Friday, December 26, 2008

For a more tolerant laïcité.

As a follow-up on the post on French laïcité, I would like to add something to an interesting comment on the article mentioned on our blog earlier :

… laïcité is a complete and real separation of Church and State (not a fake one like in the US) where religion is confined to the private sphere (also remember that the separation between public and private is clear cut in France). In other words it's not about allowing every religion to express themselves and oppressing non religious people, but about religious people keeping their faith to themselves and not showing it off constantly in other people's faces

First, to our non-French readers not familiar with French concepts, you must understand that the word laïcité is a notion that does not quite translate in English. It goes beyond "secularism" and is encroached in the French cultural and historical context, hence the complexity. (the word itself comes from the Greek and means "of layman" and is also sometimes translated, although rarely, by 'laicity' or 'laicism' in English).

I find the comment here above somewhat illuminating of what a lot of French (mostly non religious) people may think. French laïcité is indeed very strict but it is so at the expense of personal freedom, freedom of expression and in some ways freedom of religion.

In France, public religious expression is often feared to be the first step towards oppression against the Republic by non-religious people, no matter how fantasized that may be. And of course, this fear has been reinforced in the last decades by the demands of some Muslims for more religious expression. The argument for the defense of laïcité often hides a deeper fear of ‘the other’ religion which is Islam especially in its more extreme form. This in return has led to a more restrictive interpretation of the term “laïcité” in the last few years

A good illustration of this is the law banning ostentatious religious symbols in schools. (see our post here) This law was passed in 2003 after a few Muslim girls came to school wearing headscarves. This law was a departure from traditional laïcité which had been, since the Jules Ferry laws, about schools, and teachers, not about students, and indeed for many years school administrators had accepted that schoolchildren wear symbols of their various religions, such as a Christian student wearing a cross, or a Jewish boy wearing a kippah.

Interestingly however, a lot of Muslims who grew up learning French values and French history have integrated the idea of a secular state and seem to agree with it. It is also worth noticing that the riots in France in 2005 were in no way religious. There was absolutely no demand for a repeal of the ‘headscarf’ law for instance. In fact there was no demand at all. It was mostly an (improvised) expression of frustration, anger and boredom borne out of miserable living conditions. If anything, it showed that the youths in those impoverished neighborhoods want to be more like the rest of the French, not less. They do not want to be a separate (religious or not) community and have no special demand other than becoming mainstream.

Nonetheless, I believe French laïcitéé needs to be more respectful of the freedom of religion and expression. Thus I think that France’s laïcité should be inclusive and not exclusive. Laïcité should only be about “the absence of religious involvement in government affairs and the absence of government involvement in religious affairs”, and that’s all. It should just guarantee the neutrality of the state. Other than when people work for the state or are elected officials - in which case they should keep their religious beliefs private – people in France should be able to express themselves however they want in the public sphere, including religiously. After all, religious freedom is guaranteed by the French Constitution.

Besides, there are many breaches in the ideal French laïcité that many laïques do not recognize : as mentioned in the article, school (and public) holidays follow the Christian liturgical year, and the French government highly subsidizes private schools affiliated with religious organizations. So why not recognize the need for change?

Too often in France, laïcité has become a disguise for anti-clericalism, and more recently for Islamophobia. I would even argue that it has even become a religion of its own.

Anti-clericalism may have been part of the founding myth of the republican idea, just like religious freedom is an important part of the American founding myth (which explains why religion plays such a dominant role in U.S. public affairs) but is time for both our countries to take perspective and depart from their respective myths. The French and the Americans have been caught in their own paradigm based on historical myths. It is time to see the world as it is now, not as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is time to move on. It is time to re-invent ourselves.


Happy Festivus!


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

The War-on-Christmas as imagined by the Right in the US is a political tool meant to inspire the conservative masses. The French tradition of laïcité is even more difficult to understand. We've made our attempts here and there. But rather than desert friends and family during the holidays to make another stab, we thought we'd just point to a good discussion in play right now. The comments are even more illuminating than the article.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rick-Warrenophobia (maybe)..., NOT "Christophobia"!

