Monday, July 31, 2006

Why the French are so passionate about blogs.

On a much lighter note, the International Herald Tribune recently had a fascinating article on the success of blogs with the French. In fact, it seems that "the French distinguish themselves, both statistically and anecdotally, ahead of Germans, Britons and even Americans in their obsession with blogs, the personal and public journals of the Internet age.".
The article called France's Mysterious Embrace of blogs gives some worth reading hinsight on the particularities of the French culture with regard to the Internet and blogs. I think their basic points are for the most part quite true and it is good to read something that encapsulates so well a complex phenomenon:
French blogs stands out in other measurable ways. They are noticeably longer, more critical, more negative, more egocentric and more provocative than their U.S. counterparts, said Laurent Florès, the French-born, New York-based chief executive of CRM Metrix, a company that monitors blogs and other online conversations on behalf of companies seeking feedback on their brands.
"Bloggers in the United States listen to each other and incorporate rival ideas in the discussion," he said. "French bloggers never compromise their opinions."
They also passionately debate why they blog so much. One common explanation in the blogosphere is that there are so many French Internet surfers to begin with.
Last year the number of French people online passed the halfway mark of the total population of 61 million, with 85% of Internet users in May using high-speed broadband at home, according to Médiamétrie.
Cultural explanations describe blogs as a natural outgrowth of the French national character.
"It is clear that in France we have very large egos and love to speak about ourselves," Le Meur said. "If you look at Germans or Scandinavians - off- line and on the Internet - they really don't talk about themselves."
Historical explanations highlight the long French experience with online communication thanks to the Minitel, a text-based computer network that France Télécom popularized in the 1980s, well before most people had heard of the Internet.
But the French can be quirky as well as serious. One of the most popular video blogs, Bonjour America (, was started by Cyrille de Lasteyrie to explain France to foreigners - and to find a way for him to meet his hero, Clint Eastwood.
Other popular blogs include a cooking diary called C'est Moi Qui l'Ai Fait and a journal by an advertising executive called Dark Planneur.
[highlights are mine]

I'm thinking maybe we should have done this blog in French... Oh well, English is the international language after all.


When Ideology is Stronger than National Interest.

I find it really strange that moral ideology can be stronger than national interests. As if the army could afford to dimiss people who speak Arabic simply because they are gay.
More than 11,000 service members have been dismissed under the policy, including 726 last year - an 11 percent jump from 2004 and the first increase since 2001.
The General Accountability Office noted that nearly 800 dismissed gay or lesbian service members had critical abilities, including 300 with important language skills. Fifty-five were proficient in Arabic, including Copas, a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in California. (source here)
In the particulat case of this man - Bleu Copas - it is particularly bad since he was "outed" not because he said he was gay but because of "a stream of anonymous e-mails to his superiors in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C." Following the emails, he was investigated which is in direct contradiction of the first part of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, established in 1993 which prohibits the military from inquiring about the sex lives of service members. It requires discharges only of those who openly acknowledge being gay.
With a man like Rumsfeld at the head of the Defense Department, one should really not be surprised.


Dialogue better than war with Syria for long-term resolution.

This may very well be disinformation aimed at warning Syria not to attack Israel but if not, it is scary news:
[The Israeli] Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria. (Jerusalem Post)
It is particularly bad because Syria is probably right now the key country that the US and Europe can engage a dialogue with. This is where I think Friedman (see our previous post) made the most sensible analysis.
Syria, unlike Iran, is a
secular Sunni country and it seems to make sense that their "marriage with Iran is a marriage of convenience.” As Friedman also pointed out, the Syrian regime feels very strong right now because, unlike the other pro-American leaders of Jordan and Egypt for instance, they have the street with them.
Iran is also clearly dependent on Syria for its support of Hezbollah (one just needs to look at a map to see why).
So attacking Syria right now would probably be the worst thing to do, which is why, I believe (and hope) that the news in the Jerusalem Post is just propaganda.
Yet the Bush administration has recently slapped them in the face when US envoy to the UN John Bolton dismissed Syria's offer for dialogue on Lebanon crisis. The lack of sensitivity of the Bush administration to the cultural particularities of the Arab world and culture is impressive but no doubt this will cause even more sense of humiliation and will only make matters worse.


Exporting Fear instead of hope.

J2T has often been vigorously opposed the view of conservative N.Y. Times editorialist Thomas Friedman, particulalry with regard to his theories on free-trade, Europe ("Old Europe" that is) and his constant French bashing. (see our other posts here , here and here)
[Mr Friedman admitted to be ideologically biased - he said himsefl that he wrote
a column supporting the CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I and yet didn’t even know what was in it because he stands for free trade no matter what].
However, when he is not too blinded by his ideological agenda, he can say some very sensible things. That was the case yesterday at Meet the Press with regards to the foreign policy of the Bush administration:
Deep down, the world really envies that American optimism and naivete. And the world needs that American optimism and naivete. And so when we go from a country that, historically, has always exported hope to a country that always exports fear, what we do, and what this administration has done, is actually stolen something from people.

It is quite obvious that this administration has tried to maintain its power by instilling fear in the American people people and in the same way they have exported fear abroad. Fear then causes frustration which results in anger.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

The U.S. Culture War.

I don't think most people outside the U.S. are quite aware of the intensity of the culture war waging in this country over the last few years. It may be difficult to define the term “culture war” but to put it in a nutshell, it is the polarization of the debates over some issues such as abortion, homosexuality, prayer in school, separation of church and state, gun control which have all become “hot buttons” dividing Americans along two lines – one rather progressive and one more conservative.

