Saturday, July 26, 2008

Leaving Paris

I'm leaving Paris today and won't have easy computer access, so the blog really will be in hiatus until Aug. 6 or so.

Sarkobama

Barack Obama has come and gone from Paris, not without exposure to the irrepressible palpations of the French president, whose "energy" evidently impressed the American candidate. "What does he eat, what does he take?" Obama asked. Many French also wonder what their Energizer Bunny may be ingesting but take a rather less benign view of the consequences.

It has been reported that various Socialists sought a meeting with Obama but were eventually spurned, even though he agreed to meet with the opposition in Britain. I wouldn't read too much into this. French politics is largely opaque to Americans (my humble efforts notwithstanding), and to have singled out any particular Socialist pretender would have been to wade into a morass without obvious profit. I note that Obama for President HQ visited the French Politics site in the days before he left on his world tour. I would hate to think that my relatively positive view of Manuel Valls might have inspired the wacky idea of a meeting with the mayor of Evry, which Le Monde seems to think Obama's staff seriously contemplated. Would it be too much to suggest that such a meeting might have been comparable to a Sarko-Kucinich powwow during last summer's visit to Wolfeboro? I like Valls, but still, there are protocols to be observed in international relations. I can't believe this idea went very far.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sottisier

So, while washing my underwear this morning at the Lav' Club on the avenue Claude Bernard (vacationing has its obligations, too, just as normal life does), I read the following in Libé:

«Barack Obama suscite énormément d’attentes sur le plan international et aux
Etats-Unis. Est-ce que cette attente est fondée ? Est-ce qu’il y répondra ? Nous
verrons bien», nuance Pierre Lellouche, député (UMP) de Paris. Pour ce bon
connaisseur des Etats-Unis, le Parti démocrate «n’a rien à voir avec une annexe
du Parti socialiste comme certains, à gauche, l’imaginent. C’est un parti
protectionniste et qui n’a pas cherché à éviter les guerres. Kennedy a précipité
son pays dans la guerre du Vietnam».


Ah, yes, Pierre Lellouche, the same bon connaisseur who said, in the wake of l'ouverture sarkozyenne of last summer, that the UMP needed to distribute vaseline to those ambitious men such as himself who had taken it up the wazoo (such delicacy of expression!), here contributes to the already abundantly furnished sottisier français concerning the United States. The Democrats a protectionist party? Mais voyons: Obama would of course like to win the votes of displaced workers in Ohio, but he also values the contributions of internationalist investment bankers, and he got himself in trouble during the primaries when his economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, let slip to a Canadian diplomat that it would be an error to pay too much attention to protectionist talk on the campaign trail. And wasn't it George Bush who raised tariffs on steel and furniture when there were votes to be had in Pennsylvania and North Carolina? Really, M. Lellouche, bon connaisseur que vous êtes, soyons sérieux. As for the Democrats as le parti va-t-en-guerre, well, I declare, I would have thought that such clichés might be set aside on the very day that Obamania comes to Paris, and after eight years of Republican shock and awe.

Of course, M. Lellouche is right about one thing: the Democratic Party is indeed not an "annexe" of the Socialist Party. The Democrats have had their years in the wilderness, but they have never descended into chaos and bedlam quite as irreparable as the inimitable PS, which is thankfully sui generis.

Last night, at La Comédie italienne in Montparnasse, I saw the delightful farce Les Sortilèges de l'amour. M. Lellouche seems to be operating under a similar sort of magic spell, born no doubt of his besotted amour for the American neoconservatives, whose day, we may hope, has passed. May he quickly recover from his infatuation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Breaking News


So there I was, with a well-known professor, having lunch at La Méditerranée opposite the Odéon, when a demonstration suddenly broke out. It was led by the CGC, the union of cadres, with participation by the CGT and CFDT, and mounted in protest of the attack on the 35-hour week, the loss of vacation days by cadres, and other indignities. On the spot news--it seems harder than I thought to take a vacation from the blog. The picture is my own, one of many.

Implementing Reform

Matthieu Bunel takes an interesting look at the problems associated with the implementation of the Aubry Laws (35 hour week) in France and what these reveal about the likelihood of successful reform in general.

The Truth Is One

"La vérité est une ; l'erreur est multiple. Ce n'est pas un hasard si la droite
professe le pluralisme."


So said Simone de Beauvoir, it seems, in a review of the late René Rémond's masterpiece, La droite en France depuis 1815, the thesis of which was that there was not one but three essential strands of right-wing thought in the French political culture and tradition. Remarkably enough, the book, lucid as it was, was rejected by many reviewers, particularly on the left, for daring to rehabilitate the right, discredited by the war, as a source of genuine political insight (as Pascal Perrineau recounts in the perceptive Le Monde piece linked to above). That is a pity, because the book had much to teach the left of the 1950s that might have stood the left of 2008 in better stead to understand itself. It was also remarkably obtuse of Simone de Beauvoir, because even in 1954, the left was anything but one and indivisible, beginning, of course, with the split between the Communist and non-Communist left, which seems to be reproducing itself today with the rise of Besancenot and the decline of the PS. L'erreur est multiple indeed.