Rick Warren - the evangelical preacher chosen by Barack Obama to deliver the inaugural invocation - has not been silent over the controversy following his interview on Beliefnet. (see our previous post)

In a 20 minute video interview, he has criticized
...the media, and, in particular, bloggers, for fueling the controversy. And he says the criticism of him in the wake of his selection has been characterized by "a lot of hate speech" and by "Christophobia -- people who are afraid of any Christian.''

"Free speech has to be free speech for everybody,'' he says. "Some people feel today if you disagree with them that’s hate speech...I’m neither afraid of gays, nor do I hate gays. In fact, I love them, but I do disagree with some of their beliefs, and I have that constitutional right". (Boston Globe)
I agree with him - it is his absolute right to express himself freely on this matter. This blog has always been for free speech, and I would defend that right no matter how much I disagree with what he says but who says he hasn't? Rick Warren just needs to take the heat that comes with it, especially as a public figure, and accept criticism and rebut, and stop playing the victim because you've said things that offend people. It is after all also their right to be offended.
And he says the criticism of him in the wake of his selection has been characterized by "a lot of hate speech" and by "Christophobia -- people who are afraid of any Christian.' (Boston Globe)
Well, some people may go extreme when they are offended, but Rick Warren should not confused pastor-rick-warrenophobia and "Christophobia", and maybe show a bit more humility in the matter.
Noting that he has been accused of comparing homosexuality to incest and pedophilia (see our previous post), he says in the video, "I believe no such thing.'' He reiterated his opposition to same sex marriage, but said he is in agreement with "the view of the vast majority of the world and the vast majority of religions.'' (Boston Globe)
Well, since when conforming to the majority view of the world has anything to do with Christ-like views? how is that even an argument?

"Our nation is being destroyed by the demonization of differences,'' he says. "The fact that an evangelical pastor believes in keeping the historic definition of marriage -- that’s not news. The fact that the gay community would disagree with me -- that’s not news either. The real story is that a couple of different American leaders have chosen to model civility for the rest of the nation.'' (Boston Globe)

Differences of opinion are good, but it's not just about diverging opinions - as we said before, it is one thing to be against gay marriage, it is yet another to compare it to allowing incestuous people and pedophiles to get married. No matter how much he denies it, that's what he said. It may not be hate speech, but it can vbe very offensive to gays and he should be able to understand that.

But some people really defend Rick Warren's words no matter what, either out of bad faith or ideological blindness. This conservative columnist for instance :

Warren did say, "I'm opposed to the re-definition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to a having brother and sister be together and call that a marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that a marriage."

Is that equating same-sex marriage with incest and pedophilia? If it you want it to, sure. Or you could see the quote as proof that Warren holds traditional religious views -- and cut the guy some slack. (

Helloooooo.... just READ THE WORDS! And please, see it in context if you need to understand what he means better.

One more development : Saddleback removed a page on their website that stated: "someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted at a member at Saddleback Church." but a Saddleback spokesman, Larry Ross, said that it "has not been permanently removed as alleged in some media reports, but rather is being repurposed for clarity.''

"... repurposed for clarity".... Don't you love it? !

On a final note, yes, Rick Warren may be praised for many things, like organizing Christians to fight global poverty and scourges like AIDS, but he has some really scary view as well (see video below),

"The Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped.... In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers." (Fox News)

and I think that if we start using the Bible for international politics, we are about to build a more violent and chaotic world and criticizing him for such views has NOTHING to do with Christophobia!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Rick Warren's Great Manipulation.

My first reaction to the controversy of Obama's choice of Rev. Rich Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration as President of the United-States was that it was a a bit of a tempest in a teapot.

Sure, Rick Warren is against abortion and gay marriage, but I always thought the guy was interesting anyway because he offered a new image of conservative evangelical Christians by focusing on causes like poverty in the world, diseases, education for the poor, and the environment.

