order to worship whatever religion they believed - and for which they were persecuted - and it is not surprising that many progressive leaders have been found in the church (one need only think of Martin Luther King). Despite what many Europeans believe, churches in the US have always played a major role in social reforms. The recent rise of conservatism in the evangelical world is a new phenomenon that is not representative of the history of Christianity in the US. The problem is that many Americans fail to take national histories into account in their analysis of the French secular state. Across the Atlantic, the problem is also that French people tend to confuse the church they learn about in their history books with religion, and God knows how history is an important topic in France. They actually know very little about faith and religion beliefs.

This is particularly true of the left-wing intellectuals who are very still very influential. What happened at the conference is a good illustration of the patronizing and condescending attitudes of many French intellectuals who believe that people should be “set free despite themselves” and that they, the intellectual républicains will enlighten people. Thus they cannot even conceive that a woman can “choose” to wear a headscarf for religious reasons. While I won’t deny that some women are forced into it by peer or male pressure, there are also those who choose to do it out of their own free will. The latter cases are often dismissed by many intellectuals who believe that either it simply can’t be true or if it is, that’s because they don’t know any better (unlike the intellectuals who DO know better concerning what’s really good for them).

This is in line with the philosophy of the Hussard de la République (nickname given to the teachers of the 3rd Republic in the late 19th century and early 20th). It is also similar to the patronizing philosophy that gave moral grounds to colonization. Many French intellectuals thus fail to see the positive role of religion or if they do, they tend to be extremely conservative – and thus remain skeptical of Islam in any case. What I find appalling is how much so many French and Americans fail to see that their attitudes towards religion are simply the product of their history and society and that neither is superior to the other. The French are very uneasy with American religious practice and do not see the positive aspect of religion in American society while many Americans think France is anti-religion. The treatment of the topic of the religious headscarf illustrated that divide.

I will admit that the French view of religion is both unique and complex, making it difficult to understand outside France even for other Europeans. And the same can be said about the US. Does Pat Robertson represent Christianity in the US? Most Americans know he doesn’t but that doesn’t prevent foreigners from seeing Pat Robertson as representative of American Christianity.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Secret Laws.

File this one under "you learn something new every day." From an article published earlier this year in the Post-Gazette:
John Gilmore's splendid isolation began July 4, 2002, when, with defiance aforethought, he strolled to the Southwest Airlines counter at Oakland Airport and presented his ticket.

The gate agent asked for his ID.

Gilmore asked her why.

It is the law, she said.

Gilmore asked to see the law.

Nobody could produce a copy. To date, nobody has. The regulation that mandates ID at airports is "Sensitive Security Information." The law, as it turns out, is unavailable for inspection.

What started out as a weekend trip to Washington became a crawl through the courts in search of an answer to Gilmore's question: Why?

The recent lawsuit by John Gilmore, suing the government over his "right" to travel without the need to produce a government issued identity card has exposed a little known secret in this the Land of the Free: there exist secret laws in the United States, one which obliges all of us to show a piece of identity to board a plane. That we need to show ID to board a plane has been held for some time as common practice. That there is a "law" for this practice is less well-known. That the law should be secret seems downright bizarre.

Kevin Drum over at Political Animal raises all the red flags that one would expect upon hearing such Orwellian language (he uses Kafkaesque), and Orin Kerr over at The Volokh Conspiracy does his best to explain away the obvious fears (they're regulations, not laws). Of course, the conspiracy nuts on either side of the political aisle will soon start offering up their own theories of secret government (here we go again with the silent black helicopters), but in all seriousness, this little incident is rather telling. I won't pretend to be able to analyze the finer points of said laws (I would recommend the comments section on either blog for a dissection of laws vs regulations, passenger vs operator, etc.). I can, however, tell you that this news about secret laws only reinforces my belief that we do many things without ever questioning their usefulness or validity. I'm not advocating a universal refusal to show ID at the airport; but I am say that we all could use a rather large dose of skepticism when it comes to the government telling us what to do. There is a great deal of fear-mongering coming out of Washington since 9/11. We have agreed to "tighten" borders, show ID, practically undress at the airport, and allow ourselves to be surveilled by the authorities. We should at least see some results from this transparency of our lives. But instead there is less transparency from Washington and those whom it does arrest with its new powers, it almost inevitably sets free for lack of evidence. What's the use then of all these restrictions?


