Saturday, May 26, 2007

American Conservatives and the Myth of Eurabia.

One of the U.S.’s largest conservative colleges, Pepperdine University in California, a Christian university affiliated with the Church of Christ is holding what one can only qualify as an Anti-European conference. (source: Atlantic Review)
The postulate of the “discussions” is that Europe has collapsed (whatever that means) because it has been taken over by Muslims and that Islamists are or are about to be in control. (the question mark in the heading is of course totally hypocritical, read this on the use of the "?" in the media). Of course, the idea is to prevent the same tragedy to take place in America. Europe is already lost, but America can be saved, well that is if you get rid of multiculturalism of course!

Read some of the headings of their planned discussions:

  • What has been the role of Islam and the EU bureaucracy in fostering collapse?
  • Eurabia: Is Muslim domination of Europe inevitable?
  • Is Europe doomed to continued economic stagnation?
  • Civil Rights or Global Jihad? Are Muslims exploiting the democratic process to erode and destroy European democracy?
  • Collapse of Confidence; How much have Europeans Given Up on Their Own Civilization?
  • The end of the European Enlightenment and the growth of a closed thought society.
  • Europe’s post-Christian society and its mirror in the United States.
  • The political and moral fallout from a collapsing Europe.
  • What steps can be taken in the United States to address the problems of Europe?
  • Advocacy and legal strategies for combating militant Islam in Europe and the United States.
  • As you can imagine, the list of speakers is completely biased and one-sided.

    This mirrors what you often hear in American conservative circles or in the conservative media such as Fox News: the idea that Europe has been or is about to be submerged by the Muslim hordes. The worst part is that a great number of Americans I have met in the last few years seem to fall for this. If you doubt it, just go to your local U.S. bookstores and you will find many books on the same topic - books like these (source: Gideon Rachman, FT):

    • “Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis” by Bat Ye’or
    • “While Europe Slept – How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within” by Bruce Bawer: now into its eighth printing -- the American reader is told that by ignoring the threat from radical Islam: "Europe is steadily committing suicide and perhaps all we can do is look on in horror."
    • The Death of the West” by Pat Buchanan who claims that Europe's population is set to fall to 30 per cent of its current level by 2100, meaning that "the cradle of western civilisation will have become its grave"
    • “The West's Last Chance”, by Tony Blankley: "The threat of the radical Islamists taking over Europe is every bit as great to the United States as was the threat of the Nazis taking over Europe in the 1940s."
    • “The Cube and the Cathedral”, George Weigel, a Catholic conservative, who claims that "western Europe is committing a form of demographic suicide".
    • “America Alone” by Mark Steyn who is the author of the most successful recent book about the alleged Muslim takeover of Europe. “America Alone” earned its author a place in the New York Times best-seller list and praise from President Bush. Steyn is incidentally one of the morons who will be attending the conference in Pepperdine University!

    Do we really need to address each one of their claims, point by point? Well, this blog has already addressed the issue many times and if you need counter-arguments, go here, here, here, here and here.

    Their thesis is so idiotic when you actually know the facts, that it would be a great waste of time and energy to even argue with them. I am afraid that the people who believe them are unwilling to hear otherwise anyway. It is beyond reason and based on irrational post-9/11 fears. Those people don’t know and they don’t care.

    Sadly, it seems Islamophobia has become the only widely accepted form of prejudice and racism in the United-States these days.


    The Worst Tourists in the World are....

    Who do you think the worst tourists in the world may be?

    Those who are perceived as the most arrogant, the rudest, with little interests in other cultures, and convinced that the rest of the world speaks their language, and so who can’t speak foreign languages?

    The Americans? Nope, the French.

    That’s at least according to a survey of 15,000 hoteliers carried out by the Expedia travel website published last Wednesday (as reported here, here and here). The best are the Japanese followed by… the Americans, and the French are down at the bottom, 28th put of 28 nations!

    Who cares if the Americans are the worst-dressed tourists, they tip better. The French may dress the nicest but along with the Germans they are penny-pinching. The French tourists are not just impolite, they are also arrogant and won’t try the local cuisine, probably convinced that nothing can beat their own anyway. And of course, they won’t speak a foreign language, "ah ben non, alors!" – not even English! I think it is revealing of how the French are generally reluctant to learn foreign languages, something that as a teacher of English in France, I am quite aware of.