In other words, he seemed to be the kind of guy a moderate liberal could work with. The teddy-bearish, Hawaiian-shirted pastor is after all the founder of the currently fourth largest church in the United-States.

Besides I have become weary of the cultural war, and even I support gay marriage, I don't think it is the most pressing issue of the time.

But then, I read a couple of interviews that puzzled me to say the least.

Here for instance, in the same sentence, he mentions his opposition to gay marriage as well as "having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage ... [and] an older guy marrying a child.". Then, when asked by the reporter if he thought those [i.e. marriage in incest and pedophilia] were equivalent to gays getting married?, he answered with no hesitation "Oh, I do!".

It is one thing to be against gay marriage, it is another to compare it to the the sanctification of criminal and widely recognized heinous sexual acts like incest and pedophilia. By the same logic, homosexuals who have sex with their own gender should be put in jail.

Then, on this interview with NBC’s Ann Curry (see video below), he said this :
If it [homsexuality is biological] I would be glad to know, we all have biological predisposition. Sompe people struggle with anger, other people say 'I don't struggle with anger, I sure struggle with fear', "
Then he goes on :
"Here's what I'm saying : I've had many gay friends tell me 'Well Rick, why shouldn't I have multiple sexual partners, it's the natural thing to do' .
Well, just because it seems 'natural', doesn't mean it's best for you or society. I'm naturally inclined to have sex with every beautiful woman I see, but that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. And why should I reign in my natural impulses, and you say 'because I have natural impulses toward the same sex, I shouldn't have to reign them in.
Well, I disagree, I think it's part of maturity. I think it's part of delayed gratification. I think it's part of character".
Rick Warren is a good orator and a good manipulator : he uses false empathy by talking about his 'gay friends', then he uses their words as representative of gays in general (a synechdoche in rhetoric) as if all gays wanted 'multiple partners'. If this was the case by the way, why would they even bother to want marriage? Obviously, the whole premise is false.
Rick Warren clearly associates gays with depravity, with a lack of control of unchecked desires ('multiple partners'), thus linking their urge to that of heterosexuals craving for sex. And to make it clear, he uses 'I' to create some emotional appeal (pathos), showing that he too can relate to their impulses and then by showing how he, contrary to them, is 'mature' and has 'character'.

Of course, what comes next is that gays can become heterosexual. In other words, they can be cured of their bad life-style. This really looks like something from another age which can have dire consequences.
Although the scientific community cannot say definitively what determines sexual orientation — whether it is nature or nurture — most mainstream mental health professionals dismiss attempts to eradicate homosexual desires or to change someone’s sexual orientation as quackery that is potentially harmful.
Mental health experts say there is no proof that sexual reorientation therapy, as it is often called, works. Meanwhile, they argue, the damage it can inflict on self-esteem, triggering depression and even suicide , is well documented.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


In a day and age when CEO paychecks are skyrocketing and median wages are stagnant, this sort of statistic makes me sick to my stomach. The United States has far and away the WORST child poverty rate among developed nations. Say what you will of Scandinavian socialism, at least their children don't live in poverty. I read a few years back that Sweden was the first country in which a doctor could not tell the socioeconomic status of a child from a simple physical. Swedes have decided that all children have the right to proper health care, adequate nutrition and an education.

While US lawmakers are busy bailing out financial giants from their own excess American children live in poverty at record rates. So much for trickle-down economics.


Monday, December 15, 2008

French Government Backing Away from Education Reforms out of Fear.

