Monday, October 29, 2007


Francois Furstenburg makes a very interesting historical comparison here. We'll just summarize by quoting two (in)famous men:

"No liberty for the enemies of liberty."
Saint-Just, architect of la Terreur.

"We must not let foreign enemies use the forums of liberty to destroy liberty itself."
George W. Bush, architect of the War on Terror.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Droughts, fires and Snow

The fires in California seem to be the direct result of the unusually strong Santa Ana wind, and the severe drought experienced by the south west in the last few months:

For months, Southern California and surrounding areas of Arizona and Nevada have been experiencing “extreme drought” — the second-worst drought designation offered by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

This has been one of the driest years on record in Southern California, with less than one-third the usual rainfall.

With those kind of parched conditions, coupled with the hot dry Santa Ana winds — so-called “Devil Winds” — the region between San Diego and Malibu was ripe for fire.

It can be seen as a lesson in climate change. It’s not that global warming will produce more wildfires directly, but by increasing the likelihood of hot and dry conditions, it sets the stage for them. Scientists have already associated an increase in wildfire intensity, size and frequency in recent years with climate change, though wildfire fighting techniques in past decades also contributed to the risk because forest management led to a build-up of fuel ready to burn. (The Dailygreen)

Interestingly, the fires have mostly occurred in the most extreme dry areas (in red on the map).

Obviously, there is no evidence of a link between the fires and global warming, but every expert seems to agree that in any case, we are bound to see more wildfires and more droughts in the future. So we’d better get prepared.

While I feel sorry for the Californians who, after all, have been leading the country in terms of environmental regulations, I am much less inclined to feel sorry for the people in, say, Georgia or Alabama.

Between 1990 and 2000, Georgia’s water use increased by 30 percent. But the state has not yet come up with an estimate of how much water is available during periods of normal rainfall, much less a plan to handle the worst-case scenario of dry faucets.

The sense of urgency has been slow to take hold. Last year, a bill to require low-flow water devices be installed in older houses prior to resale died in the Legislature. Most golf courses are classified as “agricultural.” Water permits are still approved on a first-come, first-served basis.

(…/…) Alabama, where severe drought is more widespread, has not passed legislation calling for a management plan. (NYTimes)

And now of course, it’s a lot easier to squabble with neighboring states or the Corps of Engineers over dam releases and flow rates than take the necessary measures. Declaring October the "Take-a-Shorter-Shower" month, as Gov. Sonny Perdue did, would be funny if it wasn't so dramatically idiotic .

The hypocrisy runs high: on Oct 1, an outdoor theme park called “Stone Mountain” began to manufacture what was intended to be a 1.2-million gallon mountain of snow.

So what conclusion to draw from this latest poll that Americans are getting more concerned about global warming? It depends on which Americans we’re talking about, I guess…. And how you ask the question too….


Monday, October 22, 2007

The Best Presidential Candidate!

The US campaign for the presidential bid is in full gear, yet we are more than a year away from Election Day. While we may be already getting sick of it at times, there is the prospect of great excitement in the months to come.

Think of it - this is the first election since 1928 in which no incumbent president or vice president is taking part at any stage, and the outcome may very well be the first woman president, or the first black president, or the oldest man ever elected to a first term in the White House, or the first Italian American or even the first Mormon president. Then there is the ever increasing money spending, the great number of candidates and the earliest start ever recorded.

And we’re not even talking about the war yet.

But nothing, absolutely NOTHING compares to the announcement that Stephen Colbert is running for president. Indeed, “running” is the Wørd for our friend Colbert (whom we gladly endorse, especially since he insists on the French pronunciation of his name!) only wants to run!

" I don't want to be president," said Colbert. "I want to run for president. There's a difference."

Even better, Colbert takes an even greater challenge – he intends "to lose twice, both a Republican and a Democrat.”.

Really, in case you missed it, it was the best “Meet the Press” I have ever since, and certainly the most hilarious one. I was impressed with how Tim Russert played along and kept a straight face. In fact it was so close to “truthiness” that it was almost eerily discomforting but it shows once again Colbert’s great satirical "ability to both mimic and amplify the tics of political convention and play them back with just a little more topspin":

“I’m doing it, Tim, because I think that our country is facing unprecedented challenges in the future,” Mr. Colbert said. “I think the junctures that we face are both critical and unforeseen, and the real challenge is how we will respond to these junctures, be they critical, or God help us, unforeseen.”
Sounds like you've heard it all before? That's exactly the point. Need a good sense of humor for it.