    Maybe the Americans are also more willing to spend money because they get fewer days on vacation whereas the French and the Germans have to budget their longer vacations more strictly. I would also venture to say that America’s image abroad has made most Americans more flexible and willing to keep a low profile and make all sorts of efforts to reach out. Obviously, it has worked. Besides, those who come abroad are usually the most open ones. After all, it requires efforts these days to bypass the (unjustified and false) fear played out by some media that American tourists in Europe are not welcome.

    Of course what a few thousands of snooty European hoteliers may think may not be very important…. or is it? In my experience of the French and the Americans abroad, it rings true.

    At least this debunks a few long-held myths in France. The funny part is that those traits (arrogance, disinterest in other cultures, or unwillingness to speak a foreign language) are often what the French have been reproaching the Americans with. The irony here is a killer isn’t it?

    It is a good thing, I suppose, that most French tourists actually visit… France. Only 17% of them go abroad for their vacations. A very low number, I think, but probably high enough for the rest of Europe.

    One may wonder if the French are better hosts than guests. The latest figure would indicate that they are.: France continues to be the world’s number one tourist destination, with 78 million foreign tourists in 2006. (Not so bad for a country of 60 million people). But is it because of their people or because they have great world-wide famous cultural attractions?

    Figures for 2006 show that, among France’s cultural attractions, the Louvre is the biggest crowd puller (7.6 million visitors), then the Eiffel Tower (6.4 million), Pompidou Centre (5.3 million) and Versailles (3.3 million). Outside Paris, the Puy du Fou theme park and [the abbey at] Mont Saint-Michel are the most popular.

    Hard to tell what motivates foreign tourists. After all, Italy also has a lot of cultural attractions too.


    Wednesday, May 23, 2007

    No-Vacation Nation.

    One of the great contributions of the American culture to the English language is the word «Workaholic», a fascinating notion which makes an analogy between work and addiction to alcohol. In essence, it usually carries negative connotations, after all it means that over-work can be a disease, just like alcoholism.

    Tellingly, it was first coined in by an American psychologist in the 1960s (but ultimately gained popularity in the 90s). Even more significant is the fact that this words does not translate into most other languages and certainly not into French.

    Not only is the word “travailolique” ('travail' being French for work and 'alcoolique', the word for alcoholic) unknown in the contemporary French language, but the whole notion is even hard to grasp in the French mindset.

    A recent study seems to confirm the gap between how the French and the Europeans view their priorities and how the Americans view theirs:

    The Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. compared government policy on paid vacation time among OECD nations, and the chart says it all:

    The main point is that the United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation.

    One objection though: while it is true there's no federal regulation on the subject, one also needs to consider state laws. Precisely this does not mean that American workers get no vacation at all, but they get very little compared to the rest of us: almost 1 in 4 Americans have no paid vacation and no paid holidays.

    According to government survey data:

    • the average worker in the private sector in the U.S. receives only about 9 days of paid vacation and about 6 paid holidays per year (which is less than the minimum legal standard set in the rest of world's rich economies excluding Japan)
    • lower-wage workers are less likely to have any paid vacation (69%) than higher-wage workers are (88%).
    • part-timers,are far less likely to have paid vacations (36%) than are full-timers (90%).
    • Only 70% of those employed in small establishments have paid compared to 86% in medium and large establishments.

    European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirement of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries.

    The situation of France is interesting as it is at the other end of the spectrum (as you can see on the chart).

    From their first month of employment, workers in France are eligible for annual leave, which accrues at a rate of 2.5 days per four weeks’ work, or 30 days per year (from June 1 to May 31). Workers may take up to 24 days of this leave at a time, but at least 12 of these days must be taken between May 1 and October 31. Workers receive extra leave for deciding to take a portion of their leave outside of the summer season: those who take between three and five days’ leave off-season receive an extra day’s leave, and those who take six days’ leave off-season receive two extra days.

    There are 11 public holidays, but only one, May 1, must be paid. 12 Finally, French law guarantees additional, unpaid leave for community work: up to nine unpaid working days of leave for representing an association, and up to six months’ unpaid leave for “international solidarity” trips for service abroad.

    It must also be added that the official working-week in France is of 35 hours. So does this mean that the French are wine drinking, cheese-eating layabouts and the Americans are hard-working disciplined enterprising people? Well, not necessarily. (except that, yes, the French eat cheese, and drink wine!). For instance,

    French workers remain among the most productive in the world, ahead of Britain, Germany, the United States and Japan, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat. (Forbes)

    From a more pragmatic perspective, it makes sense to me that some time off is necessary for humans to be efficient. We have all experienced it: you are probably better at your job if you get some time off – you can recharge your batteries and get a refreshed view, with more critical distance. Now of course, the French are under stress to get the same work done in less time. But on the other hand, getting so little time off as most Americans does not seem a very efficient way to do business, even strictly from an economic perspective.

