Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Cost of Small Derrières!

A report by France's National Institute of Demographic Studies (INSEE) compared body mass indexes in western Europe and found French women had the lowest average body mass index, at 23.2.
This will not really be a surprise to any one who's travaled around the world but the funny twist is that, as The Independent notices :

The typical French woman is slim and thinks that she is fat. The typical British woman is plump but is convinced that she is thin.

Of course, the question may be: are French women thinner precisely because they worry about their weight and conversely are the British women fatter because they don't?
On the other hand, isn't it better to be fat and happy than thin and stressed? Well, it depends... Another study found that being overweight is bad for the planet.

The researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine say overweight people cause excess greenhouse gas emissions because they eat more than thin people and are more likely to travel by car. (CTV)

Some suggest we should even go back to the 1970s lifetyle.... (without the bell-bottomes, let's hope..)

As for the European men :

Unsurprisingly, the research found that men across the EU are less concerned with their weight than women. Only French and Dutch men are, on average, within the ideal weight band.

As for the American men and women, I won't even go there.... ;-)


Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Poison in American Politics.

Last week, Lexington, in the Economist, encapsulated quite well the main problem in U.S. politics in the past decade...

What is clear is that the rapid replacement of Bush-hatred with Obama-hatred is not healthy for American politics, particularly given the president’s dual role as leader of his party and head of state. A majority of Republicans (56%) approved of Jimmy Carter’s job performance in late March 1977. A majority of Democrats (55%) approved of Richard Nixon’s job performance at a comparable point in his first term.

But today polarisation is almost instant, thanks in part to the growing role of non-negotiable issues such as abortion in American politics, in part to the rise of a media industry based on outrage, and in part to a cycle of tit-for-tat demonisation. This is not only poisoning American political life. It is making it ever harder to solve problems that require cross-party collaboration such as reforming America’s health-care system or its pensions. Unfortunately, the Glenn Becks of this world are more than just a joke.

Clearly, one of the reasons for this divisiveness in American politics is the 'culture war' launched by the religious right in the late 1980s. Thank you, Mr Pat Robertson. Of course, culture wars are nothing new. In the 1920s, it was urban vs. rural values, 'progressive' policy vs. 'laissez-faire', the 'Roaring 20s' vs. 'Normalcy'.
It started again in the 1980s and took momentum throughout the 1990s and 2000s on issues like 'abortion, guns, separation of church and state, privacy, gay rights, censorship, drugs' that have been the hot button issues with the help of the right-wing media (The O'Reillys and other Becks, to name the most influential figures). In that period, the left and the moderates showed little capacity to get to more political issues or simply to respond with any force as if intimated by the topic.
Well, of course it is not easy to change the paradigm. Besides, how can you even argue moral absolutes and issues supported by God himself? Hence the danger of mixing politics and religion.

Unfortunately, the Republican party let itself be hijacked by the religious right (cf. the Christian Coalition) and people like Pat Buchanan who in his famous 'culture war' speech at the 1992 Republican convention said :
There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.
So today, the far right may have conceded it has 'lost' the culture war (Thanks Mr Dobson for acknoledging the obvious!) but it has damaged America's ability to solve issues for years in the process and its poison will have a long lasting effect.

Thank God, so far, Europe has been able to avoid culture wars.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Capitalism and Tea-Bagging.

So what has become of the love affair between America and capitalism?

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey has some surprising results :
  • only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.
  • 27% are not sure which is better
  • 20% say socialism is better.
If you consider that most Americans equate "socialism" with "communism" (and not the European version of social-democracy), the results are actually shocking.

Of course polls by phone only mean so much, but even if these results are exaggerated, they show that there is great doubt in the minds of many Americans that the type of capitalism of the 90s and 2000s is "good" for America.

So it seems that the tea party protesters this week were really out of touch with grassroot America, despite claimming precisely that they were (a grassroot movement).

[for our non-American viewers, tea-parties are protests held to protest increased taxes and government spending under the Obama administration, and the name is of coruse used as a reference to the Boston Tea Party in 1773 against taxing tea. Of course, back then, it was "no taxation without representation" which is hardly the case today, but who cares about dubious historical parallels if it sells the whol package]

Just for the fun of it, I have made a "fair and balance" selection of photos of the signs in the protests (found online) :

A very tactful sign.... when you have the first black president in US History

Of course, there is always worse....

This last one is actually mt favorite - since tea-bagging (as a verbal form) actually carries sexual inuendos.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

France is loved by most Americans.

According to this poll by Research 2000 (published by the left-wing US blog Daily Kos) Europe and France are almost universally loved by Americans. (66% having a favorable view)
Not surprisingly, more so if you live in the Northeast, if you are black, if you are a woman, and if you vote Democrat. But in all segments, including Republican voters, the majority view is positive. Only one exception: the South but even there, opinions are simply split.

One interesting thing is that this represents a major shift from what polls said in 2005 when 57% of Americans had an unfavorable view of France. It shows that people’s views are flexible and probably depend on international affairs. (2005 was in the wake of the crisis between France and the U.S. over Iraq). Most Americans have come around.

This may also show that the Republican party should reconsider its agenda and shift to the center a little bit more if they want to win elections. It shows that their usual spooks (France, Europe, or even large liberal cities) won’t get them very far. In fact, the Research 200 poll shows precisely that most Americans also hold positive views of SF and NY, with strikingly similar results.

So much for divided America....


Monday, April 13, 2009

French Obama.... not yet!

As we have mentioned before on this blog (here and here), Obama’s election has resulted into some soul-searching in France with regard to racial minorities and their lack of political representation.

This New York Times article sums up the real issue here: the reason why French minorities do not have access to political leadership is not racism, it is cronyism (also called “copinage” in French). Although cronyism is not exclusively French (and does exist in the U.S. - read here, or here) and the holding of leadership positions by the old guard.

Their [the French minorities’] frustration stems not from an electorate open-minded enough to vote in a gay mayor of Paris, they say, but from their own political parties, whose lack of transparency is a tool that the old guard uses to retain its grip on power.
Their situation is compounded by the absence of party primaries, with candidates selected instead “on the basis of alliances, networks and intrigue,” according to Mr. Sabeg. That disadvantages minority politicians, who lack the contacts of those who have passed through the elite colleges that forge the French governing class.