Here's more:

Tim: Would you consider Sen. Larry Craig as a running mate?

Stephen: I would.

Tim: Have you had conversations with him?

Stephen: Define conversation.

Tim: Have you spoken to him?

Stephen: No.

Tim: Have you met with him? Have you been in the same room together?

Stephen: Yes... (points offscreen) sorry, my lawyer's telling me to say no more.

Tim: How did you express your interest in developing your relationship?

Stephen: Forcefully

If you have a few minutes, watch the show here, you won’t regret it. It is American humor at its best - with a slight touch of English dryness.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Fine French Art of Divorcing

In this season of political hunt for the “value voters”, I wonder how American conservatives would react if a sitting U.S. president was to divorce only a few months after being elected. Any idea?

Well, this is exactly what happened in France last week and it was considered big news by the media. In fact, this was such a novelty even to the French that it overshadowed the news of the major strike (mostly in public transports). Well, of course, strikes are certainly nothing new or even unusual in France, and in this age of media frenzy for the rich and famous, it is no wonder.

The news itself is not very interesting, I will admit but it is an excellent opportunity to examine the cultural differences between our two nations. The French tend to consider much more strictly the separation between public and private spheres whereas Americans usually think one’s private life illustrates one’s values (or lack thereof).

The French are known for being soft on love affairs. That’s the theory, at least. Reality has proved different - the existence of President Francois Mitterrand's illegitimate daughter, for instance, was taboo and even journalists who knew about it kept the news secret until his funeral in 1996. Something you’d never see in America.... would you?

The way Mitterrand used illegal wiretapping under the guise of fighting terrorism was undeniably much more shocking than the news itself. So today, it is no wonder that despite the media frenzy, the French don’t seem to care.

So how would the Americans react? The L.A. Times asks it bluntly:

The Sarkozys quietly call it quits, and the French don't seem to care. Why can't Americans be so civilized?

The French example makes one wonder when Americans will begin handling the flammable mixture of sex and politics more sensibly. Many voters seem to believe that politicians who have troubled marriages are flawed people. This belief appears unshaken despite abundant ancient and latter-day evidence that happiness or lack thereof in marriage is a lousy predictor of a leader's performance. (How a politician treats underlings, old friends, rivals and campaign contributors is generally a more accurate barometer of character, though such topics don't sell tabloids.) Voters should know that anyone driven enough to succeed in modern American politics -- like anyone at the top of other workaholic, hard-driving professions -- is, by definition, highly likely to have strained his or her marriage, whether or not adultery was involved. Yet the urge to equate marital rectitude with political rectitude remains strong.

This campaign season, the front-runners for the presidential nomination in both U.S. political parties are known to have experienced major marital woes. So this would be a good year for Americans to practice the fine French art of divorcing judgments about sex from judgments about policy. Vive la tolérance. (LATimes)

Well, I must say the French media have yet to top the American press in making “blow-jobs” the center topic of every conversation in the nation.

NOTE: in case you're wondering about the headline of Libération (top left), well ,the TV show DH happens to be a major hit in France too.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Cultural Superiority

Who thinks their culture is superior to others?
Well, according to this study of Pew Global, a majority of Americans believe so. Even more surprisingly, only a minority of French people do.

Americans are (...) more likely than most Western Europeans to think their culture is better than others. Over half of Americans (55%) agree with the statement, "Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others," a larger percentage than in Canada, Spain, Germany, France, Britain and Sweden. But Italians are even more confident than Americans in their cultural pre-eminence; 68% of Italians believe their culture is superior.

This is interesting because in my opinion, it is the one thing that our two countries (France and the U.S.) have in common: a belief that their nations embody unique universal values, including cultural ones of course. But then, look at the Italians....
I personally know very few people (if any) who really believe that seriously in either France or the States, so I am afraid my American milieu may not be very representative then... I have of course noticed that the idea of (not just cultural) national superiority transpires in politics and the media (think of how some people take for granted whatever Foxnews, Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck may say) so one shouldn't be surprised so much, I suppose.


Teaching American English Japanese Style

As a teacher of English as a foreign language, I am always interested in new creative methods of teaching but this one is "slightly" over the top - hilarious as it may be, I doubt I'll ever use it in my classroom:


Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Beauty of Global Warming.