    In France the 35 hour workweek has been controversial and in fact, the law has been substantially weakened and exceptions have been carved.But even the new president who was elected with the slogan “Work more to earn more” has no intention of getting rid of it completely, even though he says he intends to make some adjustment and make it more flexible.

    Now of course, it all depends on what kind of society you want to live in. What do you value most: time or money? Most likely, you need a little bit of both – it is just a question of how much.


    Sunday, May 20, 2007

    On the Environmental Front.

    The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reports this:

    Based on preliminary data, globally averaged combined land and sea surface temperature was the warmest on record for January-April year-to-date period and third warmest for April.

    Global land surface temperature was warmest on record in April. Temperatures were above average in Europe, Alaska, western U.S., eastern Brazil, northwestern Africa, and most of Asia. Cooler-than-average conditions occurred in the Middle East Region and the eastern half of the contiguous U.S.

    Precipitation during April 2007 was above average in the Northeast region of the contiguous U.S. and most of South America. Drier than average conditions were observed in Japan, southeastern U.S., southeastern China and most of Europe.

    Another piece of bad news is that the Southern Ocean around Antarctica is loaded with carbon dioxide, and it is worse than anticipated. (details here).

    It would appear that the world is reaching a consensus. Well not, exactly everyone. There are still right-wing deniers, and of course, there is Exxon. (not so long ago they had a campaign claiming that CO2 was actually a good thing. It is all a question of perspective, I imagine.). They may have softened their public message, but it seems they continue to pump out lies.

    The other problem is that the solution recommended by the Bush administration of using corn to produce ethanol (which would have the advantage of reducing both the U.S.'s dependency on foreign oil and the level of CO2 emission) may seem like a good idea but actually is not, neither from an economic nor from an environmental perspective.

    That is not to say that there is no positive news coming from the U.S. and California is leading on environmental policy, more so than any other European country. In fact, this is another great example of the how quick generalization about America being the greatest 'evil' on the topic of the environment is idiotic. And this is just one example. Granted more needs to be done at the federal and even at the international level. But at least the most populous state in the US has some positive influence and it is governed by a Republican.

    The new French cabinet under newly-elected president Sarkozy has a former prime minister, (Alain Juppe) named as number two in the government at the head of a newly-formed environment, sustainable development, energy and transport superministry. This nomination is giving weight to the question of the environment. We'll see what comes out of it, but we can be reasonably hopeful.


    Thursday, May 17, 2007

    Is America Bashing in Europe a Myth?

    On of the recurrent theme of this blog is the long-held myths concerning American-French relationships. (although we have also addressed other "myths", such as the French loving Jerry Lewis, Globish, Islam in Europe, Latino assimilation in the U.S. or even al-Qaeda or the Irish Pub, to name a few).

    In the wake of the election of a new "American" president of France (yet another myth for you), William Drozdiak has written an interesting piece in the Washington Post on 4 myths about America-bashing in Europe :
    • The French hate us.
    • Europeans look down on the American way of life.
    • "Old Europe" no longer matters because China and India are the future.
    • Europe loves only Democrats.

    I do not necessarily agree with all the points Drozdiak makes to debunk these myths. In fact, I don't believe the last point (that Europe loves only Democrats.) is necessarily a myth.

    I think he fails to address the complexity of the issue. When America-bashing is popular in far-left and far-right circles, and to a certain extent with other people on the left, it is less so in the center and center-right of the the political spectrum.
    There is also a distinction to make between the people and their leaders. Until recently for instance, it was common in the French elite to play out Anti-Americanism while the French people didn't necessarily buy into it. But even then there are contradictions. A lot of the Muslim youths in the impoverished 'banlieues' do not necessarily look to the U.S. with much admiration (in part because of US pro-Israel policy and the war in Iraq) yet, they crave for American brands such as Nike, and play gangsta' rap on their i-pod. So really, it is a whole lot more complicated than what Drozdiak's enthusiastic article implies.

    Yet, it is true that the election to the French presidency of a politician who has never been shy of his admiration for the US. is a break - if nothing else simply because it is a major change in the political rhetoric of the French elite. At the same time, it must be remembered that Sarkozy was not elected because of his views on foreign policy, but because of domestic issues. What his victory shows is that open admiration for the U.S. does not prevent a politician from being elected and popular with most French people - a fact that goes against many long-helf myths, even in France.