The polarization of ideas is nothing new in this country but the difference is that what used to be a war between two ideological world views (which also divided Christians between progressivism and conservatism) has now become a religious war in which evangelicalism - the largest and the most active group of Christians in America – is now associated with the conservative agenda of the Christian Right and the Republican Party. It also seems that this culture war has intensified after 9/11 when the country’s mood turned more militaristic, jingoistic and unilateral.

However, there are some dissenting voices in the evangelical world. Jim Wallis who is also a very influential religious figures in the US is a good illustration of a new attempt at a bipartisan agenda (which he called A Covenant for a New America) focusing on overcoming poverty in the U.S. and throughout the world instead of focusing on the usual “hot-buttons”.

Yesterday, the NYTimes (via Kevin Drum) published an article on those other dissenting voices in the evangelical world.

“There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

I can’t agree more with the paradox emphasized by the Rev. Boy in the article that whereas Christians these days are constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public, never did Jesus push those “hot buttons”.

As Jim Wallis also said:

"Jesus didn’t speak at all about homosexuality. There are about 12 verses in the Bible that touch on that question.....There are thousands of verses on poverty. I don’t hear a lot of that conversation."

The discontent may be growing but there are still casualties of war. Read this article (also published in the NYTimes) about a Jewish family in Delaware who simply asked the district school board to "consider prayers that were more generic" and who finally had to move out after receiving several threats. The tension is so high that the family that joined them in the following suit decided to remain anonymous. Is that what a free country should be about?

It is not clear to me at this point whether the discontent is really brewing and whether people will finally get sick of seeing their faith used for political agenda. As a Christian myself, I whole heartedly agree with Wallis though when he told Christians to not go right or left but deeper.

NOTE: The Atlantic Monthly also has some interesting historical background here.

NOTE2: Interestingly, I find that all missionaries I know who have lived abroad for an extensive period of time come back to the US with a much more "progressive" view than those who have stayed in their local church and yet support them. It sometimes result in some interesting discomfort.


The fall of a hero?

OK, well as it was recently commented on our blog, we may have been wrong - it looks like "our true American sports hero" may have had a wee bit too much testosterone in his urines. Frankly it is hard to say at this point. The jury is still out, I suppose.
"Innoncent until proven guilty", certainly! but what I find interesting in the meantime is that whereas the French media seem to lean towards the guilty side, America's media portray him not only as innocent but also as a victim of some sort of French anti-American conspiracy (CNN, Foxnews). Of course, French-bashing has been one of Armstrong's favorite sports since he retired.
At the same time, it is true that the French media somtimes seem to be enjoying it a little bit too much. What was true last year is true this year, the jingoism of the media regarding sports news is pretty amazing and that is true on both sides of the Atlantic. It must also be said that everyone knows that cycling is ridden with cheating and dopping.
Greg LeMond himself seems very skeptical:
In a veiled reference to seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, long dogged by doping allegations, LeMond added: "I hope that (Landis) won't do what another American did: Deny, deny, deny."
It seems that people too are also often in a state of denial - Armstrong and Landis's stories of courage and come back (cancer, hip problem) is exactly the sort of stories people want to believe. It reaches mythical proportion and it is very hard indeed to put someone down from their pedestal. It is also hard to think that good guys can do bad things.
"I know Floyd, he's a good guy, he comes from a good family. If all this is proven, it will be a part of the tragedy that crosses this sport: Even good people are obliged to deceive," LeMond said, according to Le Journal du Dimanche."It is cycling as a professional sport that represents the problem. It can transform someone into a liar."
At the same time, those athletes are only human beings. Something the French should understand quite well. After all, their national soccer champion Zidane also had a bit too much testosterone the night of the World Cup final game. Only it seems all too natural to Zidane.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Christian Fundamentalists, Bush and the Support of Israel.

It is well know that American Christian Fundamentalists and a great part of evangelicals have been among the most ardent supporters of U.S. policies for Israel. This is not some conspiracy theory, it is a fact and the situation today offers a good illustration of this
Here's what Wall Street Journal posted today (via Kevin Drum) :

Last week, as Israel's armed forces pounded Lebanon and worries of a wider conflagration mounted, Mr. Hagee presided over what he called a "miracle of God": a gathering of 3,500 evangelical Christians packed into a Washington hotel to cheer Israel and its current military campaign.

....President Bush sent a message to the gathering praising Mr. Hagee and his supporters for "spreading the hope of God's love and the universal gift of freedom." The Israeli prime minister also sent words of thanks. Israel's ambassador, its former military chief and a host of U.S. political heavyweights, mostly Republican, attended.

Mr Hagee's views are in line with the Dispensation Premillennialist theology about the end of times which claims that the Jews are a distinct people, irrevocably entitled to the promises of God and that they will undergo trials (Great Tribulation) until they finally recognize Jesus as their promised Messiah.
That's the interesting part - they really don't care about the Jews. They only support Israel because they think that those trials are part of God's plan:
When addressing Jewish audiences, Mr. Hagee generally avoids talking about Armageddon. But his books, whose titles include "Beginning of the End" and "From Daniel to Doomsday," are filled with death and mayhem. "The battlefield will cover the nation of Israel!" he writes in "Jerusalem Countdown," his recent work, describing a "sea of human blood drained from the veins of those who have followed Satan."
They also interpret biblical prophecies and believe that Antichrist will appear to the world as a peacemaker which means they reject the idea of a lasting peace in the Middle-East.
The scary part is that they have had some great influence in the Republican party in the last few decades, and the worst is probably that the president of the U.S. sent a message to the gathering praising Mr. Hagee and his supporters for "spreading the hope of God's love and the universal gift of freedom."
This should scandalize people and make them demand for the president to get his act together!

PS: Watching FoxNews so onesided in their coverage of the Middle-East crisi is sickening. Thank God for NBCNews which has done some remarkable job and for the BBC which is probably the best tv news provider.


A True American Sports Hero.