Sadly awesome....


Rugby vs. Football.

I know many of our American readers may not know much about rugby but here’s a sport that could build bridges between our two continents.

Of all the world's sports rugby is THE sport that American football is most similar to: shared origins, resulting in similarities and shared concepts in terms of scoring and advancing the ball (wiki). Even the expression “touchdown” is a rugby term even if in rugby, it is called a “try” (the irony is that a "try" requires the ball to be 'touched down' to the ground, whereas a "touchdown" doesn't).

It is also interesting to note that soccer (called football outside America), American football and rugby actually all have the same origin. In fact, it seems that all those games find their origins in a game played called La Soul or Choule played in Northern France (Brittany, Normandy and Picardy) which is said to have “set foot” in Britain with the Norman Conquest. Until the 19th century, there was no differentiation as rules varied greatly by locations, until the British schools began to standardize the games of rugby and football (which later became soccer in the U.S.)

Personally, rugby is my favorite team sport (and the only one I actually practiced). It is much faster and more dynamic than American football – the game is not stopped to let the tackled player get back on his feet which makes it much less tedious to watch. Also in rugby, only the player with possession of the ball may be interfered and unlike football, you cannot pass the ball forward in rugby. That’s just a few of the main differences.

Then, American football is much more brutal, hence the difference in the player’s attire – rugby players usually have none and they are not as often seriously injured.

But what I like best about rugby is that there isn’t as much hype, buzz, and money involved with rugby as there is with soccer (in Europe) or American football. Because of this, it is the last perfect gentleman’s game. You never see hordes of hooligans ransack stores around the stadium or kill each other over a stupid defeat; you never see the violence and racism you see in soccer.

At the same time, rugby will never be as popular as soccer in the world because if nothing else, it requires at least field and cannot be played in poor countries or in the streets. So it’ll never give a sense of empowerment to the disadvantaged or the impoverished like soccer does. But let’s praise it for its great spirit.


Les Bleus Win Against All (Blacks') Odds!

We don’t get to talk much about sports on this blog but there was a beautiful game last night and an unexpected win for France against the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand (20 to 18), at the Rugby World Cup.

Just to give you an idea: only 50% of the French believed in their nation’s victory and the all-Blacks were UK bookmakers’ 1 to 7 favorite. Some people lost big! Well, it is not surprise after France lost to Argentina in a disastrous opening game.

The beauty of the game was also in the fact that “les Bleus” were clearly outplayed in the first half of the gamer and trailed 13 to 0 after 30 minutes but just like the 1999 semi-final, France staged a remarkable second-half comeback (for details of the game, go here). Déjà vu indeed!

It is a big deal in France as the team will be back soon where many observers thought they'd never be: the Stade de France in Paris and a semifinal against defending champion England who beat Australia yesterday.


Monday, October 01, 2007

The Soul of Capitalism

When the founder of the second largest mutual fund company in the world (The Vanguard Group) starts telling you that there is something rotten in the land of capitalism, you start to listen.

John Bogle is not your tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, Hollywood-loving, left-wing lib.
He was named as one of the "world’s 100 most powerful and influential people" by Time magazine in 2004, and one of the investment industry’s four "Giants of the 20th Century" by Fortune magazine in 1999
He received the Institutional Investor's Lifetime Achievement Award (2004) as well as the Woodrow Wilson Award from Princeton University for "distinguished achievement in the Nation’s service" (1999)

Yet his words on today’s American capitalism are tougher than what you'd expect from any liberal. Of course, as an icon of a successful capitalist, he has some credibility in the matter and probably knows more what he’s talking about than most which is probably why his book called The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism doesn’t ring hollow.

Friday night, he was on Bill Moyers, on PBS, and what he said was pretty frightening and very realistic at the same time. He even compares inequality of wealth in America today to that of pre-revolutionary France.

BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you that people seem so indifferent to the fact that one tenth of one percent of the population owns most of the wealth in this country?

JOHN BOGLE:Well, in the long run, I believe it's unsustainable. You know, this is not going to be, you know, a country like France, say, at the time of before the French Revolution. You know, the lords of France, the kings had probably the same kind of distribution of wealth we had today come by through long generations. Their own castles. We have those castles in America now. But it says to me that, in this society, it's not sustainable. There will be an outcry.