It so happens that I had dinner last night at Balzar, that unshakable survival of vieux Paris on the rue des Ecoles. The story is told that in 1948 Sartre and Camus dined together there, and Sartre asked Camus what he would do if the Russians attacked. Without hesitation Camus said he would join the resistance, to which Sartre replied that, as for himself, he could not bring himself to fire on the proletariat. And there began the history of the intellectual Cold War in France.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Strange Things

Strange things are happening in France and in my blog. The revision to the Constitution passed by one vote, and the Socialists are blaming poor Jack Lang, the only Socialist to vote in favor of a text he had a hand in drafting. If he were to be excluded from the party now, as some are threatening, the PS will have reached a nadir in its decline. It didn't exclude him when he accepted the post, presumably because he was too popular and powerful a figure to be summarily purged. He stated clearly that, while the proposed revision was, from his point of view, imperfect, it nevertheless included many measures that Socialists had long wanted, such as removal of the president of the Republic from ex officio membership of the Conseil Supérieur de la Magistrature. He said, rightly, that it would be intellectually inconsistent and dishonest to vote against the measure proposed by the commission on which he sat. It would be a pure act of vengeance to expel him from the party now, however great the disappointment over the loss to Sarkozy. But it was the PS that politicized the revision by insisting on party discipline in a vote that should have been left to the consciences of individual members. The whipped vote made the contest a test of strength with the president rather than a weighing of the good and the bad in the constitutional reform. This was wrong on principle, and it was also tactically stupid to engage in such a test of strength without having accurately counted the votes. So the PS has already two strikes against it; if it expels Lang, it will strike out. For intelligent comment on the content of the reforms, see here.

As for the strange things happening in my blog, I have been hit by a Chinese "comment spammer" who has been depositing hundreds of ads in the comments section. I have therefore turned on "word art" protection against robotic spamming. I hope it works. I've deleted some of this garbage, but I'm on vacation and don't have time to do this systematically, so my apologies if you stumble across any of this word salad.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thirty Years

I came to live in France in January 1977. I arrived by train from Zurich, because the cheapest flight I could find from Boston landed in the Swiss city. Having no idea where I was going to stay, I checked my bag in the consigne of the Gare de l'Est and set out on foot (the expense of a taxi was out of the question) to check out a few of the addresses I'd been given. I remember my exhilaration at the animation of the streets and the aesthetics of the shop windows (many stores still had their Christmas displays). The city was unfamiliar enough to create a sense of mild adventure yet at the same time reassuringly familiar.

A few days ago I arrived again in France. Unlike the train from Zurich, which disgorged its passengers more or less directly onto the city streets, the Boeing from Boston emptied its load first into the maze of Terminal 2E at CDG and then into a bizarre holding pen whose corrals were marked "EU" and "non-EU," species that did not exist 30 years ago. In the non-EU section, Brahmins from Boston were interspersed with two planeloads of Africans, one from Kinshasa and one from Ouagadougou, and a third planeload of Australians from Melbourne. The dress was as variegated as the skin tones. Many of the Africans wore their Sunday best, as though a border crossing were a sacred rite--only the most elderly of the palefaces accorded it similar solemnity. Other Africans wore the costumes of their homeland; still others wore lightweight suits that looked like a cross between Mao jackets and disco dancing outfits from Saturday Night Fever. Many, though, sported the new international uniform of travel, the warm-up suit, embellished by a New York Yankees cap, perhaps, or "official" NBA championship headwear, no doubt manufactured in Malaysia.

Clearly, globalization had come to tourism. The train into town--the RER B--passed between concrete walls decorated with mural art, the ubiquitous expression of the voiceless that now graces even the tubes of the Metro, as if Paris were Harlem. The line passes through towns whose names would once have seemed to me incongruously bucolic--Aulnay-sous-Bois--but that now speak of painful recent history.

And then, spit out from the mouth of Luxembourg station, I was home. There were les Jardins du Luxembourg, there was Le Rostand, there was the Boul' Mich', there was the kiosque with the news on paper rather than on a screen, there were Parisians, there were tourists quizzically consulting their maps, and there was I, exhausted but once again exhilarated to be in my favorite city, changed though it was: le coeur d'une ville change plus vite, hélas, que le coeur d'un mortel.

Not all the changes are agreeable. The FNAC on the rue de Rennes has inevitably ceded a floor of books to flat-screen TVs, and the rayon entitled sciences humaines seems to have been invaded by "alternative" religions, pop-psychology, and the literature of self-help. The displays, which used to reflect the latest intellectual fashions, now seemed filled with re-issues of books I read 30 years ago, while one entire panel in the political science section contained nothing but books about Sarkozy. Yet all was not lost: while ambling along rue Monsieur le Prince I chanced upon a small bookshop that displayed a recent volume of the correspondence of Albert Camus and René Char. There was also a book I'd translated by François Jullien, which led to a conversation with the shopkeeper about him and about Camus (whose writing for Combat I also translated).