To my great shame, I just realized that I forgot to post something on the Tour de France's win.
Yet the news is definitely worth a post:

Last Sunday, (previsuously unknown) American champion Floyd Landis won the Tour. He is the third American to win the race, making it the 11th time an American has won the Tour de France in 21 years. If you read the details (notably the adversity he overcame with his bad hip) you'll see why this guy is a true American champ!

NOTE: It should also be noted that in the three biggest markets for the tour, the average number of television spectators declined sharply over the course of the three-week event - a drop of 14% in France, 40% in Germany and 54% in the the United States! That's too bad because Landis deserved some media coverage.
There are many reasons - the recent doping scandals before and after the Tour probably contributed too.


Israeli girls writing messages on shells.

This, I think, is just as shocking a picture as any of injured people we keep seeing on TV:

Israeli girls write messages on shells ready to be fired towards Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. Photo(s) taken by Sebastian Scheiner near Kiryat Shmona, in northern Israel, next to the Lebanese border, on Monday, July 17, 2006 for Associated Press (AP)
(source here via onegoodmove - for more info on the context of the picture go here)

NOTE; Unfortunately, this very sad picture has apparently also been used on anti-semitic websites. That's too bad. But it does not mean it should not be posted... As a teacher, I am particularly bothered by this.


Defining the meaning of "precision".

Apparently, the fatal strike that killed the four UN observers was a hit by a “precision-guided weapon” (here too). Either those weapons are not so "precise" or the strike was intentional. The irony is that precision-guided bombs are said to be sent by the US to Israel, as we were posting yesterday.


And now the British poll:

A Guardian/ICM poll seems to show that the British have a different oulook on things than the Americans - when it comes to their view of Israel at least:

  • only 22% of voters believe Israel has reacted proportionately to the kidnapping of soldiers and other attacks from militant groups in southern Lebanon.
Of course, the main problem with those polls is the wording of the question which may change the results quite drastically. Still an overwhelming majority are critical of Israel, which is not the case of the Americans.

When it comes to the war in Iraq, the difference is also pretty clear:
  • only 36% of voters still think the war was justified, (with 48% of Labour supporters who believe it) and 51% believe it was unjustified.
And as the Guardian is happy to remind us, the accidental broadcast of the prime minister's conversation with President Bush at the G8 summit probably may partly explain the following result:
  • 63% say PM has tied Britain too close to White House (and only 30% think the prime minister has got the relationship about right).


NBC/WSJ Poll Shows American Support of Israel.

According to NBC/Wall Street Journal's latest poll:
  • 45 % approve of Bush's handling of that conflict, while 39% disapprove.
  • 54 % say they sympathize more with Israel, while just 11% side with Arab countries.
The wording of this poll is interesting - 11% side with Arab countries. What do they mean by "Arab countries"? Hezbollah? Lebanon? All Arab countries? The question seems ambiguous at best or even possibly biased.
What about the 35% others? They simply don't know?
The result is not really surprising then - especially if you consider that the image of the Arab world in the U.S. is just as bad as America's image is in the Arab world.

However, Americans seem pretty pessimistic:
  • 53% believe that the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah will likely lead to a major Middle East war involving other countries while 34% think a major war is unlikely.
So how come 45% still approve of Bush's handling of that conflict if they're so pessimistic? Does it mean they think the US can't do anything?

As far as Iraq is concerned, there is no optimism on that front either:
  • 58% say they are less confident the Iraq war will come to a successful conclusion.
Pessimism seems to reach other areas of life:
  • 65% say they feel less confident that life for their children's generation will be better than it was for them


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Birth Pangs of a new Middle-East?

What was the point of having a Lebanon peace summit in Rome without Iran and Syria? Well, that's precisely it - there was no point other than the pretense of action and care.
It is pretty clears that there was no desire on the part of the US to see the summit break a deal. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice was pretty clear, no cease-fire before conditions had been created for a "sustainable" peace." But how do you create those conditions if you don't engage in direct talk with the countries most involved in the conflict (even if it is by proxy)?
The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman was for once quite right when he said the obvious:
"They should have invited all the countries of the region, including Syria and Iran, if they want peace. How can you tackle these important issues without having representatives of all countries in the region?"
The Bush administration is playing a very dangerous game. Not only is the US alone on this, but it is now perceived as the ultimate villain in the Arab world. No doubt that Rice is really working hard at making America's image in the Arab world even worse than it already is when she comments that the war on Lebanon was part of 'birth pangs of a new Middle East'. Of course the Arab street is going to get angry:
Lebanese and Arab commentators saw the top U.S. diplomat as attempting to give birth to a new Zionist-dominated Middle East at the expense of Lebanese 'children`s corpses.' (here)
It seems to me that the cost of this war - particularly the picture of dead civilians, including many children on TV - is greater politically than whatever is to gain from a 'potential' end of Hezbollah presence in southern Lebanon.
Marc Lynch has on his blog some very fascinating comments on how Arab tv is now presenting the "sixth [Arab-Israeli] war" and why Rice's comment has infuriated so many Arabs.

NOTE: By the way, the anger is not just felt in the Arab world as you can read here.
(this picture was taken in Greece)


Cause and Effect.

This summer Europe and the US have something in common – the heat. It was 36° C (96.8°F) in the shade in Paris yesterday. The same cause – a heatwave – also produces the same effects. Both continents face problem with
  • power, even in Europe, the increased demand for air-conditioning (which is not that common but is becoming increasingly so) could make summer a greater challenge than winter for electricity suppliers. In fact, France and Spain have been forced to cut output because the river water normally used to cool reactors is too warm. (NYTimes) and in California, 1.5 million people have lost electricity at one point or another (AP)
  • people are even dying - at least 56 heat-related deaths in California and 40 in France .
  • and bad crops (the Midwest, the Netherlands, Germany and France - and thousand of dairy cows have also died in California)
But overall, it seems much worse and much more unusual in Europe than in the U.S. Right now, it is raining in Chicago and there seems to be some relief in sight. T-storms are supposed to bring some cooler air tonight throughout Europe.