In this ambiance, the current education reforms in school and universities in France are likely to be watered down.... and the government may act with a bit more caution than they had anticipated. It has already started.
Well, just today, even though the Minister of Education in France had planned a press conference to announce the details of his high school reform, he just said out the blue that the press conference is canceled and the reform is postponed...
This is a very impressive move, just hours away from the official announcement and after repeatedly claiming he would budge. the Minister actually made very clear on tv (ITélé) that the tension lately with some high school students demonstrating in the streets or blocking the entrance of schools influenced his decision. No doubt the events in Greece played a part too.
However critical I may be of the reforms, this is bad strategy. The paradox (and the irony) is that by postponing indefinitely the reforms out of fear, the government has once again encouraged similar movements in the future. It seems that this government is as incapable as any other in France of negotiating and finding a consensus with all the parties involved. They try to do too much too quickly and in the end get nothing accomplished.
Wouldn't it be better to *really* listen to everyone first and consider all the options? By pushing things too hard, they give people plenty of reasons to go to the street and even threaten them with potential violence.


The Shoe Seen Around the World.

This is the most watched video online these days... No wonder!

From the info I gathered, the man is an Iraqi reporter who was kidnapped by Shiite militants last year and covered the U.S. bombing of Baghdad's Sadr City area earlier this year, and the destruction there are said to have "emotionally influenced" him.
On the video, he yelled in Arabic
"This is a farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq." (AFP)
Apparently, soles of shoes are considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture, (and of course so is "dog") and the man became an instant hero in the Muslim world.

I must say Bush was pretty good at ducking the first shoe.... I find it amazing that no Secret Service agent seems to be nearby or/and react.... He eventually confirmed it was a size 10, and said:
"That's what happens in free societies when people try to draw attention to themselves,"(source here)
Drawing attention to himself.....? Really....? You think the guy did that because of his ego? Mmmm..... I think not!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Obama Pop...

As you may know, the French have come up with the word "entrepreneur" and Obama is so popular in France that some French businessman has found a way to sell the president-elect as a high energy drink.

The businessman, Jean-Jacques Attisso has made has made 100 cans simply by sticking his labels ("change we can believe in'') on cans of energy drink.

He said he has been handing them out to youths close to where he works, hoping that Mr Obama's success will serve as an inspiration to them. Mr Attisso said Mr Obama symbolises hope for a new generation. The soda will raise money for an educational charity based in one of the troubled Paris suburbs as it goes up for auction in January.

(as you can see on the video, he still needs to work on his English accent but at least he's trying, which is better than many of my students)


Only in France!

Recently, we wrote a post just about the "land of human rights" - le pays des droits de l'homme- an expression cherished by the French media to talk about their nation, an expression however not much in use elsewhere since it is well known that Britain is the birthplace of human rights.

Here's more :

The centre-left Le Monde highlights the linguistic-stroke-cultural gap between the French and the rest of the world by reporting on the insistence displayed by former Irish president Mary Robinson to speak of "human rights" rather than, as in French of the "rights of man".

Robinson made her remark with her trademark smile and charm but, as Le Monde points out, firmly, at the Elysées Palace here in Paris earlier this week in the presence of President Sarkozy. Sarkozy had invited the great and the good to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Human Rights Universal Declaration.

If Unesco deputy director general Pierre Sané, from Senegal, applauded Mary Robinson's intervention, Le Monde says that several of the French guests were obviously taken aback. Stéphane Hessel, the French ambassador made it clear however that the fact that since 1948 it is women who have had their "rights of man" violated, the phrase should be "human right", though he prefers "rights of the person".

Indeed, the Council of Europe in 1990, Unesco in 1991 and 1993 and the NGO Forum 15 years ago have all called for the change to be made. But still, France holds out despite other French-speaking nations' jibes.

Amnesty International decided to drop "rights of man" for good after struggling to translate into French such phrases as "human rights of women" into the standard - and hilarious "droits de l'homme des femmes", or "rights of man of women". (RFI)

I suspect the French who didn't appreciate Mary Robinson's intervention were not happy simply because they see it as a battle in the linguistic war between English and French (which has long been lost by the French) and something of an Anglo-Saxon attempt at imposing their political correctness onto the rest of the world.

It is ridiculous of course, and only shows how some people in the French elite still live in their own 19th century bubble and may just need a lesson in sensitivity.


