Sunday, September 30, 2007

Naturalization Test

Would you be eligible for citizenship to the United States if you were an immigrant?

This week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services, unveiled some of the 100 questions of the new test.

But before you take the test you, you have to be eligible for it:

one must be a legally admitted permanent resident for at least five years (three years if married to a citizen), demonstrate "good moral character," facility with basic English, and "basic knowledge of U.S history, government, and civic principles," among other requirements. (Times of India)

The idea of the new test is to “go beyond the facts and figures that applicants knew to memorize (How many branches are there in the United States government?) to probe their understanding of fundamental principles of U.S. democracy (What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?)

As far as English goes, the applicants should be able to understand the question with a “high-beginning” level of fluency in English.

Just to refresh your knowledge of the naturalization process sin the United-States:

Legal immigrants who are eligible to become citizens must pass the civics exam as well as a test of English proficiency in reading and writing.

In a one-on-one oral examination, an immigration officer asks the applicant 10 questions of varying degrees of difficulty selected from the list of 100. To pass, the applicant must answer 6 of those 10 questions correctly.

Is the aim of the new test to better integration or toughen immigration? Hard to tell. In France, there is no question that the new immigration bill which was adopted last week by the French National Assembly is aimed at curbing immigration.

In addition to a controversial clause allowing DNA testing for proving family relations of those who seek to join their relatives,:

…. the immigration bill asks that people who want to come to France be tested for knowledge of the French language and values of the Republic in their home countries.
If they fail this knowledge test, more training will be given after which a new test will take place.
This test will apply to people aged 65 years or less, including spouses, wanting to go to France to rejoin their families, says Le Monde.
Moreover, the applicant will have to have more financial resources at their disposal, according to the new rules.
(EU Observer)

While emigration has been a central issue in most of the developing world for decades, immigration has now become one of the most pressing issues in all Western societies.

Now, if you want to know how well you’d do on the new test, here it is. Personally, I passed – I only failed one question (on the number of amendments to the constitution). What about you?


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

To Question Authority

Allow me a moment to weigh in on the recent kerfuffle over Columbia University allowing the much-reviled President of Iran, Ahmadinejad, a forum to speak. Let me begin with an interesting side note. He would not, indeed could not, have been invited to a French university to speak. As a Holocaust denier he is banned from most EU countries since they made denial illegal in July of 1996. (Read here and here). The fact that he was allowed to speak in the US is something of an anomaly.

So for what it’s worth, here’s our opinion. Good for Columbia University! The whole raison d’être of the university system is to train students to think critically, in addition to precise training in their chosen field. The university exists to question authority, not in some fit of envy against those in power, but as a serious institution that trains each new generation to ask itself what it believes why. The university provides an alternate universe in which students get to question their most cherished beliefs, discarding or strengthening their grip on them as they see fit. For this system to work it cannot shy away from powerful characters with unsavory ideas.

When you are confident in your own ideas and ready to entertain those who would destroy you, you can disarm even the most outrageous tyrants. Witness Kruschev and Eisenhower (an analogy already cited elsewhere the web, here and here). When you do not have the tools to deal with disagreement or unfamiliar ideas, you get the overreaching of authority to quash those voices. Ahmadinejad is a weak figure in his own country. We have nothing to fear from his brand of intolerant reading of history and current events. His worldview is not our own. But we do ourselves and our students a disservice by trying to protect ourselves from ‘dangerous’ ideas at a university where questioning authority is the norm. We applaud Columbia for the courage to offer its students the full range of authoritative (authoritarian) voices in our global society. And we applaud CU students who heaped those ideas with the scorn they deserve. Education at work in a democracy.


Monday, September 24, 2007

French Foreign Ministry's First Class Act.

Whatever you may think of the French Foreign Ministry’s words that “failure to resolve mounting tensions with Iran could mean war”, at least Bernard Kouchner makes the effort of speaking English when he visit the U.S., something not necessarily expected of a French diplomat, or a presiden :

We [journalists] had all been offered ear pieces in case we needed translation, but Kouchner, the co-founder of French humanitarian medical relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres, addressed the audience in good if heavily accented English. (Mother Jones)

Of course, Chirac’s ear is long gine by and that’s just as good. In 2006, when Ernest-Antoine Seillière, the French head of the European business lobby Union began addressing the EU's 25 leaders in English, Chirac interrupted him and asked why he was not using his mother tongue. (IHT)

But there is better yet. Kouchner had his speech interrupted by “several antiwar protesters who jumped up and unfurled pink banners that read: "Bush + Kouchner = Warmongers!" One woman tried to climb onto the stage. Guards escorted the protesters away as they shouted, "No war with Iran! No war with Iran!". (IHT)

Make a pause now and imagine what happened? Did the protesters got tasered? Did Kouchner snub them à la Cheney?

