French philosophical thought had exhausted itself at home and sabotaged literature departments across the Western hemisphere, especially in the United States.
Surgary excerp of the day from Eliot Weinberger:
Charlie’s defenders tend to make three arguments: first, that they are the continuation of a long line of French satirists, from Voltaire on. (To which one can only sigh: poor France!) Second, that they are ‘equal opportunity’ offenders. This neatly avoids the fact that, for a bunch of white guys in a Catholic country, making fun of the pope is not the same as categorising a beleaguered minority in that country as moronic towel-heads. Third, we have been told that Charlie is actually anti-racist. When they portray the minister of justice, Christiane Taubira, who is black, as a monkey, or the pregnant sex slaves of Boko Haram as welfare queens, they are not satirising black people, but white people who vilify black people. It’s a fine distinction, no doubt lost on anyone who is not white.
From Corey Robin:
(...) Bernard-Henri Lévy, who, when asked by Jon Lee Anderson why he supported the intervention in Libya, says, “Why? I don’t know! Of course, it was human rights, for a massacre to be prevented, and blah blah blah….” Never underestimate the murder and mayhem men will make, just to escape their boredom.:
Hey Corey, it is impossible to take BHL seriously especially you endure the torture of reading him !
That said, given the fact that I was for the Libyan war, I have to say that I still had the naive expectation that great powers learn from their mistake, understand that détruire n'est pas créer and that nation-building requires a nation to have first existed and the humility to realize that only Romans can build Rome.
Je suis encore un peu romantique mais je me soigne !
Ah enfin Shlomo Sand speaks on the attacks in Paris and as almost always adds much needed perspective to the debate:
Some of the caricatures I saw in Charlie Hebdo – long before the shooting – seemed to me to be in bad taste; only a minority made me laugh. But that’s not the problem. In the majority of the magazine’s cartoons about Islam that came to my attention over the last decade, what I saw was manipulative hatred, mainly designed to appeal to its (obviously, non-Muslim) readers. I thought Charlie’s reproduction of the cartoons from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was deplorable. In 2006 – yes, already back then – I thought that the drawing of Mohammed wearing a bomb as a turban was a pure provocation. It wasn’t so much a caricature attacking Islamists, as a stupid reduction of Islam to terrorism; it’s a bit like identifying Judaism with money!
Some say that Charlie took on all religions indiscriminately, but what does that really mean? Certainly it did mock Christians and sometimes Jews. All the same, neither the Danish paper nor Charlie would go so far – fortunately enough – to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses as a crafty usurer loitering on a street corner in a kippah and tassels. It’s a good thing, indeed, that in what people today call ‘Judaeo-Christian’ civilisation it’s no longer possible to spread anti-Jewish hatred in public, like it was in the distant past. I am for freedom of expression, but at the same time I’m against racist incitement. I’ll admit that I’m happy to go along with the ban on Dieudonné publicly expressing his ‘critique’ and his ‘banter’ about Jews. However, I am absolutely opposed to him being physically assaulted, and if by chance some idiot did attack him, I would be very shocked… but then again, I wouldn’t go as far as waving a placard around bearing the words ‘Je suis Dieudonné’.
This mistake in James D. le Sueur article's on the terrorist attacks,in Paris at the Walrus irks me because it isn't innocent:
French Muslim comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala—who already had established himself as a controversial figure—now faces up to seven years in prison for using Facebook to declare his apparent solidarity with the Kosher-market murderer (“Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”). The arrest seemed hypocritical for a nation seeking to reaffirm its protection of speech—even highly irreverent speech.
Dieudonné isn't Muslin and is as French as Sarkozy. Thus, I wonder why his frenchness is always questioned when both his brand of 'humor' and his antisemitism are very French!
Great stuff from Alexander Stille's must-read on Free speech in France:
Although the French are in no mood for compromise at the moment, they might want to reflect on the fact that America’s Muslim minority, which is free to wear headscarves or not, is far more integrated into American life than France’s. The immediate response in France to the recent massacre has been more forcefully to push its “our way or the highway” form of assimilation, which has, frankly, not been working. This past week, when the French school system enforced a minute of silence for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack (generally under “Je Suis Charlie” signs), incidents were reported at some seventy French schools—mostly ones with large Muslim populations—where students resisted the observance. While many French see this as siding with the terrorists over the victims, this is not necessarily so. The French state was, in fact, forcing those students to pay homage to a publication that had, in their view, mocked their religion. If it is legitimate for Charlie Hebdo to publish offensive cartoons, it must be legitimate to object, peacefully, to its doing so.
Dark times are ahead and yes, I am afraid and not optimistic!