If similar situations are repeated some life-style changes will have to be made in Europe. Imagine right now, the London underground system, the oldest in the world, had a record temperature of 47 °C (116°F) and the buses (which are not air-conditioned) were even worse with temperatures reaching 52°C (125.6°F).


Failed trade talk.

I have not followed very closely the now failed negociations over global trade talks and surely, the blame is in the end to put on both the EU - and France in particular - and the US.
However, I can't help seeing some truth in what EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said today at a press conference in Brussels:
"The U.S. has been asking too much from others in exchange for doing too little themselves, now the U.S. seems to be saying to the rest of world: we are right, you are isolated.".
After all, this would not be the first time that this administration would tell the rest of the world "we are right". I tend to think that nothing will get done until Bush (and Chirac to a less extent) is in power and replaced by a leader who knows how to spell the word N-E-G-O-C-I-A-T-I-O-N-S!


The meaning of "life".

I know that things are often more complex than they appear and I know that as much as the Bush administration wants the end of the Hezbollah, they probably don't want too many Lebanese civilians to die, but in the end,
Isn't there some a bit wicked in the fact that the US is sending aid to Lebanon while sending more weapons to Isreal?

The argument that precision-guided bombs will help "save" some innocent people does not stand. We all know what "precision" means probably as well as we know what "collateral damage" means.
Call me a cynic, but I can't help wondering about the sanity of a country whose president claims to "protect life" and that "human life is a sacred gift from our Creator" but has more respect for the non-born than for the living!
If only it could just be about dropping leaflets!

Post Scriptum: the EU decided not to follow Bush's decision on stem-cell research and continue EU funding for human embryonic stem-cell research.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Are 50% of Americans ignorant?

Ignorance is bliss, the proberb goes. Well, if we are to believe this latest Harris poll, at least half of the American people must be in a state of pure ecstasy these days.
  • Not only do 50% US adults think that Iraq had such weapons when the U.S. invaded Iraq but this is more people than in February 2005 (when it was only 36 %).
  • 72% also believe that the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein (slightly down from February 2005 when 76 percent said this was true)
  • Over half (55%) think history will give the U.S. credit for bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq (down substantially from 64% in February 2005).
  • 64% say it is true that Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda (the same as 64% in February 2005).
Now what I wonder if this is result of simple ignorance or if it is the work of right-wing neo-con propaganda? It certainly does not help when political leaders like Senator Rick Santorum, or Congressman Peter Hoekstra transform reality to make it fit their political agenda, or when FoxNews exploits those lies for more dramatic (and false) headlines. That has occured despite evidence of the contrary.
But still, to think that about half of the American people can buy into it just boggles my mind. I suppose it is too hard for some people to admit they may have been suckers and supported a war that was unfounded. Reality denial is a powerful thing.
It makes you wonder about how democray can exist with a majority of people so in denial yet my personal theory is that people are often stupid - and that work for any given country - and they are are so because they are lazy. A cynic would even say that 50% of morons is a pretty low number, but we won't go there....

One speck of wisdom though it seems:
  • A clear majority (58) does NOT think that invading Iraq has helped to reduce the threat of another terrorist attack against the United States.
Well, not so wise a judgement in fact, this is indeed probably because the fear played on by the current administration and that, as we know, is an even more powerful tool.


Friday, July 21, 2006

"The Hahvahd Tour" is Harvard's Prime.

This afternoon before "tropical storm" Beryl hit the Boston area [yes, you read it right, tropical storm in Boston!], I took the "Hahvahd Unofficial Tour" of Harvard University by these two students, Dan and Jordan.
It was just excellent. This tour is the big talk on campus and the latest tourist attraction in Cambridge and they have even hit the news.

Not only do they give the usual architectural and historical details of the buildings, they also add their own personal touch, making it so much more lively and interesting.
They will explain to you for instance why Leonard Hoar , the third president of the college, was never given the
honor of a building in his name (saying there is no "Hoar house" on campus!). In fact, they tell you all sorts of fun anecdotal stories and put a lot of energy into their tour.

Their initial idea was brilliant with simplicity - give an off-beat tour of Harvard University to the numerous visitors in Harvard Square. As can be expected the administration tried to shut them down but they had guts and fought on, finding a loophole in the rules that actually said that the registration of student businesses was only required during the academic year (and thus not in the summer).

The thing I liked best was their personal stories of campus life which you will not find in any good guide-book. That's what makes life so interesting though, isn't it?

Their story, I think, personifies the American entrepreneurial spirit. They started with nothing and didn’t even have housing and now say they make $2000 a week in tips. (my guess is that it is now much more), and they deserve every penny. The are also extremely well-organized, with a web-site, brochures and they even hire other students to help them. The whole business does well. As we followed the tour, we were closely tailed by the “Official Tour” which had not even half of their crowd and lost some of their people to the unofficial tour. They were proud of it as they should be.

These two students will probably go pretty far - I suggested politics or stand-up comedy.

By the way, if you wonder why they're called 'Hahvahd', well, go on their tour, it's the first thing they'll you.

NOTE: J2T is going to NY for the week-end and neither member will be able to blog before at least Monday. One of us will be in Chicago while the other remains in Boston. We will be back soon.


Global Warming Deniers have a political agenda.

Despite overwhelming evidence, there are those who continue to deny that global warming is real, and from what I have read so far, they all seem to have some hidden political agenda.