Nope – here’s what happened:

Kouchner recovered his composure first, and he asked at first it seemed merely perhaps politely, and later fully insisted to his host Hamre, that they let the activists back in. "But they are right. These ladies are right. I don't want war with Iran. Please let them back in." And to my surprise at least, after a couple minutes, the side doors of the large ballroom opened, and the women were escorted back to their seats by suited Secret Service types with the earpieces, not looking fully convinced of the wisdom of the move.

Kouchner directed his remarks at several points to the Code Pink activists during his almost one hour of remarks


A few of the activists, perhaps a bit surprised themselves at the turn of events, offered sheepish thanks from their third row seats to Kouchner for asking that they be allowed back in.

I all-heartedly agree with Mother Jones, it is hard to "even imagine any of the current U.S. administration handling such an outburst with anything approaching the willingness to engage shrill critics that Kouchner demonstrated at the scene. This administration and its critics have long operated in entirely different universes, top U.S. leaders have confined themselves to the most staged press and public events purged of critics to the extent possible."

This was indeed a first-class act.


When 'ee-vuhl' becomes 'de-vuhl'!

This topic of this post may seem absolutely irrelevant to you, probably because it is. It’s just a little post born of constant frustration with the ignorance of basic English words by French journalists.

Tonight, the French correspondent of Canal + ( a popular French tv station) Laurence Haim was in N-York to cover the summit on climate change at the U.N.. And of course, she talked about everything but what really matters.

Yes, she did report the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to New York. As an illustration of the media circus around the Iranian president’s visit, she showed the cover of a tabloid, The New York Daily News, to the camera and said “ze ev-uhl has landed, ‘le diable a atteri’”, but ‘le diable’, dear Ms Haim is the “devil” in English, not the “evil”, one is religious and the other is moral!

It is one thing to pronounce words wrong, and not know that “evil” is pronounced “ee-vuhl” (after all, many other stupid journalists think the the “gooardian” is a great British newspaper!), it is another to confuse two basic words like “evil” and “devil”. It is the sort of thing you learn in 3rd grade.

And it is those people who don’t even know basic English who are tv correspondents IN the U.S., supposedly to analyze the politics there! Some journalists indeed.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Europe Rules!

It seems somewhat paradoxical for a magazine like The Economist, which strongly favors free trade to somewhat write a positive opinion article on Europe’s regulatory body, the European Commission.
They summarize very well the opposite philosophies of the American and European models which are at the core of many commercial disputes between Europe and the U.S.:

The American model turns on cost-benefit analysis (…/…) Companies enjoy a presumption of innocence for their products: should this prove mistaken, punishment is provided by the market (and a barrage of lawsuits).

The European model rests more on the “precautionary principle”, which underpins most environmental and health directives. This calls for pre-emptive action if scientists spot a credible hazard, even before the level of risk can be measured. In Europe corporate innocence is not assumed.

Such a principle sparks many transatlantic disputes: over genetically modified organisms or climate change, for example

But it seems that against all odds, it is the European model that’s winning:

Some Eurocrats suggest that the philosophical gap reflects the American constitutional tradition that everything is allowed unless it is forbidden, against the Napoleonic tradition codifying what the state allows and banning everything else.

Yet the more proscriptive European vision may better suit consumer and industry demands for certainty. If you manufacture globally, it is simpler to be bound by the toughest regulatory system in your supply chain. Self-regulation is also a harder sell when it comes to global trade, which involves trusting a long line of unknown participants from far-flung places (talk to parents who buy Chinese-made toys).

(…/…) firm after firm gave in and began applying EU standards worldwide, as third countries copied European rules on things like suspected carcinogens in lipstick. Even China is leaning to the European approach

The most interesting part is that the Economist acknowledges what all those who are familiar with their history know (think of the Sherman and Clayton anti-trust laws of the late 19th and early 20thj century): real competition can only be ensured by fair regulations.

Perhaps zealous EU regulators may be what jumpy consumers need if they are to keep faith with free trade and globalisation.

One last ironical point: whereas many French left-wing leaders have accused Brussels of being too “free market” oriented, it has actually regulated the most, even becoming “the world's regulatory capital”.


French Bikerevolution coming to America soon.

In case you’re planning a visit to Paris, you should know about this other Revolution which has taken the city by storm: the Velorution (‘bikerevolution’) and it might export.