Sentence of the day from Jonathan Turley with whom I hate not to be able to disagree vehemently:
(...) the French government just rallied millions for liberty this weekend and then used the attacks to further deny free speech and privacy rights.
I agree with Teju Cole on this:
Western societies are not, even now, the paradise of skepticism and rationalism that they believe themselves to be. The West is a variegated space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture. But, at moments when Western societies consider themselves under attack, the discourse is quickly dominated by an ahistorical fantasy of long-suffering serenity and fortitude in the face of provocation.
One if my core beliefs is that we are all Westerners now and that the West cannot separate itself from the rest. From that perspective, the attacks in Paris aren't solely about the ills of French society but rather a reminder that il n'y a plus de frontiéres ..
It is no longer possible for any country to behave as if the world doesn't matter. That's said they are all going to try and to act as if our age is still the one of Manifest Destiny.
From the Eternal Jean-Paul Sartre :
A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own – that is, the written word. All the honours he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. If I sign myself “Jean-Paul Sartre” it is not the same thing as if I sign myself “Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner”. The writer who accepts an honour of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution which has honoured him. My sympathies for the Venezuelan revolutionists commit only myself, while if Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel laureate champions the Venezuelan resistance, he also commits the entire Nobel Prize as an institution. The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances, as in the present case.
The battle for Alstom is seen by some as a turning point for the French industry, mighty in its day but much of it struggling now for scale and scope. It is about much more than price. It is about how companies such as Alstom can best take on the challenges of globalisation.
I hope hat it means the death of the stupid idea that was démondialisation!
This is the way it started in Mali, too. (...)The Islamists overran the army, and then younger officers who refused to accept the humiliations staged a coup. (...) [Mali] is a warning sign for Nigeria. "Our military reflects the rotten state of the entire country.
Merci Hollande et Sarkozy!
The words of the weekend are from Matthieu Pigasse:
You know what, I love France. But they speak always about food and that is a sign of a declining country.’ (...) When you have a full stomach, you have an empty mind.
Sugary excerpt of the day from a must-read but incomplete article plagued unfortunately by a lack of nuance and a comprehensive vision on the Central African Republic from Graeme Wood:
The French arrived in what’s now CAR in the late nineteenth century, and their history suggests they wish they had never come at all. They initially tried enslaving the population and turning the country into a cotton producer. But that didn’t work. CAR ended up being the place where the French sent their dumbest colonial officers, and when French colonies gained independence in the early ’60s, Paris wasn’t sorry to see this one go.
Still, perhaps out of colonial nostalgia, the French have continued to interfere in Central African politics. CAR provided a station for French troops during the 1980s and 1990s, and prominent French politicians acquired stakes in gold and diamond interests. (French President Giscard d’Estaing did not visit Emperor Bokassa merely to hunt bongo and sample the imperial charcuterie.)
All of which explains why Paris treats the presence of anti-French elements in Bangui as a stick in the eye. The French are uncomfortable with the rise of Rwanda—a locally grown power whose regional significance has waxed just as theirs has waned. They are keenly aware that Bangui’s Muslims, whom the Rwandans protect, killed two Sangaris and now tag their neighborhoods with “NO TO FRANCE, THE DOGS OF EUROPE” graffiti. And the French have loudly condemned Rwanda’s alleged sponsorship of rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and assassination of political opponents. (Those opponents turn up dead with actuarially improbable frequency: At least one was shot dead in Bangui earlier this year, and Rwandan soldiers are rumored to have been responsible.)
From Paul Krugman:
Piketty’s book is awesomely good, and deserves all the acclaim it’s getting. But it is notable that in a time of deeply depressed labor markets, our biggest thing is long-run inequality.
Oh mon dieu ! :
Is it possible that France is now importing the brand of conservative politics peculiar to Texas? Following their first round of local elections last Sunday, the French, at least at first glance, seem intent on doing so. Though a second round of voting will take place this Sunday, French voters have already spoken. What they had to say echoes what Texas conservatives, in particular the Tea Party stalwarts, have been saying for some time: Less federal government (whether D.C. or Brussels), more traditional values, and please, no more immigrants trying to change things around here.
(...)Even from the modest height of the ersatz Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas, the twinned radicalization of Lone Star and French conservatives unfolds in neat parallel. On a number of issues, the discourses of the Tea Party in Texas and the FN in France have pushed the traditional conservative establishments to the right.
It is hard to be culturally illiterate!