ThinkProgress has a good exemple and it just blows my mind to read it, so I thought I'd share it with you since we've been tackling this issue in last two posts.
Conservative talk-show Glenn Beck who claims that if you deny global warming you're "a pretty brave guy, because, you know, if you come out against global warming you`re either a nut job or you`re just clearly in bed with big oil, and thus you should have no credibility." has interviewed the "brave" James Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma. The scary part is that James Inhofe is a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works which is responsible for dealing with matters related to the environment and infrastructure.
(read the transcript here and see the video here, it's worth it)
A couple things must be noted with regard to Inhofe's political agenda:
Inhofe is as right-wing conservative as it gets. (in a Senate speech, Inhofe said that America should base its Israel policy on the text of the Bible). He also has a very interesting record with regard to the environment: he has for instance persistently blocked American ratification of the international Convention on the Law of the Sea, claiming that the treaty would infringe on American sovereignty. He is as much a denial of global warming as he was of ozone depletion.
According to Wikipedia:
In the 2002 election cycle oil and gas companies contributed more money to Inhofe's campaign than any other congressman except Texas senator John Cornyn. The contributions Inhofe has received from the energy and natural resource sector since taking office have exceeded one million dollars.
Now as far as the TV host is concerned, it seems that Glenn Beck also has an interesting background. His program is syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks which is owned by radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications on more than 160 radio stations across the country. Now, Clear Channel Communications is world's largest radio broadcaster and has a very conservative agenda, read our post on them.

Why does a scientific issue have to become so political? Why are all the deniers on the very right-wing of the spectrum?


Global Heat.

While the temperature has cooled down a bit on the (Northern) American east coast, it remains pretty hot in many parts of the country which are also hit by a heat wave. (California, Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois).
This however seems nothing compared to Europe:
  • In Paris, the temperatures hit 37 celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) earlier this week. This may be nice when you want to pretend you're in tropical Paris (see picture below) but about 20 people may have already died in France because of the heat.
  • In southern Britain, July was the highest recorded since 1911 with 36.3 celsius (97.34°F) earlier this week. Not only is it hot, but it is also very dry.
  • In Prague, the temperature of 34.3 celcius (93.74°F) beat the 141 year-old record.
  • And of course, the Poles have their own way of dealing with the issue - Members of Poland's ruling conservative party prayed for rain at a special mass in a parliamentary chapel on Thursday to end a drought plaguing wheat, potato and dairy farmers (Reuter) [What's next - raindance?]

Now if you're not impressed with those figures - compared to the 3 digit Fahrenheit numbers in the US, remember that these are highly unusual in what is supposed to the temperate climate of Europe, and keep in mind that in European cities, there is hardly any air-conditioning (since it has been temperate, there has been no need).

No matter how wrong our perceptions may be and how this may not be a definite sign from a scientific perspective, I cant' help thinking that this is another "sign" that the warming is global and that it is here to stay.
Unless of course, this is a gigantic liberal conspiracy to promote Al Gore's movie!

NOTE: if tou have more doubts that global warming is real and human-related, read this scientific review by the Intergovernemental Panel on Climate Change, or this by the National Academy of Sciences. Or go see "An Invenient Truth".


"An Inconvenient Truth", a very American story.

Last week, I finally got a chance to see Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” on global warming. What is interesting the most, I think , is not so much what Gore is saying – which a lot of us already know (After all even the National Academy of Sciences said that the data are "additional supporting evidence ... that human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming." see our post here) but how he is saying it.

The greatest quality of the 96-minute film is that it shows the link between concerns for global warming (typically a more liberal cause) and the “love of the land” (something most Conservatives relate to). Al Gore takes us back to the farm where he grew up for instance and shows us pictures of very American moments in nature, commenting in a very soothing voice. Even more than his convincing PowerPoint presentation, it is this stress on a very American theme if any which may explain his current success. It is now the fourth-highest grossing documentary in the US market.

The movie is also about personal redemption and the story of Al Gore a man who is rising again after defeat.

"I am Al Gore," goes his introductory line, "I used to be the next president of the United States."

He also stresses the many obstacles he faced in the early battle he fought for the environment, including his disappointment in Congress and elected officials, echoing the current general distrust of Congress in the US. His words were not bitter tough.

Now, from the reaction of the audience in the theater (that was in Harvard which holds a liberal community already favorable to his views), you could tell that emotionally involved. In the end, they even applauded (which is beyond comprehension to me since the movie people were obviously not there)

The conclusion of his documentary is upbeat and optimistic and that too is a very American theme. Despite the Bush administration lamentable record, Gore gives us some hope – he counts 221 US cities that have "ratified" Kyoto, pledging to curb their greenhouse emissions.
Also, in the credits, small acts of faith are proposed by taking steps. It should be noted that most of the crowd did stay to read the credits – even though they don’t seem to do it everywhere in the US.

One of the many suggestions is the use of the thermostat for better use of air-conditioning or heaters. The irony though is that I was freezing cold in the theater.

In the end, it seems gor is able to sell the them quite well to the American audience yet I am not sure that it'll be enough for the American people - even those who see the movie - to change their habits. I think that natural disasters such as Katrina or the heat-wave this summer will have far greater impact and then, people wll start to listen and put pressure on their politicians.
I am not sure the current grass-root movement, if there is any, is large enough. A good start would be to honor the movie by making changes in the theaters where it is playing. Is it so hard to turn down the air-conditioning a tiny bit? I suggested it to the theater people but they seemed clueless, as if I were from another planet.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Propaganda Bombing in Lebanon.