In the last five years, the city of Paris has been building bike paths all over town, widening sidewalks and replacing car lanes with bike and bus corridors. That almost caused a revolution of its own with angry drivers (although most of them were from out of Paris).

Then last July, the mayor launched an ambitious program called “Velib’” (a blending of the words blending together "vélo" (bike) and "liberté" (liberty). The best part is that city doesn’t give a penny to build them or for its maintenance.

It is also really cheap to use as long as you don’t do it for long which is why they have built many stations across the city (the idea being to keep the bikes in rotation):

The first half-hour is free, with a charge of about $1.50 for each 30 minutes thereafter, a one-day pass for Vélib' costs €1 ($1.40) a weekly pass costs €5 ($7.00) and an annual subscription costs €29 with no additional charge as long as each ride lasts less than 30 minutes (with a €150 - $211 – as security deposit).

10,000 bikes have been installed at 750 docking stations all over the city and the number of stations is supposed to double within the next year – so that there should be a station every 300 meters (330 yards)

It has been a tremendous success: 4 million people have been using the bikes, that’s more than 100,000 rides a day and Paris' streets are swarming with bikers now, from tourists who are enjoying the city on two wheels, to businessmen and businesswomen in suits who are commuting.

Interestingly, two weeks ago, the mayor of Chicago came to Paris for a visit and he expressed interest in importing Vélib' during a recent visit to Paris. A similar cycling scheme is supposed to be launched in Washington D.C. next month.

[Chicago Mayor Richard Daley tests out a Velib bicycle after leaving Paris Town Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 11]

Velib’ has surpassed all expectations and the scheme might even run the risk of being a victim of its own success: in some stations, it is sometimes hard to find a place to dock your bike or find one to ride. The system probably needs to be broken in.

But really, it’s been great! Paris is much more green and bike-friendly even if a lot remains to be done. I have been a biker myself for years and life for us has greatly improved in the last few years. Most Parisians are very happy about the changes, even if people who live outside the city may be annoyed. There’s little doubt that the current mayor, Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe will be re-elected next year.


Friday, September 21, 2007

French American Taboo

So now that we can read the NYTimes op-ed free of charge, let's have a look at this one on what Cohen calls "the French Revolution of 2007". He listed 10 taboos that are being destroyed by Sarkozy.
The article is somewhat simplistic but has some interesting points: it is true that the mood in France is changing rapidly but is this the result of Sarkozy's own doing or is he simply reaping the fruit of the changes that have occurred in this nation in the last 10 years? A bit of both, I'd say.
One example in mind is the pensions: according to all opinion polls, the reforms seem to be popular and are unlikely to bring thousands of protesters to the streets as they did in 1995, even if the unions are already calling (with little enthusiasm) for a strike in October.
The most interesting taboo though is probably this one:
THE AMERICAN TABOO Enthusiasm for the United States was unacceptable for a French political leader because it was always interpreted as an embrace of “Wild West” capitalism, “Anglo-Saxon” hegemony and vulgarity. De rigueur attitudes held sway: patronizing contempt in Paris met macho derision in Washington. Communication suffered. Sarko’s New Hampshire vacation, enthused American dreaming, iPod-accompanied jogging and in-your-face style cleared the air.
My idea has long been that, contrary to Germany, anti-Americanism has been more prevalent among the elite in France than with the "commoners". Besides, anti-Americanism is a vague notion: while people may be set against the Bush administration, a majority of them have a favorable view of the American people.
Early this week, PBS had a series on Anti-Americanism, called "The Anti-Americans,” a one-hour documentary. I haven't seen it, but according to the NYTimes, the answer to the question "Do Europeans love America or hate it?", is “Both.” We have, the show declares, “a hate-love relationship.
One thing I noticed is how most Americans can't stand that the rest of the world may not like them, or probably worse, be ignored them. Americans want to be loved.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote it best:
"The Americans, in their intercourse with strangers, appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise... They unceasingly harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties they fall to praising themselves. It would seem as if, doubting their own merit, they wished to have it constantly exhibited before their eyes."
And that was in 1835.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

New (York Times) Business Model.

Last Monday at midnight (Tuesday 0400 GMT), the New York Times stopped charging for access to certain articles (like the op-eds) and archives on its web site, thus completely reversing their business plan which they only implemented 2 years ago.
Apparently, there is more money to be made by advertisement than paid-subscribers.
"...our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising," said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site,
The newspaper decided more page views and ad revenue could be generated by "indirect readers" coming via search engines and links from other sites.
"What wasn't anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others," Schiller said, declining to project revenue or say how much increased traffic the paper expects by ending the charges.