Worrisome sugary excerpt from Nick Turse:
A new type of expeditionary warfare is underway in Africa, but there’s little to suggest that America’s backing of a former colonial power will ultimately yield the long-term successes that years of support for local proxies could not. So far, the U.S. has been willing to let European and African forces do the fighting, but if these interventions drag on and the violence continues to leap from country to country as yet more militant groups morph and multiply, the risk only rises of Washington wading ever deeper into post-colonial wars with an eerily colonial look. “Leveraging and partnering with the French” is the current way to go, according to Washington. Just where it’s going is the real question.
A cocorico for Anna Momigliano:
To some extent, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are two sides of the same coin. (...)What’s more, if placing the blame for the problems of a whole nation on a particular minority is increasingly considered “acceptable,” “mainstream,” and “not a threat to democracy,” then all minorities have reason to be concerned — because this paves the way for all kinds of scapegoating.
What should really worry us as Jews, then, is not just that some French people are scapegoating Muslims for the current economic crisis, but that most French people, or at least half of them, don’t seem to think that’s such a big deal.
Outrageously dumb stuff from James Poulos:
Republicans squeal and squeal about socialism, but in France, where socialists really are in charge, the right is outflanking the left by going populist in a new way. Of course, there are stark differences between Europe and the United States. In the Old World, populism has long appealed to a revolutionary future or a reactionary past. In America, populism is more closely associated with protecting the cultural status quo. But Le Pen largely rejects both these models, vowing to replace the E.U. regime with a newly free and sovereign France.
It's the sort of nationalistic play that Republicans can study to improve their own. Since Abraham Lincoln's reelection campaign in 1864, Republicans have rooted their popular appeal squarely in militant nationalism. Today, however, they should recognize that Le Pen's assault on patronage bureaucracy actually heightens nationalism because the system she opposes mostly emanates from Brussels, not Paris. Meanwhile, lacking a meddlesome, supranational North American Union, Republicans running against crony capitalism run against their very own government.
(...) While Obama and Hollande make nice, Republicans should use their time out of the White House to set aside the drama surrounding their would-be presidential contenders, and pay heed to Le Pen's lessons about a populism that can unite people and win.
I wonder how well Poulos knows French and France; my guess is probably as much as George W Bush knew about Spanish and Mexico!
Funny stuff from Simon Kuper:
The French ruling class lives in small gardenless flats in a cold, snobbish, overpriced city. Cramming the political, business and intellectual elites into the same few neighbourhoods has encouraged harmful groupthink. Paris damages France through its effects both on French policy and happiness. Meanwhile the country’s sunny southern expanses are mostly left to the peasantry. This is madness. If the government moved to Provence, the political elite could live the delightful rustic existence it now gets only in August. Paris could be sold off to African dictators, Chinese party members and London commuters – a trend that’s happening anyway. The city could become a tourist site like nearby Disneyland Paris.
Ah oui ! :
Why, at a moment when French culture and ideas have never felt less influential in the world, are we being told to look to France for the answers to all our ills? Clearly, France, in our collective imagination, has become a nostalgic parody of itself. At the same time the French, all these writers agree, seem to have retained something that we’ve lost: a relatively healthy relationship to food, to our children, and to the opposite sex.
(...)So what lies behind the French woman’s ineffable charm? For a start, because she hasn’t been entirely reconstructed by feminism, she’s playing a more traditional role. Secondly, she’s relatively free of the guilt that seems to emanate like toxic fumes from all areas of Anglo-American life—from parenting, to sexual relationships, to food. And lastly, she has a much more flexible relationship with the truth: none of my French girlfriends have any scruples about lying when it comes to dieting or plastic surgery, even to their closest friends. None of them have had lip jobs, even when they clearly have. Taking the lead from Catherine Deneuve (upheld in several of these books as the archduchess of “growing old gracefully”) the watchword in this matter, as in most matters relating to the mystique of the French woman, is deny, deny, deny.
The sugary excerpt of the day from Alain Finkielkraut who is almost as blind as he is rotten by his self-righteousness:
C'est trop souvent dangereux ou juste inutile d'être trop intelligent et de le savoir !
I am pained to see that the French mode of European civilization is threatened. France is in the process of transforming into a post-national and multicultural society. It seems to me that this enormous transformation does not bring anything good. I am pained to see that the French mode of European civilization is threatened. France is in the process of transforming into a post-national and multicultural society. It seems to me that this enormous transformation does not bring anything good. (...)Today the Muslims in France like to shout in an act of self-assertion: We are just as French as you! It would have never occurred to my parents to say something like that. I would also never say that I am just as French as Charles de Gaulle was.