A leaflet dropped by Israeli warplanes depicts Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah as a cobra snake threatening to lash out at Beirut and its northern suburbs. It reads:
"To the Lebanese people, beware: he appears like a brother, but he is a snake."
(Source NPR)

In this Reuter newsreport, a Lebanese guy calls it 'comic relief'. I guess that's all relative, isn't it? Not all the flyers are cartoons mocking Hizbollah though, others are warnings to stay away from the stronghold of the guerrilla group. That's kind of nice to warn them, isn't it? Except when - as another Lebanese guy said - people may not be able to go anywhere if there are no roads to drive on safely and no place to drive to.

Here are other examples of flyers recently dropped:
  • "For your safety and because of our desire to avoid harm to those who are not implicated, you must not be present in the areas where Hizbollah is present or operates,"
  • Another flyer urged the Lebanese people and army not to offer aid to Hizbollah. "Anyone who does is putting his life in danger"
  • "We all know from the experience of the past few days the massive strength of Israel and its readiness to use this power against the terrorist elements," read yet another flyer.
  • "The saying goes: those who sleep in graveyards have nightmares."

NOTE: This Slate article gives us some background info on "propaganda bombing". Apparently, there are many technical difficulties to make it right as the leaflet bomb reduces the effects of wind, which can easily blow leaflets away from their intended target. This problem was particularly true when the technique was first used in World War I, when many pilots made their leaflet drops by hand. The American propaganda bomb itself was invented during World War II and has been improved since then.


Quote of the Day

"The one thing that is guaranteed to send the Arab world and the Persian world over the edge is for the U.S. to be seen ultimately to be doing what they always believed—to be fully in cahoots with Israel."
European Diplomat (Wash. Post)


US Congressmen Tell Us What God Thinks.

The attempt to amend the US Constitution to ban gay marriage failed again last Tuesday. The issue is not one I find most pressing but what is at stake here is not necessarily gay marriage but a central element of the American constitution - states right.

What is even more fascinating is the arguments used by those supporting the ban - whose logic I fail to see. Here are three examples
  1. Most ban supporters have framed the debate by calling for "marriage protection." Why would same-sex marriage be a threat to traditional marriage? How could the expansion of legal rights or legal recognition be a threat to others?
  2. Another argument often used is that marriage has been about a man and a woman for thousands of years. This argument relies on an appeal to tradition. But by that very same logic, the American and French Revolution would have never taken place. This logic is fallacious and reflects a conservative vision of the world wherein the status quo does not change.
  3. The third I have heard is the one about God. As ThinkProgress reported, several right-wing congressmen use God to throw in their own agenda. That's presumably because they know what God thinks. (see video here)

Rep. John Carter (R-TX): “It’s part of God’s plan for the future of mankind.”

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN): “It wasn’t our idea, it was God’s.”

Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO): “We best not be messing with His plan.”

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA): “I think God has spoken very clearly on this issue.”

It is worth noting that Jesus himself never once mentioned either homosexuality or abortion. Maybe that's because he thought there were more important issues at stake - like taking care of the weak and the poor, turning the other cheek, loving your enemies and so on. But he DID mention divorce and adultery which covers most of the current Republican presidential frontrunners.

How is it the business of Congress to tell us what God thinks and use that to pass a law? Isn't the separation of church and state one of the hallmarks of Western Democracy? Or do our right-wing congressmen secretly admire Saudi Arabia?


Thought for the day.

Yesterday, in the course of my studies, I came across the writings of a 19th century theologian called Horace Bushnell whose views on faith encapsulate mine in many ways.
In Christ in Theology (1851), he uses the argument that spiritual truth can be expressed only in approximate and poetical language, and concludes that an adequate dogmatic theology cannot exist.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Vive les (Paid) Vacations.

The IHT had an article today on France's 70th anniversary of the first paid vacation - the two week paid vacation or congés payés law was enacted by Léon Blum's Front Populaire government in 1936. As anyone can guess, it was an immediate success.
As can also be expected, the tone of the article quickly gets ironic - the French are known in the U.S. for enjoying too much free time and not working hard enough. This is, as any cliché goes, in sharp contrast with America's obsession for work, based on Protestant work-ethics.
Today's French need no lessons in vacationing; indeed, some think they need instruction in working harder. They produce enough sun creams to glaze every poulet in Bresse and they can buy their picnic thermos from Christian Dior. With longer life spans and the 35- hour workweek, a sociologist named Jean Viard reckons that the French spend less than 10 percent of their lives at work.
Then the article goes on to say that it is now becoming fashionable to be in town in August as proof of one's indispensability.

Two pieces of information are slightly misleading, however:
  • 1) yes, the front-running potential candidate for the French presidential elections of 2007, the Socialist Ségolène Royal, did speak out against the 35-hour workweek (which the Socialists had introduced) but mostly she pointed out that it is an unfair measure as it mostly benefits white collars. She seemed to imply that the 35-hour week should actually be extended to the blue-collar workers in the name of égalité. So it is not like the socialists have necessarily changed their position.
It is true, however, that the measure is controversial, while immensely popular with some people -those who benefit it). Since any extension of the 35 hour week may turn out to be too complicated and controversial, it may not last very long, if the socialists are elected.
  • 2) the second point is about the mess concerning the government's request that the traditional Pentecôte holiday (in June) be used as a working day. The article pointed out that "while most workers in the private sector complied, but the fonctionnaires, "the state's own employees," took the day off and the nation's schools and day care centers were closed."
It must be said, however, that the schools were closed because last year, more than half of the students simply did not show up. A lot of parents did not send their children to school. It must also be added that teachers are required to come to school an extra day (when there are no students) in order to match their working time with everybody else's - even though their showing up will not make a difference.
The article while true for the most part is slightly misleading. As always in France, the situation is more complex than it first appears.


Oldspeak? Newspeak? Bushspeak.