    And now here's William Drozdiak's abridged article (here's the full version):

    France's newly elected president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has already stretched a warm hand of friendship across the Atlantic. He vowed to transform the venomous relations with Washington that prevailed under his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, urged his compatriots to emulate the social mobility and work ethic commonly found in the United States, and expressed pride in his nickname, "Sarko l'americain."

    Sarkozy's paean of affection for the United States echoed the sentiments of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who upon taking office in 2005 declared that she would strive to restore a close U.S.-German partnership. While President Bush is held in low esteem in many world capitals, the fact that the new leaders of "Old Europe" could win with pro-America platforms suggests that Yankee phobia may not be as toxic or universal as some pundits, mainly on the American left, claim.

    Why has U.S. stature in the world eroded? Opinion polls cite widespread dismay with the Iraq war, our dog-eat-dog social model and the arrogance of an imperial superpower that places itself above international law. But behind the surveys about "why they hate us" lies a reservoir of goodwill waiting to be tapped among foreigners who would prefer to see the United States succeed rather than fail.
    This love-hate melange has perpetuated four modern myths about transatlantic relations that deserve to be debunked.

    1 The French hate us.

    There is scant evidence to suggest that exploiting anti-American attitudes wins elections. During the French campaign, Sarkozy was often derided by his Socialist opponents as "an American neoconservative carrying a French passport." Some critics claimed he would dismantle
    France's welfare state and replace it with an American-style "law of the jungle." But most voters ignored such rhetoric. If anything, Sarkozy's public endorsement of the United States helped convince voters that he would shake France out of its torpor and put the country back to work.


    2 Europeans look down on the American way of life.


    American culture continues to enthrall Europeans. Besides American films and television shows such as "Desperate Housewives," which Europeans lap up, books written by Americans regularly top European bestseller lists. Among French authors, some of the most popular books feature dissections of life in the United States, whether by pro-American intellectuals such as Bernard-Henry Levy or anti-American writers such as Emmanuel Todd.

    3 "Old Europe" no longer matters because China and India are the future.

    With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Europe supposedly lost its relevance. Not true. In fact, Europe and the United States still act as the twin turbines of the global economy, accounting for 60 percent of all trade and investment flows.
    It's clear now that for a long time to come, the future of
    U.S. security interests will still depend on closer coordination with our European allies than we can ever expect with our Asian friends

    Europe loves only Democrats.


    The next occupant of the White House will be judged by our friends abroad on how well he or she can infuse a new sense of purpose and destiny into the Western alliance. There is plenty of work to be done to repair the damage inflicted on America's moral leadership by the debacle in Iraq and the sordid images from Abu Ghraib prison. But given the pro-American mindset among the new leaders in France, Germany and Britain, the next U.S. president, regardless of party, could command surprisingly strong support from our supposedly fickle allies.


    Sunday, May 13, 2007

    Church and State.

    On PBS, Bill Moyers had a special on the separation of church and state in the U.S. which focused on televangelist Pat Robertson’s Regent University – the Christian law school in which you mix classes of Constitutional Law with the subject of sin.

    If you don’t take them seriously, or do not think they are influential in this country, think again. This is something that Republican Presidential Candidates have fully understood. Not only Mitt Romney this week (who ironically is a Mormon), but also McCain who spoke at Jerry Fallwell’s Liberty University.

    Appearing at Regent and other Christian institutions has become something of a requirement for Republican presidential candidates, whose success in GOP primaries still hinges in part on support from religious conservatives.

    Graduates of the law school have been among the most influential of the more than 150 Regent University alumni hired to federal government positions since President Bush took office in 2001, according to a university website.

    One of those graduates is Monica Goodling , the former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who is at the center of the storm over the firing of US attorneys.

    In 2001, the Bush administration picked the dean of Regent's government school, Kay Coles James , to be the director of the Office of Personnel Management -- essentially the head of human resources for the executive branch. (Boston Globe)

    The “mission” of the University is really to turn the U.S. into a theocracy:

    The mission of Regent Law School is to bring to bear the will of our Creator, Almighty God, upon legal education and the legal profession. (Regent Law School Web Site)

    And when you listen to newly graduated students talk about the philosophy they intend to bring to the practice of law, it gets scary (although not uncommon in evangelical circles).