Hot Winter for European Students?

You have probably seen the student riots in Greece in the last 8 days. The Wall Street Journal seems to believe that discontent goes beyond the border of Greece (which it does, especially given the current crisis) but also that there would a sort of pan-European youth conflagration.
.... an uprising that mirrors growing discontent among youths in many European countries over outdated education systems, lack of jobs and a general apprehension about the future.
From Rome to Berlin to Madrid, young people graduate from university much later than their peers in Northern Europe, the U.S. or U.K. When they do, they struggle to find long-term jobs with social-security benefits.
In France too, this has become an issue: left-wing Libération asked: "Can France follow Greece and flare up in turn?"
It may be a bit over dramatic and the situation in Greece is different and in some ways, a lot worse (more corruption for instance) but anxiety about the future is definitely on the rise, and not just with students so who knows what may happen... .
I have always been puzzled by how American students or workers never seem to protest or strike more than they do, let alone riot of course. Of course, there have been riots in the U.S. and rather violent ones, (mostly minorities in the last decade) but not since the 60s have we seen student riots.... and not since the 1930s have workers been massively demonstrating.... Is it likely to change even there if the situation gets worse? I doubt it.
As for Europe, it's a different story.... (it would be too long to explain why). What is certain is that the French government is worried (according to Le Canard, and a few other sources). It is true that French students can be hard to control or negotiate with, and when things start going wrong, it's like a fire out of control which can easily spread to people who are in the demonstrations "for a riot" indeed .
In this ambiance, the current education reforms in school and universities in France are likely to be watered down.... and the government may act with a bit more caution than they had anticipated. It has already started.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On Gay Marriage : Jon Stewart 1, Huckabee 0 !

Gay marriage is seen by some as threat to traditional marriage, i.e. between a man and a woman. Personally,I have yet to understand the argument: why giving more rights to some would take away rights from others.

Well, as Jon Stewart made it very clear when he grilled Mike Huckabee on this topic last night, the crux of the matter is that those people often think that homosexuality is a lifestyle (i.e. a choice) and not something that's in their genes. Therefore they do not see it as a civil rights issue.
As Jon Stewart put it: "religion is much more of choice than homosexuality".

A lot of Christians I know believe precisely that and even if they don't, then they sometimes say that people who have homosexual attractions should refrain from acting anyway, that it is a sort of test of their faith. Of course, most of those people do not really know any gay or have any idea what it must be like.
Yet others see it as a threat for their children. Why feel threatened? It is a lack of faith.

To me it is also lack of understanding, empathy, and even love towards a lot of people who sometimes go through very hard times even love is at the core of Christ's message. One needs to listen to homosexuals and think of them with love to see what is the most Christ-like things to do. Maybe a lot of those Christians should actually hang out with more people not like them.


Human Rights Out of French Government Priority.

Today is the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

(Eleanor Roosevelt holding a poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

Strangely it is still called "the Rights of Man" in France, probably because of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, written during the French Revolution.

As we posted before, France likes to think of itself as the "land of the Human Rights (or rather Rights of Man)". So much so that Sarkozy created a new post in his government: a ministry for human rights.

Ms Rama Yade, (who was born in Senegal), the first black woman as a minister of State is in charge of it. Well, as always in France, the devil is in the details. Her title is officially Minister of State with responsibility for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, and she is sort of working under? with? the actual Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, whose idea it was to create a specific post for human rights.
The idea of connecting human rights with foreign affairs is a very telling one because it clearly implies that its aim is the "human rights" of others. Doesn't sound a bit arrogant? Doesn't it imply some moral superiority?
If, on the other hand, it had been linked with the Ministry of Justice, the message would have been entirely different: it would have been about pushing for more human rights in France, the only place where the French government has real power to change things anyway.

To me, the whole thing is more a useless gimmick (and sometimes an embarrassing one) than anything worth spending taxpayer's money on.