More from Art Goldhammer on l'exception culturelle:
The cultural exception is one of those French eccentricities that baffle and exasperate even well-disposed foreigners. It is an "identitarian" anxiety that, altogether too explicably, plays well with the normally anti-identitarian Left because it is directed primarily against the great neoliberal Satan, the United States. It is also a convenient alibi for the Socialist government, a sop to be thrown to protectionist critics of its generally liberal approach to trade issues.
I find the principles behind the exception culturelle cute and touching, but also absurd and dangerous. Oh well, shit, as porn, is better and almost palatable and artistic in French.
I agree wholeheartedly with Art Goldhammer on this :
Anyone who watches French TV or goes to the movies is aware that whatever "cultural exception" has existed since World War II has not done much to ward off American influences on French popular culture. Whether one deplores or applauds those influences (and I personally think neither deprecation nor applause is warranted), a trade negotiation is not a good place to stop it. In such a venue, money is what counts, not culture.
Perhaps as a cultural mongrel myself, capable of appreciating both high and low, domestic and foreign, I simply don't evaluate the stakes as the self-appointed defenders of European culture do. I say, let people decide what they like. I may often not approve of other people's choices, but I don't think that taste can be improved by imposing quotas, any more that it can be legislated or enforced by curricular edict. I do know that part of my love of France came from watching some fairly low-brow French films. I would have lost something if my government had tried to "protect" me from them. But American governments have never been much interested in that kind of protection (as opposed to prophylactic censorship of supposed sexual immorality). The mask of antiphilistinism is more commonly worn in Europe, but those who wear it are less concerned with the culture of the masses than they are with the profits to be made from them.
From Denis Lacorne:
The most popular French politician is Barack Obama. Nearly 80 percent of the French would vote for him if they were given the opportunity! The traditional, white, Catholic or secular elites are not really representative of the new French reality: an immigrant society, in which traditional religions are fast disappearing; an ethnically and religiously pluralistic society, which finds more affinities with a black U.S. president than with native, white French presidents. But French society is not as race conscious as its American counterpart. Barack Obama sees himself as an "African American," and this is the category he chose in the 2010 Census form that was submitted to him. For the French, who prohibit the use of racial categories in the census, Obama is simply un métis, a mestizo, a multiracial individual, like many young Frenchmen. He is, in other words, "one of us."
It is sad to realize that Quebeckers take French more seriously than France :
It began, as do many things these days, with a tweet. On February 19th, Massimo Lecas, co-owner of an Italian restaurant, Buonanotte, in Montreal, wrote that he had received a letter from the office warning him that there were too many Italian words (such as "pasta") on his menu. This was a violation of Quebec’s language charter, he was told, and if they were not changed to the French equivalents (pâtes in the case of pasta) he would face a fine. (...)Much to Quebec’s credit, French is alive and well there, even though the province's 7.4m French-speakers (94% of Quebec's population) are barraged with English from the rest of Canada and from the United States. It’s not easy for the government to find the right balance between preserving French and making peace with a world where English is the language of business. What makes the job harder is that the guardians of French also want to keep out foreign words, whereas English tends to appropriate them. Language is of course also a deeply political issue in Quebec, a former French colony conquered by Britain before it became part of Canada. The current Parti Québécois (PQ) government wants to make the province an independent country.Diane de Courcy, the Quebec minister responsible for language, tried at first to shrug off the pasta stories, saying she was satisfied with the work of the inspectors. When the bad publicity persisted, she announced a review of that particular case. The PQ government is currently attempting to toughen language laws, and pastagate was becoming a distraction. But by March 8th it was clear something more was needed. Quebec was the butt of too many jokes. Ms de Courcy announced that Louise Marchand, president and director-general of the language police, was leaving her post effective immediately.
It is an absurd exaggeration to say that French industrial workers spend only three hours a day doing anything productive. Yet it is also the case that the 35-hour working week, combined with an entrenched role for unions within companies and intrusive labour rules, gives little flexibility for bosses. (...) Yet the damage to France’s image may be harder to shake off. At a time when the country has lost competitiveness to Germany, the economy is sliding into recession, taxes are at a record high, and the government has conceded that it will miss its deficit-reduction target for 2013, genuine concerns about the prospects of turning things around are wide-spread. Clara Gaymard, the French head of GE, an American conglomerate which successfully manufactures high-tech industrial stuff in France, put it well in her response to Mr Taylor’s letter. Yes, she said, “France’s image abroad is poor”. But “we are both a wonderful country and a very irritating one.
I agree with Tim Black on this:
Under Cameron’s gaze, the problems in Mali are simply collapsed into a grand narrative in which good people fight bad people, just as Blair, alongside President George W Bush, proceeded to view world affairs through the prism of the ‘war on terror’.