So is this be the beginning of a new (viable) business model?
Well, Murdoch, the media tycoon, is also considering giving free access to The Wall Street Journal (which he owns), the WSJ being the only other major US newspaper to charge for acccess to most articles on its website. If Murdoch does it, it may be a sign.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I suppose you may have already seen this video of this student being "tasered" after asking a (somewhat aggressive) question to Kerry by University of Florida police.
Sure, the guy may have been annoying or even pushing it but frankly, you get all sorts of wackos at meetings like those but it certainly doesn't justify "tasering" them.
How about free speech?
Watching the video, you will see that the crowd is also stunned and eventually shocked and angry.

Not only did the police fail to apologize but they charged him with "disturbing the peace' and resisting an officer.
Apparently, the police have been increasingly using the taser when arresting people and particularly "annoying" students.
I wonder how the Civil Rights movement would have turned out if the taser had been in use back then. There may not have been many sit-down protests - think of Rosa Parks being tasered!
The comparison may be far-fetched - of course today's students are no Rosa Parks, but still, using the taser in those circumstances is yet another breach of our great principle of free speech.

On a linguistique note, do you know where the word TASER stands for? That one you cannot guess if you don't know: it stands for "Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle". Who's Thomas A. Swift, you may ask? He was a fictional young inventor in children's science-fiction novels written in the early 20th century, including Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle. (CBC)
In 1974, a NASA scientist named Jack Cover invented the first stun gun, which he named the TASER, or “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle,” after Tom Swift (source)
And as often the case in English, the acronym became a trademark, then noun and then a verb.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

What Bush and Sarkozy REALLY have in common: the DEFICIT!

You may have read the comments over Greenspan’s criticism of the Bush-Cheney’s abandonment (along with the Republican-controlled Congress) of their party’s principles on spending and deficits. in his memoir to be published tomorrow.

“They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose” in the 2006 election, when they lost control of both the House and Senate. (NYTimes)

This is obviously a major embarrassment for the White House even if Greenspan’s economic authority may be somewhat undermined by the current bust of the housing bubble fueled by low interest rates and risky mortgages over the past six years and by his own admission, he failed to see the danger.

Even if the situations in France and the U.S. are very different, it is somewhat ironic that Sarkozy has also taken measures that have worsened France’s deficit:

… far from helping to rein in the country’s bloated budget deficit, the early measures will in fact stretch it further – by as much as 0.6 per cent of gross domestic product, according to Barclays Capital – while only marginally boosting consumer spending. (FT)

Sarkozy has responded to the criticism by lashing out (again) at the European Central Bank which has infuriated Germany who is a strong supporter of the bank’s independence.

This is nothing new of course:

The rift between Sarkozy and Trichet has its roots in French politics more than a decade ago when as head of the Bank of France, Trichet sparred with then-Budget Minister Sarkozy over budget-deficit targets. It deepened when Sarkozy made the ECB a target during his election campaign. (Bloomberg)

I find it ironic that that it is those so-called conservative governments who have increased the deficit while accusing the left of doing exactly that if they were elected. That was the case between Bush and Gore as it was between Sarkozy and Royal.


France soon back to full NATO's membership?

The relationship between France and NATO mirrors that of the Ga(u)llic nation (pun intended) and the United-States.
It is during De Gaulle's presidency that France pulled out of NATO when French president accused the United States of having a hegemonic role in the organization and too much of what what he (rightfully)perceived as a special relationship with the United Kingdom.

Then, France initiated its independent nuclear deterrence program which became known as its "Force de frappe" ("Striking force"), a pillar of its military doctrine.

While France has shown solidarity with NATO on many occasions (like during the missile crisis in 1962) and has remained in the alliance. It even rejoined NATO's Military Committee in 1995 but France has not yet rejoined the integrated military command and no non-French NATO troops are allowed to be based on its land.

This could change under Sarkozy, at least according to this Herald Tribune article this week:

NATO is ready to discuss bringing France back fully into the fold after signals from Paris that it may reverse its decision 41 years ago to withdraw from the alliance's military structures, officials said Thursday.

Alliance diplomats note France has just taken the command of the 16,000-strong NATO-led peace force in Kosovo and has in the past played a command role in its larger Afghan peacekeeping operation.

France could seek assurances from allies - not just the United States but more Atlanticist countries ranging from Britain to Poland - that efforts to build a proper EU defense capability would not suffer as a result of it rejoining NATO.

Well, “rapprochement” is a French word after all….


Iran and the Jews.

Today, we are going to depart from our ongoing reflection on the U.S. and France and briefly mention some surprising news from Iran.