Monday, December 12, 2005

The French Divide is Cultural, Not Racial.

Today's Herald Tribune publishes a captivating perspective on France from a "a young (American) black male who has lived in both France and United States". His contention is basically that the problem of integration of "visible minorities" into main stream French society - highlighted by the recent riots - is not based on a racial divide but on a cultural rift:
[When I lived there] I was "ethnic," but I wasn't an immigrant with a culture and customs that were so different as to be feared. I was Christian, not Muslim. Different, but not too different.And this, in my experience, is why prejudice in Europe is such a dramatically different beast from prejudice in the United States. In America, prejudice has long been a question of color. In Europe, it's not about color, it's about culture. France doesn't have a race problem. It has a problem embracing the culture and customs of its immigrants and their children.
I think he really has a point here and it makes real sense to me. That would notably explain many of the paradoxes of the French situation and its long history of openness to black intellectuals and artists for instance and why it so common to see racially mixed couples there.
He also adds an interesting comparison with the US:
[...] because the issue is culture, not color, the real solution for France and other European countries is much more challenging. Europeans have to learn to understand and appreciate - and, ultimately, embrace - the cultural riches of their immigrants, just as they have embraced mine. And in doing so, they may even discover that some of those riches are as much European as they are African or Arab.
Cultural prejudice can be fueled by different types of fear. In Europe it's largely a fear of change; in the United States, of terrorism.


The Islamic Headscarf in France.

The point was raised over the weekend about France and the headscarf (also called veil). Most of our readers will recognize this as a reference to the 1989 incident which saw three girls expelled from school for refusing to take off the headscarf in the classroom. And also to the recent law passed in 2003 banning the wearing of ostentatious religious symbols. While both sides have fought and argued well, the media can sometimes oversimplify things (something which we’re all guilty of) so we thought it might be useful to provide a little perspective on the current situation.

Some people outside France sometimes think that Muslim women are not allowed to wear their religious headscarves even in the streets. The law only banned ostentatious religious symbols in schools. While I’m personally convinced that the law was pointless – in fact very few Muslim girls were going to school with their headscarves (at the most, 12,000 out of 200,000 girls), and most of those who did found some form of agreement with the school - the laws was passed to prevent religion from becoming too visible in the School of the Republic. [In the end, 639 girls came to school with a headscarf after the law was passed and only 47 were actually expelled - the rest made some form of compromise.] (here in French)
Interestingly, in the end the law was not really so controversial among Muslims. What changed the minds and attitudes of the few who had opposed it was actually the demand by the Iraqi kidnappers that the law be abolished in order for the French hostages (French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot ) to be liberated. Many Muslims demonstrated in the streets to defend their own right to have their own French Islam. What the exteremists in Iraq had accomplished was to "rally-round-the-flag" a majority of outrage muslims, giving them a sense of uniy and outrage, that it is not up to some foreigners to tell them what to do. (read here, here or here)
It seems that a lot of those Muslims who grew up learning French values and French history have integrated the idea of a secular state.
One other point: during the riots in France last month, there was absolutely no demand for a repeal of the law – in fact there was no demand at all. It was mostly an (improvised) expression of frustration, anger and boredom borne out of miserable living conditions. If anything, it showed that the youths in those impoverished neighborhoods want to be more like the rest of the French. They do not want to be a separate (religious or not) community and have no special demand other than becoming mainstream.
But that has unfortuntaely been missed or simply not taken into account by most analysts outside France. This is because the role of religion in France is often greatly misundertood. Once you understand better the French context and its historical context, the law banning headscarves makes sense, even if I personally still think it was not needed.
More on France and religion in a subsequent post....


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Fuel Depot Fire Smoke... from Space.

Some Fire!

The huge amount of smoke produced by the fire is indicated by the black and grey area to the south of the depot visible on this UK satellite image taken a few hours after the blast. (BBC)