The narcissism of this essentially Blairite approach to foreign policy is as incredible as it is reckless. In each case, they really do think this conflict is about them. Arbitrarily chosen, far-flung trouble spots act as ad hoc stages on which a Western leader can show the people back at home just what a good person he is. For Cameron, it was Libya and now neighbouring African states. For Blair, it was the Former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq.
It was a grisly irony, then, that while Blair spoke of the necessity of intervention in north Africa, of trying to do the right thing, the stage of his most infamous display of doing the right thing – Iraq – appeared once more on the fringes of the world’s news bulletins: a suicide bomber, aided by several others, had attacked a police headquarters in the northern city of Kirkuk. At least 36 people were killed and 105 were injured.
At some point, there has to be the recognition that as Camus would say détruire n'est pas créer and that destroying monsters ( which is more often than not about seeking them desperately) isn't the same as fixing problems that are so complex that they require something more than the use of force.
That said power, faith and money have pierced Blair's eyes and ears, which explains why he isn't just irrelevant, but the epitome of what political success can do to the people who are more ambitious and self-righteous than anything else.
From the great Stephen W. Smith:
The bigger question is not why France decided to intervene but why America has held off. Is it simply imperial overstretch and war-weariness? That seems a little thin, given the hue and cry in Washington about ‘ungoverned spaces’ and ‘terrorist safe havens’. After all, the Sahara is six times as big as Afghanistan and Pakistan combined. And why sink money into the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership – more than $1 billion since 2005 – or foot the bill for Operation Enduring Freedom Trans-Sahara, if at the end of it all al-Qaida is allowed to march on Bamako? Why would Obama order more drone strikes than his predecessor against the leaders of Somalia’s al-Shabaab, a group with relatively weak links to international terrorism, but not lift a finger to stop AQIM from taking over Mali? Unless, of course, in addition to a division of labour with the French, the point is to ‘disaggregate’ the multiple terrorist threats in Africa, tackling each individually rather than addressing any common denominator, and so deny jihadism a chance to coalesce. In this regard, even if the French were drawn into the quicksand in Mali, Nigeria would most likely remain the region’s focal point for the US: with 150 million inhabitants, it is the most populous state as well as the biggest oil producer south of the Sahara, and has an active homegrown salafist-jihadist group, Boko Haram (‘Westernisation Is Sinful’). When I put these thoughts to a US military staffer involved in anti-terrorism in Africa, he replied tersely: ‘What we’re doing in Africa is a sort of Whac-A-Mole’ – a reference to an arcade game in which players force moles back into their burrows by hitting them on the head with a mallet. He went on to quote the sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams: ‘America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.’ Well, not any longer perhaps. But France has done precisely that.
THIS can't end well!
From Daniel Drezner:
Foreign policy pundits are just like the rest of the monkey-brain population -- we like to put things in clear conceptual boxes -- particularly when we lack specific knowledge of the particulars, as is the case with Mali. It will be easy, in the coming days, to put Mali into the "Afghanistan" box (bad) or the "Libya" box (good or bad depending on your partisan affiliation) or what have you. Given that France and the West African countries are willing to shoulder the primary military burden of this engagement, however, it would seem that the U.S. could ramp up some humanitartian assistance for the affected areas.
Ah haven't we seen all of 'THIS' before and has fixing it ever worked?
This from Gregory Mann is worrisome:
Mali differs from Afghanistan in important ways.
Mali is not (yet) a deeply militarized society — although in the months since Tuareg fighters returned from Qadaffi’s Libya that is changing rapidly.
Mali is not (yet) a narco-state. Northern Mali has become a lucrative zone for drug smuggling, which finances al Qaeda franchises worldwide. Yet none of those drugs are produced in Mali, where Afghanistan’s poppy growers have no parallel. Faced with stiffer surveillance and interdiction, smugglers will go elsewhere.
Finally, Mali is not (yet) a failed state. True, it is grievously weakened, and its army is in disarray. But the government continues to function in the territory it holds. Children go to school, civil servants go to work, and people go about their business.
I have the sinking feeling that most people are guessing when it comes to Mali just as they were about Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and that more often than not their guesses are not even educated, but based on hubris and wishful thinking.
From Robert Fox:
Once more we are hearing of the need to combat an international threat from global Islamist extremism. No one dares use the term ‘war against terror' any longer, but the West faces many of the same questions as in the campaigns launched by President George W Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq.
France is in danger of finding that it owns the Mali problem, so weak is the Mali government and its forces. A long and uncertain ground campaign awaits them.
It's always dangerous to own a country one doesn't understand, isn't willing to allow to grow up and to thus make its own decisions.