Today, the French Foreign Ministern, Bernard Kouchner, seemed to agree with me, he was quoted precisely as saying that he had made a mistake in asking President Nicolas Sarkozy to create a ministry for human rights.
"I think I was wrong to ask for a junior minister for human rights. It's a mistake. Because there is a permanent contradiction between human rights and a nation's foreign policy, even in France," Kouchner said in an interview published in the daily Le Parisien on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"You cannot govern a country's foreign affairs only according to human rights," Kouchner said. "To govern a country obviously distances you from a certain saintliness."
So principled politics or political realism? Which is best?
Well, I tend to think that one should put one's own house in order before critisizing other people anyway - it is a question of credibility, and god knows there is still a lot to do in France. It doesn't compare to most countries of course, but so what....
This of course does not mean we should all be cynical and in put people we suspect of anything in seclusion on some forgotten island (hum, hum..) and in some cases, politics should prioritize more human rights in their dealing with other countries, but there's no need to always make a big fuss of it. Discretion may be more effective.

At the same time, for Kouchner to make such a stament on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a bit of a faux-pas, but the media think he may have had ulterior political motives:
...some French media saw Kouchner's statement as a form of political punishment for Yade, who this week refused a request by Sarkozy to head a slate of candidates for next June's EU parliamentary elections.
Kouchner's statements suggest that her post will likely be eliminated during the next government re-shuffle, probably in January. (source)

Who cares.....


Monday, December 08, 2008

Cars on the Altar : only in America!

One of the largest churches in Detroit (the "Mecca" of the American car industry, also known as Motown) has prayed for some divine intervention to save the Big 3 (GM, Ford, Chrysler). They also urged for a fast until a bailout was voted by Congress.
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal both featured a prominent photo of this even on their front pages.
While I understand the desperation of those (mostly black) low-income auto workers, and even if I can relate to resorting to prayers when you don't know what’s going to happen, there is something really un-biblical in showing sport-utility vehicles at the altar with auto workers in the pews offering up prayers for Congress to bail out the struggling auto industry.
Even if those cars are hybrid SUVs, which is good, the display of such a symbol of materialism on the altar of a church is far from anything biblical. Or did I miss something? Moses would probably return to the mount pretty sad...
Does God even care? Not sure.....

As you can see on the video, it is very much in the "tradition" of African-American worship and show business. Fascinating....


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Facebook and me.

After much hesitation, and going beyond my fear of leaving too much information out on the Web, I finally decided to register to the social network Facebook.
It's actually been more fun than I had anticipated.

On the bright side, it allows you to re-connect with old friends, and then stay in touch with the mundane things of your friends' lives - something that is more important than is usually admitted in relationships. It is entertaining and even a lot of fun at times....It is especially important when you have friends on the other side of the world.

On the darker said, I don't like the fact that people can only be your "friends" (or not) and nothing else What about "acquaintances"? And then, there seems to be a lot of competition for some people about how many friends they have, which is really stupid since they don't even know most of those people. This loose acceptance of the word "friend" is definitely an American phenomenon where even people you barely know often qualify as "friends", but at the risk of being too French about it, I think some hierarchy or some priority is necessary in relationships.

Then of course, there is the risk that all your data on Facebook might be used some day by some evil doer - some government checking on you, some company trying to sell you things... Facebook has a lot of information on you after all. and then you hear all sorts of scary stories... (like this guy who lied to his boss , called in sick, and was fired because he put pictures of his partying and some nice colleague told) but a lot of those things can happen in the "real" world too...
And then most of the info you leave on Facebook is somewhere on the web anyway - whenever you registered to something and left too luch information on the questionnaire.

I may be a bit on the naive side of things, but I don't want to be too paranoid and it seems to me that as long as you watch for what you write and share, then you're probably ok. and of course, you need to restrict your profile only to your friends. As a (local) public figure (a teacher always is), I must be particularly careful.
The risk is that you might say too much or that, when you exchange with a close friend, you forget that no-so close friends are also watching and reading you.