    Here’s what one of the graduates said at the end of Moyers’ report:

    I intend to help further the administration of justice and to do justice and I believe in absolute truth, I believe in absolutes, not grey, you know, not relative but absolute truth and that’s what God’s word is.

    This is at the core of Evangelical philosophy – Godly absolutes vs. heathen relativism. I have always found this theory flawed and self-contradictory: from a Christian perspective, God is Absolute, and you may even consider his Word as Absolute, but Man is not only limited but also a sinner and thus imperfect (no Christian will disagree), so Man’s view and understanding of truths can only be partial and certainly be absolute.

    Now, I won’t deny that there are limits to relativism as well – there are facts which would be hard to deny (although some people do), and the world would not go round if we never took unchecked facts for granted.

    But the idea that because you are a Christian, you have been given open access to absolute truth is sheer arrogance, and from a Christian perspective, it is the greatest sin of all: it is putting yourself in God’s shoes.

    From a more practical perspective, anyone familiar with languages will know that translation is interpretation and all texts can be subjected to critical analysis. English and French have more words than biblical Hebrew, so a word in ancient Hebrew has many meanings, and any linguist will tell you that there is always subjectivity in our understanding of words which are subjective signs.

    So whether you believe in absolute truths or not (essentially in God or not) is irrelevant because the real question is whether you have absolute access and understanding of THE truth. Since all the evidence, humane nature and the bible points to the opposite conclusion, it blows my mind that people can’t get this.

    And frankly I have yet to meet an Evangelical Christian who can make a convincing case, either from a Christian or a philosophical perspective.


    Illegal Aliens Bring in Highly Contagious Disease? Dobbs' Lie.

    CBS 60 minutes had a great piece on Lou Dobbs. The man who
    used to be the spokesman for corporate America (Moneyline, on CNN) has shifted to populism. For years now, Dobbs has taken on a crusade against illegal immigration.
    Nothing wrong with that, I guess (even if once could sometimes wish for a little more compassion) but that's a different story when you start changing facts to make them fit your own agenda and worse, you continue to defend a lie once you get caught.... and (almost) get away with it.

    On April, 14th his show, Lou Dobbs Tonight on CNN had a bogus report that immigrants have been carrying leprosy into this country.

    Dobbs: And deadly imports. The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans. Highly-contagious diseases are now crossing our borders decades after those diseases had been eradicated in this country. We'll have that special report.

    Lou Dobbs and CNN Correspondent Christine Romans actually used wrong facts that would indicate that the number of leprosy cases have been increasing in this country, and linking those numbers to a surge of illegal immigrants, when in fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, new cases have been declining in the United States since 1988, with a peak in 1985. As The Wall Street Journal reported, Dobbs' numbers just don't add up.

    It did not take much research on the internet to check the facts, but the worst part is that when Dobbs was confronted with the facts by Lesley Stahl on CBS 60 Minutes, here is what he had the nerve to sa:

    STAHL: Now, we went to try and check that number, 7,000. We can't. Just so you know --

    DOBBS: Well, I can tell you this. If we reported it, it's a fact.

    STAHL: You can't tell me that. You did report it --

    DOBBS: Well, no, I just did.

    STAHL: How can you guarantee that to me?

    DOBBS: Because I'm the managing editor, and that's the way we do business. We don't make up numbers, Lesley. Do we?

    This is just so typical of so many of those right-wing people: never admit you’re wrong even when you are and when caught in a lie, simply deny, deny, deny… and what’s the best guarantee that you’ve got your facts right? well, you of course! Oh, the arrogance!

    But this is not even the end of it – instead of keeping a low profile about it, he brought it up on his show and continued to defend the lie:

    DOBBS: And there was a question about his some of your comments, Christine. Following one of your reports, I told Leslie Stahl, "We don't make up numbers." And I will tell everybody here again tonight, I stand 100 percent behind what you said.

    ROMANS: That's right, Lou. We don't make up numbers here. This is what we reported.

    We reported: "It's interesting, because the woman in our piece told us that there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years. Leprosy in this country."

    I was quoting Dr. Madeleine Cosman, a respected medical lawyer and medical historian. Writing in The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, she said: "Hansen's disease" -- that's the other modern name, I guess, for leprosy -- "Hansen's disease was so rare in America that in 40 years only 900 people were afflicted. Suddenly, in the past three years America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy" -- Lou.