In 1984, George Orwell describes a fictional language called Newspeak which is a reduced and simplified version of English (Oldspeak). He presents it as an essential tool of the totalitarian regime of the Party, whose aim was to make any alternative thinking or speech impossible. Without pushing the comparison too far, Bush's accidental use of neologisms is interesting as it seems to help him define his policy and his thinking.

After Grecians, Kosovians, and East Timorians the US president has once again extented the English lexicon with the word Hezbollians . Under the title "Vocabulary Lessen" (enjoy the phonetic play on words), the Wall Street Journal has not failed to notice Bush's latest neologism in a string of words ever more matching his antiterror policy:

President Bush, known for coining new words along with his evolving antiterror policy (think “suiciders”) described the rocket launches against Israel as “Hezbollian attacks.” (Spelling courtesy of official White House transcription.)

As Language Log observes, "Bush provided some linguistic evidence that he is prepared to treat Hezbollah not just as an entity controlled by a nation-state, but as the equivalent of a nation-state — or at least a major ethnonational group worthy of a toponymic suffix."

L.L. also suggests a range of new possibilities of Newspeak such Hamasian, Talibanian, Al-Qaedian and even Colombia's FARCians, Peru's Shining Pathians or Spain's ETAnians.


NOTE: when Bush told Tony Blair "See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over," at the G8 Summit earlier this week, it occured to me that whereas most of the media focused their attention on the @#$* word they failed to report the problem of the misuse of the word "irony".

Whatever definition one may emphasize, I fail to see the irony in the situation - call me a language purist (cf. Slate) but still... :

Irony (


1. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.

2. An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.

3. A literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect.


1. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs: “Hyde noted the irony of Ireland's copying the nation she most hated” (Richard Kain).

2. An occurrence, result, or circumstance notable for such incongruity.


Top 10 George W. Bush Moments

It's not bad, it's cute and it's Letterman. (video here on YouTube via Crooks and Liars).


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bush: the Groping President.

Well, it looks like the US President is a never-ending riot of his own! He does or says one funny thing after another. This time, he grabs German Chancellor Angela Merkel from behind and gives her a quick massage before rushing off. It appears Chancellor Merkel is not so amused. (via Crooks and Liars and Taylor Marsh - see also a German version)
Then Merkel seems to have a hesitant smile as Bush takes off - what else can she do but humor it off? Notice the feigned air of innocence on Bush's face as he departs. He obviously masters the art of groping .
I like Taylor Mash's comment:

This is why Iraq and the Middle East are in flames,we have no credibility around the world. We have a prepubescent president in charge. It is an outrage.

I don't think if the groping is directly connected to the Middle-East sisutation. I tend to think that the outrage is elsewhere than in the groping.
Besides, this may just cultural - maybe it's just something they dowon there in the Lone Star state. At least Bush continues to surprise us every day by pushing our the limits always a bit further. (and unlike Cliton, he gets caught on tape ;-)

[BTW, despite what you may think, this is NOT a hoax. See the pictures below and even the video here.]

NOTE: I would NOT suggest to try this in at your own work place, you may either get sued (in most of the country) or shot (the Texan way!).


Newsbreak - "Russia's big and so's China."

On a less serious note - and I'll admit this is way too easy and highly unfair but I get a riot reading it nonetheless - here's something else that's come out of open mike affair. It has shown much Bush is learning about the geography of the world thanks to his traveling to summits - the latest is that Russia is big and so is China!
Then, to Chinese President Hu Jintao, on Bush's right, he said:

"Where you going? Home? This is your neighborhood. Doesn't take too long to get home?"

When he hears that Hu's flight to Beijing is eight hours, Bush says, "Me too."

He continues:

"Russia's a big country and you're a big country."

Then he tells someone else, "No, not Coke. Diet Coke."

And resuming his flight geography lesson, he says to someone: "Takes him eight hours to fly home. Takes him eight hours to fly home. Eight hours. Russia's big and so's China.

And if we may venture to add a weeny bit of information for the president - so is Canada! (source here)


Talk tough. Live small.

Yesterday CNN reported as news Bush's colorful language caught on tape:
"What they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over."
But we've all heard Bush talk tough before (cf. ...that asshole news reporter). This isn't news at all. In fact, they missed the real story in that little exchange. When Bush says to Blair, "I think Condi is going to go pretty soon," it confirms our gravest fears. I think?!? Does it depend on whether or not YOU send her?! The President has no idea what is going on, not only in the Middle East, but in his own administration as well.
Six years ago the Bush presidency was supposed to give the US its first CEO president. It appears the US has a CEO in the vein of Kenneth "I had no idea" Lay. I'm afraid I have to agree with Marc Lynch here when he says that the Bush administration is so quiet on the current conflict because it doesn't want to expose the fact that it has no real policy to point to. The story here isn't that Bush drops expletives in his private speech; it's that in his private conversations he demonstrates that he really has no grasp on the state of affairs.
It's Walmart managed by a slacker.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Minimum Wages in OECD countries.

The European Tribune posted this interesting OECD statistic on minimum wage in 21 countries (in US $):

What is striking is that France has one of the highest rates (only second to Luxemburg) at $9.25. Is that a good thing? Not sure. But it says a lot about the French social and political model. Notice too that the minimum wage in the US, as adjusted for inflation, has gone DOWN steadily over the period covered, a feat matched only by Mexico and Turkey. Nothing against the Mexicans or Turks, but in the realm of economic indicators, perhaps this wasn't the company the US intended to keep. Or wait, this is just about the worker, isn't it. My bad. It's company profits that we should be worried about.


Arab Media - Divided They Stand.

The coverage of the current war between Israel and the Hezbollah shows how great a tool the internet can be. Whereas most of us in the West do not speak Arabic, there are some who do. Marc Lynch is a Middle East specialist and speaks enough of it to make some intereting comments. His blog has some great posts - notably about the Arab media.