The Islamic republic's state-owned television has a very popular tv show about Jews in Europe during WWII. Well, I imagine what you're thinking: another anti-Semite piece denying the Holocaust.

Well, apparently, and against all odds (given Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-Jewish rhetoric this is not the case, at least according to The Wall Street Journal:

The hour-long drama, "Zero Degree Turn," centers on a love story between an Iranian-Palestinian Muslim man and a French Jewish woman. Over the course of the 22 episodes, the hero saves his love from Nazi detention camps, and Iranian diplomats in France forge passports for the woman and her family to sneak on to airplanes carrying Iranian Jews to their homeland.

The newspaper also reminds us a fact often overlooked by many French and Americans alike:

Iran is home to some 25,000 Jews, the largest population in the Middle East outside of Israel. Iran's Jews -- along with Christians and Zorastrians -- are guaranteed equal rights in the country's constitution. Iran's Jews are guaranteed one member of parliament and are free to study Hebrew in school, pray in synagogues and shop at kosher supermarkets. Despite Mr. Ahmadinejad's statements, it isn't government policy to question the Holocaust, and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hasn't endorsed those views.

Is this another spin? Well, for one thing, nobody can accuse Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal of ties with the Iranian regime or pushing for a pro-iranian agenda.

As far as Iran's television is concerned, it is certainly the voice of the real men in charge: surpreme leader Khamenei and his fellow clerics. And what are they trying to tell us?

According to Amir Levy, director of the teleprocessing department of the Satlink satellite company, who is following the series, the makers of the series wish to relay a message that Iran has traditionally treated Jews well, as opposed to the racism and persecution they encountered in Europe. Levy says that other messages are emphasized as well, such as the claim that Iran is the cradle of civilization because ancient Persia and its philosophy predate Greek philosophy. (Harretz)

Well, there may be a lot of ego there but all in all, not a bad message.

An interesting illustration of the complexity of the situation regarding Iran – a far cry from the demonizing rhetoric of the neo-cons in America and Ahmadinejad’s maddening words.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"Socialized" medecine v. "free" health.

This summer, I saw Michael Moore's Sicko, which compares the American health care system to that of Canada, France, the United Kingdom and Cuba. In this time of political campaigning for the primaries, it is a major topic of discussion. In fact, next to the war in Iraq, it is the most important issue to the American voter and the top domestic concern. Even when concern about the U.S. economy is cited, it is often linked to worries over health care.
With about 50 million Americans without health insurance (47 million to be exact) and one in four Americans underinsured (meaning they are often using up their savings or turning to credit cards to cover medical expenses). In fact, This means that some 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 have inadequate access to health care. (Wash. Post)
Moore has his figures right.
The United States spends more than 15 % of its GDP on health care -- more than any other other nation (France spends about 11 %, and the Canadians spend 10 %) but according to the World Health Organization, it comes in at No. 37. while the French and Canadian systems rank in the Top 10 of the world's best health-care systems.
And everyone knows someone who has a horror story about their HMO and indeed, Moore's documentary has some very scary ones, really worth watching. My problem with Moore is that his biting presentation can be simplistic at times if not ridiculously caricatural. Granted, this comes with his style, still.... it borders dishonesty.
His presentation of the French health system, which I happen to know quite well is particularly bias and naive. His insistance on "free" health is misleading - there is no such thing as "free" health care. It is funded by payroll and wage levies and it is said to cause employers' unwillingness to hire.
This article in the Boston Globe, while being short is the first one I read in the American press which gives a good assesment of the French system: what it flaws are and why it also nonetheless works better (which is undeniable).
It debunks the myth of socialized medecine (i.e "socialist", i.e. "anti-democratic" and evil") :
An understanding of how France came to its healthcare system would be instructive in any renewed debate in the United States.
That's because the French share Americans' distaste for restrictions on patient choice and they insist on autonomous private practitioners rather than a British-style national health service, which the French dismiss as "socialized medicine." Virtually all physicians in France participate in the nation's public health insurance, Sécurité Sociale.Their freedoms of diagnosis and therapy are protected in ways that would make their managed-care-controlled US counterparts envious.
It is the ignorance and the arrogance of many conservative politicians (including prominent president-wanna-bes such as Giulani) who have continusouly scared the voters into thinking that anything else would be worse and tread upon their freedom.
Oh, the irony!


Notes from the Editors.

Joker-to-the-Thief is back from its long summer recess (and from its short-er Labor Day week-end). So we are going to resume our posting ( probably at a slower pace for now though). Both of us are currently busy writing outside the blog. No doubt we'll feel the urge to tackle many subjcts in the weeks to come. Check us out.
Thanks for reading us anyway. We'll do our best.