So for now, I'm going to keep it this way and if it turns out that I can't take it, I'll delete everything and un-register.


Venus in Furs...

For some reason, I never quite paid full attention to the lyrics of Venus in Furs by the Velvet Underground. I just liked the song for its lovely creepy obsessive music, and for this part :

I am tired, I am weary I could sleep for a thousand years
A thousand dreams that would awake me

Different colors made of tears

But then I sort of missed this other part:

Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather
Shiny leather in the dark
Tongue of thongs, the belt that does await you

Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart

Severin, severin, speak so slightly

Severin, down on your bended knee

Taste the whip, in love not given lightly

Taste the whip, now plead for me

Then of course, it became clear the song was about sadomasochism, bondage and submission. Not my cup of tea personally but I'm impressed nonetheless that it was even sold and played with those lyrics in .... 1967.

One thing leading to another, I found out that it is based on a novella of the same name by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch published in 1870. "Severin" (repeated a few times in the song) is the name of the protagonist of the novel.

I knew that Sadism came from the French Marquis de Sade in the 18th century but had no idea masochism came from an Austrian author in the 19th century. And that guy was not even a cynic, he was a Utopian thinker who espoused socialist and humanist ideals. No, really,..... he wrote in a magzine supporting tolerance and integration for Jews (iin Saxony, quite an accomplioshment!) as well as the women's suffrage.
He is also the great-great-uncle to British singer/actress Marianne Faithfull .

All that because I watched CSI....
.... which was dealing with sadomasochism (with Lady Heather) and played Venus in Furs.!

And here's for your entertainment :


France, the Land of Human Rights?

Well, despite our positive post on the way the French view immigration, not everything is rosy in the "land of human rights".

This week's big fuss in France was about the treatment of a journalist by the police.
The journalist had been accused of libel, and one morning he was dragged out of his home in front of his young sons for ignoring repeated court summonses. Justice Minister Rachida Dati, said this was normal procedure and that when someone "does not comply with summons, we send him a warrant to bring him in". He, on the other hand, claimed he never received the summons. (contrary to the american procedure, where summons are handed to you personally, summons in France are sent by regular mail... which, given the reliability of the mail system, is a recipe for confusion).

What is not "normal" anyway is that this journalist was eventually hancuffed and stripserached twice, something excessive for a man accused of libel, or even ignoring summons sent by mail. This is only the lastest case in a series of what may be seen as intimidation tactics by overzealous police and justices.

As the IHT puts it :
beyond the squabbles over legal procedure, the case has highlighted the larger question of how much freedom of speech exists here. France ranks 35th in press freedom in a list of countries established by Reporters Without Borders - just below Mali - and Sarkozy himself has not shied from suing a journalist perceived to be hostile.
To be fair, this is probably laughing matter to a Chinese, a North Korean, or a majority of the world's populationbut for the "land of the human rights", and a lesson-giver to developing countries, this should count for something.

And if you think this just an isolated incident of overzealous police, think again :
Attempts by French authorities to pressure journalists to disclose their sources was the main cause for concern in the French media [last yea], with journalists being subjected to searches of their property, detention, and judicial proceedings.
Journalists in France are protected by Article 109 of the Criminal Code, which stipulates that "any journalist heard as a witness about information gathered while practicing their profession is free not to reveal their sources." This, however, did not deter a judge from attempting to access files at the offices of Le Canard Enchainé on 11 May. During the course of an investigation into what is known as the "Clearstream" affair, judges attempted to enter the offices of the satirical weekly magazine. However, journalists locked the newsroom to prevent them getting to the information that had sought. (International Press Institute)
This week also surfaced another piece of news : 2 weeks ago the police raided a school, looking for drugs, going right in the midst of a classroom, brandishing police dogs and eventually bodysearching some adolescents… An operation conducted within the framework of a drug « prevention » programme, which turned into a display of public humiliation for many of the pupils. (see here for details).