The sentence of the day from Charlemagne:
However much successive French presidents say that they want to put an end to post-colonial intervention in Africa, with few other takers for the job it usually proves irresistible at some point.
I don't know if it is possible to have a quagmire in a desert, but Mali may offer an example.
The problem is that wars nowadays are won on TV especially when the victims are more than likely going to be people with no media access and to whom most, especially journalists, will have a hard time relating to!
In honor of Thanksgiving, the sugary excerpt of the day from John Fletcher which comes a day after Voltaire's 318 birthday :
Irony is a notoriously two-edged weapon: ambiguity is of the essence. Writers seek to be understood à demi mot, that is, they wish for their overt statement to be grasped, and immediately afterwards, if not simultaneously, for their “true” meaning to force itself upon the reader’s attention. For this to happen, the skill of writers must be such that what they write will neither be too obvious (in which case there would be no irony, merely sarcasm), nor too obscure (for then the point would be lost). But the reader’s intelligence and sensitivity must also engage if the writer’s half-hidden meaning is not to pass altogether unnoticed. In other words, long before it became a commonplace in literary theory that the pursuit of literature necessitates the engagement of writer and reader in an act of cooperation rather than in the passive reception of a monologue, authors were in fact relying heavily on their audience’s ability to go half-way to meet them; if this did not happen, ironical discourse fell on stony ground. How often we say of a person in everyday life that he or she is “deaf to irony,” or that “irony is lost” on her or him. Obtuse people will receive only a writer’s overt meaning, and take it seriously; Voltaire’s belief that “a tyrant can only be spoken to in parables” holds true only if the tyrant in question is open to persuasion and willing to engage in the interpretation of double-entendres. But accomplished ironists usually manage to be sufficiently plain so that all but the most obtuse reader grasps the point they are obliquely making.
I share Baudelaire's poetic contempt for Voltaire, which is expressed magnificently in this super and still relevant maxim:
Je m'ennuie en France, surtout parce que tout le monde y ressemble à Voltaire.
Emerson a oublié Voltaire dans ses Représentants de l'humanité. Il aurait pu faire un joli chapitre intitulé : Voltaire, ou l'anti-poète, le roi des badauds, le prince des superficiels, l'anti-artiste, le prédicateur des concierges, le père Gigogne des rédacteurs du Siècle. (I am bored in France, especially as every one resembles Voltaire. Emerson forgot Voltaire in his "Representative Men." He could have made a fine chapter entitled Voltaire or The Antipoet, the king of boobies, the prince of the shallow, the anti-artist, the preacher of innkeepers, the father who "lived in a shoe" of the editors of the century.)
La phrase du jour is from Gideon Rachman on France's economic thinkers or rather its official thinking of its economic condition:
French official thinking has moved from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. It’s progress – but is it fast enough?
I agree with Rachman, but like America, France is an exceptional country that doesn't have to deal with reality.
Sugary excerpt from the best article I've on Lance Armstrong's fall from grace written by Robert Weintraub:
Weintraub is right. Lance Armstrong became Lance Armstrong because he had beaten cancer. That exploit made people more willing to believe the improbable because he had had already done it once. It is also because he is a cancer survivor that Armstrong is going to make a comeback when he decides to talk. Cancer will always humanize him and make people empathize with him because he once faced death and triumphed.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but even as he was winning the Tours, I think most people suspected he had to, at the very least, be keeping up with the Joneses, PED-wise, and was mostly forgiven, pre facto, because unlike the other riders, Armstrong was lucky to be alive, much less racing. The image of his press conference where he shakily announced his diagnosis served as a public inoculation. (...) Ironically, the fact that Americans either didn’t want to know about the science behind Armstrong’s rise, or didn’t much care, enraged the European writers who took pretty much the same blasé attitude with virtually all other champion riders when it came to doping. It was as if the mere fact that an American—worse, a Texan, like George W. Bush—was winning France’s most cherished sporting title sent the local press into hypocritical hysteria.
The dumbest statement I have read this week so far from Francois Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research via the Washington Post:
This is like Afghanistan 1996. This is like when Bin Laden found a place that was larger than France in which he could organize training camps, in which he could provide stable preparations for organizing far-flung terror attacks.
Comparaison n'est pas raison. Comparing Mali to Afghanistan is as smart and as appropriate as comparing Cap-Vert to Monaco. Wrong similes and metaphors in international politics are always signs of impending doom.
Professor Bainbridge doesn't understand why the French president, François Hollande's, focus on small things such as homework and writes:
The tyranny of the lowest common denominator. The very definition of the Left.