Even Allen Greenspan says in his book he's worried, new book-- he's worried about this division in the society. He's worried about dissatisfaction. He's worried about violence in our society. You can only have so much of an advantage to those at the top of the pyramid, and so much disadvantage that's at the bottom of the pyramid, before you start to get some very difficult things going on.

It just blows my mind to hear a CEO be so critical of other CEOs:

JOHN BOGLE: (…/…)The evidence is quite compelling that today corporations are run in a very important way to maximize the returns of its managers at the expense of its stockholders.


JOHN BOGLE:Its CEOs, well, the upper level of five or six top officers. And they get enormous amounts of pay for actually doing very little. I'm a businessman. Listen, we all-- we chief executives get an awful lot of credit that we don't deserve. Real work in companies is done by the people who are getting themselves together and doing the hard work of making companies grow--

Watch the video of Bogle's interview here.

The lesson to drawn from Bogle is also that success and ethics are not necessarily a contradiction in our the capitalist world. Getting wealthy is ok until it becomes greed.


French Socialists Leading International Economic Institutions

At first, you may find it a bit ironic that two of the men leading international economic institutions should be French socialists: you have Pascal Lamy at the head of the World Trade Organization and since last week, Dominique Strauss-Kahn who was just appointed as the new leader of the International Monetary Fund.

Well, that is until you realize that those two men have both a Socialist background and a penchant for the free market. In other words, they’re what the rest of Europe would call social-democrats. But then, it is such a hard sell to the French left France that they have a greater chance of success outside their native land than in their own party.

So, my dear American reader, do not be alarmed: the world’s institutions are quite safe with those two people who are probably extremely competent if you look at their backgrounds - certainly more so than Paul Wolfowitz was at the head of the World Bank.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is said to be:

Epicurean, multilingual and enthralled by technology, Strauss-Kahn casts the figure of a new type of Socialist unbound by the orthodoxies of his party's past — but often branded as too free-market within its ranks. (IHT)

In any case, given the challenges ahead, we’ll find out soon enough. Given his recent time and effort in the campaign for the to the IMF leadership, it looks like he really wanted the job at least.


Bush's Hot Air on Global Warming.

Last Friday was a sad day for the environment in Washington D.C. and for that matter in the world.

Yes, Mr. Bush hosted a two-day conference on climate change with the 16 largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world. He even acknowledged that global warming is a real and pressing problem:

"energy security and climate change are two of the great challenges of our time. The United States takes these challenges seriously." (L.A. Times)

Those two things may be deemed remarkable indeed for a president who was in denial for so long and whose administration has many close ties to the oil industry… but then what?

Not only was his speech a lot of hot air (sorry, the pun is too easy) but it even had the arrogance of claiming leadership in the matter. He did talk about a "new approach" and "a historic undertaking", only to propose to set a "long-term goal" for reducing such pollution.

By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem," President Bush said. "We must lead the world to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and we must do it in a way that does not undermine economic growth or prevent nations from delivering greater prosperity for their people."

Translation: “we acknowledge there’s a problem… So? We’re leading!”In fact, he continues to be opposed to any mandatory target:

"Each nation must decide for itself the right mix of tools and technologies to achieve results that are measurable and environmentally effective,"

So how does he plan to help solve the problem? With the magic of modern technology. That in some ways is so typically American - believing that some magic pill can make the pain go away smoothly with as little disturbance in our comfortable life as can be.

Unfortunately, this hardly ever works.

Besides, Bush is a hypocrite on the subject and his speech is a charade. Had he really understood the challenge posed by global warming, he would have not delayed the urgent MANDATORY measures that need to be taken. The Europeans may tend to be a bit too self-righteous about the whole issue, and as the Wash. Posts suggests, they are likely to fail meeting the mandatory carbon-reduction standards set out by the treaty by 2012, but really Bush is only giving them plenty of reasons to lash out against his administration.

Unfortunately, this will probably translate into more isolation for the U.S. on the world stage. Besides, why would China (now the world’s greater contributor) take serious actions themselves with such poor self-claimed leadership?

John Ashton, Britain's special envoy on climate change, who attended the conference, said: "It is striking here how isolated the US has become on this issue. There is no support among the industrialized countries for the proposition that we should proceed on the basis of voluntary commitments. (The Guardian)

So is Arnold going to save the world? Maybe not, but he’s the best ambassador for what America has on the subject.

"The most inspiring example of leadership this week was the speech on Monday at the UN by Arnold Schwarzenegger."