The funny thing about the Arab media is that they seem to be either tools of propaganda for the despotic regimes (say, the Saudis) or they have more freedom (al Jazeera) and then they tend to portray terrorist groups with much complacency if not approval. It seems that even though it is hard to say for sure, public opinion in the Arab world most likely tends to support the latter view.
The Saudi media (including al-Arabiya and al-Sharq al-Awsat) seems to be falling happily in line with the official Saudi position: blaming Hezbollah for irresponsible adventurism, while continuing agitation against Iran and Syria; expressing sympathy with the Lebanese people but criticizing Arab public opinion and especially activists/demonstrators for being unreasonable and overly emotional.

Al-Jazeera, al-Quds al-Arabi, and most of the more independent newspapers are offering a more diverse range of views, but predominantly are furious with Israel, contemptuous of the Arab regimes (did the usually meek Jordan Times really call Arab leaders a bunch of "nervous schoolgirls"!?!), and supportive of Hezbollah (which al-Jazeera termed "the Lebanese resistance" in the title of its prime time show the other night) and the Palestinians (who they generally see as an integral part of a single conflict) even if confused by their actions and scared of what will happen.

What it reveals is more that the Arab regimes, particularly the Saudis, are using their media to try to sell their official viewpoint to the public. That's nothing new in the Arab world- that's what the Arab media always used to do. What will be interesting over time is to see how that plays with an Arab public now accustomed to the al-Jazeera approach and less likely to be bound to any single information source.
So people must be careful not to confuse the official view of the Arab regimes with that of the street. No wonder the current regimes are nervous.

In the end, what would happen if democratic elections were to be held in those countries? Well, probably a group similar to Hamas would get elected until people realize that radicalism does not work. That may take at least another generation though. So what is the future for the Arab world? It sure seems that the current perception of the actions of US and Israel are pushing things back once again.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Using World War III Rhetoric to Win Election.

I just heard Newt Gingrich on Meet the Press claim that the current crisis is more evidence that this is World War III. Basically, Gingrich lists wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, last week's bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain, and violence in Israel and Lebanon as evidence of World War III. He has been using this rhetoric a few times recently.

In case you don’t know, Newt Gingrich is a major figure in the Republican Party. Even though he has fallen out of favour, his influence is still great. Of course he is not best known for his nuance and subtle analysis but he is really going overboard on this one, I think. Why?

His WWII rhetoric makes sense in the current American political context. He said Bush needs to deliver a speech to Congress and "connect all the dots" for Americans. He was also blunt enough to explain his strategy:

Gingrich said that public opinion can change "the minute you use the language" of World War III. The message then, he said, is, "OK, if we're in the third world war, which side do you think should win?" (The Seattle Times)

Here comes the black and white view again. Not much room for discussion. The fact that that Gingrich he is "very worried" about Republicans facing fall elections may have a lot to do with this strategy of despair - a strategy the Republicans may try use to try to win the mid-terms elections. Hopefully, most Americans are not that stupid.


Asymetrical conflict.

As much as it is undeniable that Hezbollah started the whole thing, "the asymetrical nature of the conflic was laid bare Saturday", says the Washington Post:
In a war that has witnessed an escalation each day, the asymmetrical nature of the conflict was laid bare Saturday: For each attack by Hezbollah since it captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, Israel has inflicted a far greater price. It has systematically dismantled the country's infrastructure, displaced thousands of residents and instilled a new sense of foreboding and fear in the now-deserted streets of this brash, confident city still shadowed by the legacy of Lebanon's 15-year civil war.


The major problem of public education.

Kevin Drum (of the Washington Monthly) had a very interesting post yesterday concerning a report released by the US Department of Education on the quality of education offered by public schools vs. private schools.
It basically shows that public schools do OK at the elementary level but not so well at secondary level, and this is what K. Drum says:
I don't have any answers here except for a guess: namely that the pedagogy wars don't really matter much. Phonics vs. whole word? New math vs. old? Open classrooms vs. strict discipline? Without disparaging the people who work hard trying to figure this stuff out, it seems as if practically any of these approaches can succeed or fail depending how well they're implemented.
But what does seem to show up over and over again is the effect of concentrated poverty. Nearly everything I've read suggests that when the number of kids in poverty reaches about 50% in a school, teaching becomes nearly impossible — and that this matters much more in secondary school than in elementary school.

In my experience, that is totally right, and that's true for French education too. Despite what some teachers may like to think, padegogy does not really matter, the social economic environment does. (Unfortunately, they can't do anything about that, hence their sense of despair). In fact, I believe it is one of those things that are true pretty much anywhere. I think concentration of poverty is the main reason for educational and social failure. It is so obvious to me that I wonder why it has not been addressed more seriously.


Proportionate response?

Look at the fatalities after 4 days:
  • Israel : 4 civilians, 10 soldiers, 1 sailor
  • Lebanon: 92 civilians
UPDATE : unfortunately those numbers are up. (Bloomerg)
  • Israel : 4 civilians, 10 soldiers, 1 sailor + 8 civilians (21 casualties)
  • Lebanon: 92 civilians + 18 civilians + 3 soldiers + 3 Hezbollah fighters (115 casualties)
So... is it worth it?

(source Wash. Post today)


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bush's Model of Democracy - Iraq!

How can Bush be so blind as to hold Iraq as a model of democracy and throws that at Russian President Putin? How can he undermine his own reasoning so much?
"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion,'' Bush told a news conference with Putin after their talks. "I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same thing.''
"We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly,'' Putin shot back. (Bloomerg)
So Putin is not interested in having freedom as they do in Iraq... My! I wonder why....
Here's the video (via Think Progress) - and judging from the audience's reaction, people thought the whole thing was pretty ridiculous too. Well, maybe, Bush was actually trying to be funny.