I disagree for what Bainbridge denounces isn't an ill that plagues just the left, but all the political spectrum. Politics, which has become about small things or impossible dreams (hope and change) for two reasons. The first is that the electorate doesn't want to hear the truth and the second is that politicians are convinced that it cannot handle it.
One central problem is that modern economics as taught in French schools and universities has barely changed these viewpoints. The antagonism to free market ideas is illustrated by Theodore Dalrymple in his observation that France's labour-market rigidities are a conscious opposition to the supposed savagery of the Anglo-Saxon neo-liberal model. As he dryly points out, “if sexual hypocrisy is the vice of the Anglo-Saxons, economic hypocrisy is the vice of the French.” (...) As on arriving, as on leaving, Charles de Gaulle airport, always manages to look like something out of a third world country. Chaotic, crowded and bordelique, the baggage-handler strikes, the crowds, the inconsistent and inadequate signage and ad hoc management of check-in counters and queues all seem a symbol of France's economic mismanagement, or perhaps is it simply a gross example of the notorious French indifference to providing efficient and friendly service to members of the public.
Small observation: increasingly I found myself preferring CDG (Charles de Gaulle) airport to JFK, which is just a dump, a sign that New York hasn't yet realized that the world has caught up and that it cannot remain the best worldly city with crappy infrastructures.
Alain Badiou on France, its present and its future or rather lack of one:
Identities here are more frozen. It’s a country in latent crisis, a former planetary great power, with a particular universality, which does not know what to do with its lost greatness. From this point of view, France is at least as much a world being unmade as a world being made. My proposition is that we have to put an end to France. (...)I’ve thought for a long time that France should merge with Germany. I’m very happy, moreover, that other people, such as Michel Serres, now share my opinion. There is no future for France alone. The European combination is teetering, as we’ve seen with Greece, and everyone understands that France and Germany form the hard core of Europe. A merger would make it possible to stand up to the other economic great powers, which neither France nor Germany, nor Europe, is capable of doing today. The French and German economies are already intertwined, so let’s have this hard core realized politically! That could be in the form of a federal state, as is already the case with Germany.
It's good to see that some things never change and that Badiou is still a bold idealist at his best and an unadapted and stubborn ideologue at his worst.
(...) And there’s the argument that the burqa objectifies women. I think the fact that women are often treated as objects for male use and control is a real problem. But let’s also think about porn magazines, the treatment of women in advertising and in the media, where women are treated as consumer objects and are encouraged to package themselves for male use and control in a way that eclipses their individuality. If you go to a high school dance, girls are wearing identical micro-skirts and packaging themselves as objects for a simulated group sex ritual that takes the place of dancing. There are lots of practices in our society that objectify women, unfortunately. To complain about one that happens to be the practice of the minority religion and not to examine yourself and the many ways in which you participate in such practices is terrible, especially when the force of law is brought to bear. In America, fortunately we don’t have bans on the burqa and the headscarf. But the French would ban you from walking down the street in a burqa, while you could wear a micro-skirt and your 4-inch heels and they’d think nothing of that. I think it’s just an ugly inconsistency.
I don't disagree Bruno Bernard with on this :
Sarkozy was extraordinary in the sense that he was fundamentally different from the traditional French political elite, a lawyer of Hungarian descent born and raised in a Parisian suburb. Unlike France's new president, there were no grandes écoles, no political rural roots and no bourgeois family for Sarkozy.
This fundamental difference is why people elected him in 2007 and why they rejected him in 2012. The French liked the unconventional candidate; they never liked the unconventional president. They had been accustomed to distant fatherly figures and instead they got France's first president of the 21st century: pragmatic, proactive, transparent and media savvy.
Bruno Bernard just narrows the picture in order to focus on the trees to assert how beautiful their leaves are to avoid seeing that they disfigure the forest.
I agree with Paul Krugman on this:
Hollande’s victory in France is no more a harbinger of a general leftward shift than Rajoy’s victory in Spain a little while ago heralded a general rightward shift; these are just the “outs” benefiting from the fact that they aren’t in, and the economy stinks.
Sarkozy made it easier for the focus of the election to harsh economic times by behaving unFrenchly.
John Lichfield writes a spot on 'obituary' of Sarkozy presidency :
Mr Sarkozy wanted to break the mould of French politics and French society. He wanted, as Margaret Thatcher did in Britain in the 1980s, to mess with the mind of France: to make the country more outward-looking, more confident and more entrepreneurial.
As recently as February, he invited Chancellor Angela Merkel to be his de facto running mate and argued that France should be more like Germany. He ended up fighting for political survival by aping the navel-gazing, ultra-nationalist language, themes, and tactics of the far-right National Front.