    DOBBS: It's remarkable that this -- whatever, confusion or confoundment over 7,000 cases. They actually keep a registry of cases of leprosy. And the fact that it rose was because of -- one assumes because we don't know for sure -- but two basic influences: unscreened illegal immigrants coming into this country primarily from South Asia, and the -- secondly, far better reporting.

    ROMANS: That's what Dr. Cosman told us, Lou.

    “Told us”? When? Cosman actually died in early 2006 and was a doctor in…. in medieval literature. She was also a fierce advocate against illegal immigration who identified herself as a "medical lawyer." and who advised physicians on how to sell their medical practices. and she had an agenda of her own as you can see in this video. Some credential!

    And the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons had footnotes that did not readily support allegations linking a recent rise in leprosy rates to illegal immigrants. (Besides, the journal itself is not considered a leading publication, as it's put out by an advocacy group that opposes most government involvement in medical care.).

    Now Lou Dobbs who sees himself as a populist on some crusade against the elite – a popular concept in grass-root America - also considers himself a journalist:

    "Reporters don't 'take on' issues. Reporters 'report' issues, and there’s a big difference there," Stahl says. "Do you think you're a journalist?"

    "Absolutely," Dobbs says. "I may be an advocacy journalist, but I'm a journalist."

    Don’t you love this… "advocacy journalist"… The problem is that Dobbs is more an advocate for his own biased view of illegal immigrants than a journalist. Too bad, CNN keeps on air a man who lies about facts and that CBS actually hired him as well. Oh, but no, it is not that he lies, but that he "cares"... Right..

    "The idea that a reporter should be disqualified because he or she actually cares, actually isn't neutral about the well-being of the country and its people, that's absurd."

    Soon enough, lying will become an act of patriotism... Mmmm... I wonder where that idea came from.

    The problem is that Dobbs' style (not unlike that of O’Reilly) is not just populist but also very popular. However, this is nothing new. After all nativist movements have always come and gone in US history since its very foundation.
    This just happens to be one of those phases when xenophobia is a great way to gain popularity in some circles.


    Saturday, May 12, 2007

    Bush Resigns? : Wishful Thinking…

    This appeared on CNN on Thursday night for 12 seconds.

    (for the record, it was Tony Blair who announced his resignation, not George bush).

    Whether it is a Freudian slip or an intended "joke", it had the wonderful tone of a dream come true.. Unfortunately, reality soon strikes us back.

    PS: Two seconds before, President Bush had appeared on screen, but the chyron accurately said "Pressure over Iraq." (Media Bistro)


    Wednesday, May 09, 2007

    Relief in France: O'Reilly Lifts Boycott!

    Well, we have already talked about conservative tv and radio host Bill O'Reilly (Fox news) and his love for French-bashing (here, and here). Not that he matters so much (even though his show is very popular, I have my doubts about O'Reilly's real influence in conservative circles. He is so grotesque that it's hard to take so seriously).

    As you may know, since 2003 and the rift over Iraq, O'Reilly has called for a boycott on French products - the problem is that it has never really worked:
    Through the years O'Reilly has claimed his boycott of France has cost the country "billions of dollars" (O'Reilly himself quoted that figure in the non-existent "Paris Business Review"). In fact, the United States has increased spending on French Imports during the three years of the 'boycott' (from $29 Billion in 2003 to $37 Billion in 2006). (The Newshole)
    Now that France has a elected a new president who seems to be more pro-American, Bill O'Reilly has announced the lifting of the boycott. Boy, ain't we all happy now?! Surely France is relieved.

    Here is what he said on his show, The O'Reilly Factor, last Monday (source: The Newshole)
    The Factor is lifting the boycott of France. However, 'Boycott France' bumper stickers do remain available on for nostalgia purposes, and you never know... we may have to re-impose it.

    France has a new president, Nicholas Sarkozy. We believe he will be much more fair when dealing with the USA, helping out NATO, and fighting the war on terror.

    The funny though is that O'Reilly's simple mind concludes that the (so far, small-scale) violent protests against Sarkozy is actually a good reason to support him.
    The fact that thugs took to the streets after Sarkozy won tells you all you need to know about the election. If these animals don't like Sarkozy, then he must be doing something right.

    Anyway, many on the Factor staff are very pleased the boycott is lifted so they can eat their little truffles and escargot and drink their overpriced wine.

    Now of course, he remains cautious:
    For me, I like visiting France, but I'm going to wait and see what happens before checking into some chi-chi farmhouse in Provence. To not do so... would be ridiculous.
    Ridiculous... mmmmm... right.. O, irony! that would the word indeed!