It may also be worth noticing that the Council of Europe's Human rights has also repeatedly slammed France for its overcrowed and dilapidated jails (where suicides are rampant).

And what about those memory laws in France that tell you what and how you must remember certain historical events. (read here)...

This is nothing new, already in 2005, the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles, wrote a report criticizing the legal system, detention conditions, the prosecution of abuses committed by members of the police and the treatment of members of ethnic minorities in France, and he made a very relevant conclusion :
"Yet, it would seem that at present the prevailing mood among police officers is one of impunity. As a result, few cases of police violence result in convictions which are proportionate to the offences committed. Procedures are highly complicated for victims and investigations are a delicate matter. The sense of mutual loyalty between the different branches of the security forces accounts partly for the fact that statements very often match one another perfectly. In many cases, police officers anticipate the victims' complaints and file their own complaints for insults to or the obstruction of officers in the course of their duties."
In relation to the legal system, the report notes that several professionals referred to the "knee-jerk passing of new legislation in response to social problems" and to a "legislative rainstorm" that makes it difficult for lawyers and judges to keep up with developments and "may well create a problem of legal insecurity". Conditions in some holding facilities for detainees appearing before judges in courthouses are described as "disastrous" and "totally at odds with modern requirements", and lack of funding for the court system is linked with problems including the slowness of the judicial process, which has resulted in a number of past rulings by the European Court of Human Rights which have condemned France.
And the situation has only gotten worse since then. (of course, the fact that Nicolas Sarkoy, then Minister of the Interior has now becocme President of France may not help the situation and easy the current tension).

So, while on paper, it all looks good, as you can see, the reality is very different and needs to be re-assessed regularly. Changes must be made... Can we?
As a liberal, I am sometimes pessemistic at times when I realize how big the gap still is in this day and age between our proclaimed ideals and the reality on the ground, and how little it would take to go wrong for any of us.

(just for our non-French readers, the "land of human rights" - le pays des droits de l'homme- an expression cherished by the French media to talk about their nation, an expression however not much in use elsewhere since it is well known that Britain is the birthplace of human rights)


Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Bush Legacy Project...

The spin has begun... (see here). How gullible will people be?
In the end, I think history will judge Bush eve more harshly (Nixon had at least improved relations with China) Karl Rove, the master of spin....

In the meantime, we may be able to work out frustration by seeing the new film 'Frost/Nixon'


The Big Finale.

For all the bad of the Bush presidency has done, if there is one good thing we will certainly miss after he leaves office, it is his "Bushisms" whose entertaining values have no equal in politics, and I just sort-of-sadly realized that we are seeing the end of an era. But the finale is going to be spectacular, given all the exit interviews W. is about to give.
And he met all our expectations on his first of his exit interview-on ABC :
Gibson: Do you feel in any way responsible for what's happening?

Bush: You know, I'm in president during this period of time but I think.. uh when the history of this period is written people will realize a lot of the decisions.. uh that were made on Wall Street took place over you know a- a decade or so, before I arrived in president, during I arrived in president.

I'm sorry it's happening of course, obviously I don't like the idea of people losing jobs or being worried about their 401Ks. On the other hand, the American people got to know that- that ... uh ...we will safeguard the system, I mean we're in, and if we need to be in more, we will.

(For more more analysis on this great quote, go to Language Log)

Jon Stewart had the most appropriate conclusion on this one : Do we really have to build this guy a library? (i.e presidential library where they keep all the records)

We may not be the only ones regretting him.

Other than form, content is the really the scary part, not only did he admit this :

GIBSON: What were you most unprepared for?
BUSH: Well, I think I was unprepared for war.

A war the killed 4,200 Americans and and possibly about 1 million Iraqis... Ooops!

And his greatest regret? : the mistake of others :
"The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said, you know ... the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration, and um ...
You know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess."


Punch Words of the Week

"At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time," House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said yesterday. "I'm afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He's got to remedy that situation."