Historians will decide whether the people of France defeated his plans to drag the country into the 21st century; or whether Mr Sarkozy – despite his flag-waving – proved to be a man who did not understand France and could not lead his country through a time of crisis and shifts in global economic power.
I have to say that yesterday was one of those moments, when I felt greatful that France wasn't America and that the French aren't Americans for they don't believe, for long, in fairy tales and in unsophisticated super-heroes who can't transcend their frailties.
Sarkozy est 'mort,' vive François Hollande!
The theme of this campaign is not ‘Should France be run according to left-wing or right-wing principles?’, but rather ‘Is France most threatened by Eastern immigrants or Anglo-Saxon culture? By poor foreigners or the princes of finance? By global jihadists or the “global mafia” (Le Pen’s term for the banking industry)?’. All the candidates share an obsession with the porousness of French borders, a feeling that the Republic is fragile and that it is all the fault of various ‘tribes’ or ‘mafia’. Here, we can glimpse the most significant thread in the campaign: a profound misunderstanding of what is driving the crisis of values in modern France, and a lack of any serious political language with which to address it.
All the candidates look outside of France for the source of the republican crisis. They correctly sense that the values upon which modern France was founded – democracy, equality, liberty, universalism – are held in low esteem today. But they wrongly pin the blame for this fact on either immigrants who refuse to embrace French culture or on a foreign-imported ‘religion of competition’. (...)If the Republic is fragile, it’s because the French elite itself is incapable of upholding the values upon which it was built, not because some Muslims have turned up or because Anglo-Saxon bankers are running riot. It is the inability of French leaders in our relativistic era to assert republican values unapologetically which leads them to launch phoney wars against fantasy external infiltrators instead.
I agree mostly with O'Neill despite the fact that he is simply showing that there is no exception française. France, as most countries undermined by a potent nostalgia for an idealised and glorious past due to their fear that the future will be bleak because they losing control of the world, prefers to look outward for causes to its existential angst to avoid shaking their comfortable reality.
Jeremy Harding describes a scene of Sarkozy's last big meeting before Sunday's vote:
‘You’re 200,000!’ Sarkozy announced triumphantly, before he laid into the opposition’s preference for the red flag over the tricolore, quoted from Lamartine and promised a new kind of entrepreneurial capitalism to replace ‘finance capitalism’, but he’s been saying that for a while.
A spat erupted just in front of me and a woman fought her way to the edge of the crowd in tears, her hands pressed either side of her hijab. ‘I’m French after all,’ she shouted. Someone in the crowd had thrown a racist insult. ‘This is why France will never lift itself up,’ she said, shaking with rage. Moments later a poor white family – too poor for this rally in a slick part of town – were being questioned by the police.
I'm afraid that the divisive identity politics, which focuses on the idea that immigration is a threat to 'French identity' is here to stay. Sarkozy has americanized French politics by shifting its focus from deeds, gravitas and grandeur to being and nothingness,
Adam Gopnik on the French presidential elections and the more than likely future french president François Hollande:
But it’s entirely likely that, after the second round of voting, on May 6th, the next President of France will be François Hollande, the inoffensive, myopic, weight-conscious Socialist candidate, a man so milky-mild that one has to project onto him a secret life to make him seem not just a fully credible politician but a fully credible human being. (And, indeed, Hollande’s love life is more intricate than one might expect: having fathered four children with his lover, the previous Socialist Presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, he left her, or was left by her, for another partner, meaning that his Presidency could include a role for an ex-mistress who is also a would-be queen.)
The strength of Hollande’s candidacy speaks mainly to the weakness of Nicolas Sarkozy’s, and the pervasive sense that his free-market reformist project has failed. After the twelve dead-man’s-float years of the Chirac Presidency, it was hard not to root at least a little for Sarkozy, and, in truth, his economic record, given the circumstances, is far from the worst on the Continent, or off it, for that matter. Yet he quickly came to seem arrogant instead of energetic, and he never quite shook a reputation, earned in the first days of his Presidency, for flashiness and bling. Even his marriage to Carla Bruni, and the child they had together, left the French unmoved. People will forgive a short man with a beautiful wife if he seems sufficiently surprised; Sarkozy seemed merely showy, and his energy, over time, merely antic and self-pleasing.
I have to admit that I like Adam Gopnik a lot, but that I am increasingly irritated by what he writes about France because it is so obvious that he is too much of a romantic to understand and to accept certain realities. One only needs to read what he was writing about Sarkozy about five years ago to get the fact that Gopnik writes about France the same way BHL (Bernard Henri Lévy) writes about America that is with passion, but not much more than superficial analysis.