    NOTE: Unfortunately, buying French products will bot annoy him any more.


    Tuesday, May 08, 2007

    A Tale of Two Nations.

    Even now, and despite his overwhelming victory, some people find new president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy too divisive for the country. His victory has been greeted by a few riots on the night of the elections and last night.
    The unrest has been small-scale, that’s true, but it has sent a message nonetheless: Sarkozy may have won the presidency, but he hasn't won over some French who are dead set against him.

    Here's a telling anecdote: the other day, just before the elections, a woman was handing out anti-Sarkozy leaflets in Paris, and she told us “If we don’t win in the polls, we’ll win in the streets”. (By the way, that woman was a teacher which makes you wonder what democratic values she may be teaching!!). Not everyone seems ready to accept the result of the polls. The rationale for that woman was that “Hitler too was legally elected”. Some comparison!

    Yet one cannot deny the potential for problems:

    Given Mr. Sarkozy’s lack of popularity among the country’s youth, any mass demonstration against his policies would be likely to draw young people into the streets, creating the conditions for even more violent clashes. (NYTimes)

    But it would be unfair to say that all this is the fault of one man, he be as controversial as Sarkozy. This divisiveness is much deeper and it is the sign of a very polarized nation, almost as much as the U.S.

    The tenet of the Sarkozy vote seems to be twofold: a conservative vote (leaning towards nationalistic values) promoting law and order, and an economic vote, of those supporting radical economic reforms.

    When you analyze the details of the election results, you do see two different nations. Reality is always a bit more complex of course, but basically, you have a split between old and young, working and not working (students, and unemployed), urban and rural areas, private and public sectors.

    And then there is also a cultural war at the core of which is the battle for the French identity. Unlike in the U.S., this war is not about abortion, gay rights, religion and evolution. Tellingly, it is about history. As recently as last week, Sarkozy attacked the heritage of 1968 which he considers responsible for the breakdown of authority.

    He has also constantly dismissed the apologetic vision of France’s darker past, including colonialism

    This he hinted at in his acceptance speech:

    "The French people (...) have chosen to break with the ideas and habits of the past. I will thus rehabilitate work, authority, morality, respect, merit. I will restore honor to the nation and national identity. I will bring French pride back to the French people, I will end the penitence that is a form of self hatred, and the competition over memory which feeds a hatred of others.”

    This may not make Sarkozy popular in French speaking countries, but he probably does not care: they don’t vote for him anyway.

    What is most interesting is that Sarkozy’s victory is actually the illustration of a deep rift within the nation.

    More pragmatically, Sarkozy’s victory is also Ségolène Royal’s failure. She clearly didn’t win the middle-class. Besides, her electorate voted more against Sarkozy than they voted for her – she failed to convince. The socialists did not lose because they reformed too much but because they did too little, too late. If the socialist party does not reform, like the Labour party did more than 10 years ago, they are unlikely to win any time soon

    The parliamentary elections next month will also be quite “interesting”, although most pundits expect the U.M.P. (Nicolas Sarkozy's part) to have a majority of seats. The question is mostly really about how much the opposition gets.


    Who voted for Sarkozy and who did not.

    Those who voted for Nicolas Sakrozy (conservative)?

    • people from 25 to 34 years old (working youths) (57% of the votes)
    • people from 60 to 69 years old (61%)
    • people over 70 years old (68%)
    • people without a degree (51%)
    • men (54%) and more surprisingly women (52%)


    • in rural areas (57%)
    • in smaller cities (of fewer than 100,000 people) (55%)
    • in 16 regions (out of a total of 22) (North and East)

    What jobs?

    • artisans and shopkeepers (82%)
    • farmers (67%)
    • professionals and senior executives (52%)
    • employees in the private sector(53%)
    • independent workers (77%)
    • retirees (65%)
    • people on ‘lower middle incomes’ (53%), ‘middle incomes’ (52%), 'top incomes' (57%)

    Who voted for Ségolène royale (Socialist)

    • people from 18 to 24 years old(58%)
    • people from 45 to 59 years old (55%)


    • 6 regions in the West (Auvergne, Poitou-Charentes, Aquitaine, Bretagne, Midi-Pyrénées, Limousin.)

    What jobs?

    • employees (51%)
    • low-skilled workers (54%)
    • employees in the public sector (57%)
    • unemployed (75%)
    • students (58%)
    • people on low incomes (56%)

    Equal split between Sarkoy and Royal:

    • people from 35 to 44 years old
    • people in the cities of more than 100,000 habitants and in the Paris area.

    Motivation for voting
    - 77% of Nicolas Sarkozy’s
    electorate « wanted him to be the president », which is 22 more points than those who voted for Ségolène Royal for whom «blocking Nicolas Sarkozy » was a major motivation (42%).



    The "American" President of France.

    Yesterday, a colleague of mine - a fellow teacher - lamented in the staffroom:
    “That’s it. Now, it’s going to be the American way of life in France!!”

    The reason of course is that the new president elect of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has never been shy of his admiration for America – particularly America's strong work ethic and its belief in upward mobility (and for a few of America’s cultural icons such as Ernest Hemingway, Steve McQueen and Sylvester Stallone). He even had his picture taken with President Bush – something a bit risqué before a presidential campaign which was used by opponents to label him as an American lap dog.

    His attitude and words are certainly a break from the usual rhetoric of the French elite, either on the right (think of De Gaulle or Chirac) or on the left. [It must be noted that anti-Americanism is not necessarily so prevalent among the French people.]

    On the left, Sarkozy has been accused of being "an American neo-conservative with a French passport." Ségolène Royal, his socialist opponent, made it clear she “would never kneel before Bush (a way to suggest Sarkozy would of course). After the debate last week, she also said Sarkozy was imitating Bush's phony compassionate conservatism.

    One thing is certain, Sarkozy’s style is not unlike that of Bush: unapologetic, brash, tough-talking and proud of it. And expectedly, the White House and Downing Street were pretty relieved to congratulate Sarkozy and not Royal. Tony Blair (often referred in this country as “Bush’s poodle” even made a congratulation video in French).

    So is Sarkozy’s Bush’s new poodle? Is France on the brink of becoming the Troyan Horse of the U.S. in Europe? Will the French become American? Hardly.

    True, Sarkozy emphasized strong ties with the U.S. in his acceptance speech:

    "I want to launch an appeal to our American friends to tell them that they can count on our friendship, which was forged in the tragedies of history that we have faced together. I want to tell them that France will always be by their side when they need her.”

    But he also quickly added:

    “But I want to tell them, as well, that friendship is accepting that one's friends can think differently and that a great nation like the United States has the duty to not obstruct the fight against global warming but on the contrary to take the lead in this struggle because what is at stake is the future of all humanity."

    At this point, it must be remembered that Sarkozy was primarily elected on a domestic platform: economic reforms and law and order were the major issues.

    Now of course, his views of economic reforms are similar to what would be expected of Anglo-saxon conservative politicians: lower taxes, looser employment rules and less importance given to trade unions and he is also likely to agree with Britain and the US on a number of financial issues: accounting standards, banking regulations, air travel, to name a few.

    But by underlining one of the major differences between his (intended) policy and that of George Bush when it comes to the environment, Sarkozy has also been very careful to avoid any sense of acquiescence.

    In fact, no one is quite certain yet of what he has in mind for foreign policy (traditionally the domain of the president) because very little was said during the campaign but if the style is likely to change, it remains to be seen whether content will vary so much.

    Sarkozy opposed the way France tried to block the invasion of Iraq but was against the war. He has also criticized what he calls French arrogance on the world stage but has shown great admiration for De Gaulle.

    He has certainly emphasized his belief in a more active role of France in Europe, particularly when it comes to resolving the institutional question and consolidating a political Europe. He also seems to be against further eastward expansion of the EU but the clearest point he made when it comes to foreign policy is his refusal to see Turkey enter the E.U, a great potential source of disagreement with the White House.

    On other issues, Sarkozy tends to lean towards Washington and away from Moscow (on the topic of Iran for instance):

    "If I become president I will fight on two fronts: first, sanctions against the Iranian regime; secondly, for the unity of the international community, we need the Russians and Chinese to apply the sanctions," Sarkozy said during the election campaign.

    As to whether France is going to live “the American way”, this may be the perception of some but it is absolutely irrelevant. First, what is the “American way”? Most of those who fear it have a very dogmatic view based on partial knowledge (sometimes highly influenced by American television shows). Second, one should not confused economics with culture. A more liberal economy (whether you support it or not) does not necessarily equal Americanization.

    Last but not least, the U.S. has in fact become the pretext for a very French ideological war which has actually more to do with internal division than with the reality of American influence on France.

    To conclude, I'd say that it is likely that France and the U.S. will remain both friends and rivals.