Oh, and perhaps I should mention that I saw Bienvenue chez les ch'tis. Alongside me sat two women, evidently ch'ties themselves, who enjoyed every bit of dialect. To my surprise I discovered a film in which regional stereotypes played only a superficial role. It was really a film about men whose lives are ruled by women, about their fears, aspirations, and compensations in the form of friendship and a kind of art (in this case le carillon). I rather liked it in spite of its ostensible subject, which seemed to me rather a pretext, and a silly one at that. But Dany Boon and Kad Merad have a gift for conveying the poignancy in the life of the pauv' con that makes the film something more than a forgettable comic confection.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Blog Hiatus

I will be in France until August 6. The blog will be officially in hiatus until then, although I may occasionally find my way to a keyboard. If any of you are bursting with information that needs to be shared with others, feel free to use the comments section of this post. I look forward to resuming regular posting when I return.

Fils à Papa


The painting is by Sarko's dad, whom Charles Bremner profiles here. Asked what he had passed on to his sons, Pol Sarkozy de Nagy Bocsa said: "Will-power. The sense of work and success. And the taste for beautiful women of course." Although he does not list his taste in painting among his legacies, Sarko the younger has apparently hung this collage by his father in the Élysée. De gustibus non est disputandum ...

There Oughta Be a Law

Ségolène Royal's apartment was burgled, and she charged that Sarkozy was behind it. Now a court has awarded Bernard Tapie a large settlement in a lawsuit, and François Bayrou alleges that Sarko is behind that, too. It's a good thing he's a hyperpresident. Otherwise he wouldn't have enough time to get into so much mischief.

It is a trifle unseemly, though, for presidential candidates to be hurling such accusations themselves. Usually the basses besognes are best left to surrogates. See how it's done in America.

The Universities and Financing

Richard Descoings, the head of Sciences Po, comments on university reform policy on his blog. If the government really wanted to give the universities more autonomy, he says, it shouldn't have sold off EDF shares to raise more money for universities. It should have given the shares to the universities and allowed them to do as they pleased with them: sell them for cash, keep them in their portfolios for income, or trade them for shares in other companies. As long as the government controls the purse strings, there is no real autonomy. Only when universities become masters of their own budgets can they truly chart an independent course.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Girard on the Burqa Affair

Bernard Girard participated in a debate on the burqa affair on France 24. Here is his summary:

Deux des conclusions intéressantes de ce débat :
- tous les pays qui se sont posés la question de leur identité (comme commence de le faire la France mais comme l'ont fait depuis beaucoup plus longtemps les Pays-Bas) ont vu s'aggraver les tensions avec leurs minorités visibles. Parler d'identité n'est pas la meilleure manière de résoudre les problèmes qui se posent dans les banlieues ;
- même si cette affaire n'est que marginale, elle aura un effet négatif sur la qualité des relations entre la communauté musulmane et la communauté nationale (comme le rappelait l'une des participantes : chaque fois que sort une affaire de ce type dans les semaines qui suivent se multiplient les agressions à l'égard des femmes voilées).


Bernard's previous post on the affair is here.

The Vast Wasteland Comes to the Hexagon

It seems that American TV series totally dominated French series with the French viewing audience last year--for the first time in history. American series have of course been popular in the past, but this is the first year that they have so completely dominated the landscape. La douce France has succumbed to "the vast wasteland."

Credit in the Eurozone

Guillermo de la Dehesa reports that credit in the Eurozone has not become dearer and that the rate of lending is slowing only slightly. Is this comparatively better performance of the European credit markets compared with the US only temporary, or does it reflect real differences in American and European lending practices, regulatory environments, and exposure? Dehesa gives only a few preliminary indications of answers to these questions, but it will be important to learn more as US regulators contemplate new banking regulations in the United States. If European bankers did indeed behave more sanely than American bankers, was it--so to speak--because of better upbringing or sterner parents?

Revealing Interview

In a revealing interview with Le Monde, Nicolas Sarkozy manifests a plebiscitary view of democracy that makes the comparison of his presidency with that of a certain prince-president more than idle chit-chat. When asked if proposed constitutional reforms reinforce the powers of parliament, as he claims, or simply those of the majority in parliament, he replies: "It's extraordinary to reason that way. Today's majority will inevitably become tomorrow's opposition." When the interviewer ups the ante and asks whether France isn't turning back to "enlightened despotism" while other countries have a parliamentary regime, Sarkozy answers, "Let me remind you that unlike a despot, I am elected."

Implicit in these brief remarks is a theory of democracy as a war of position between a majority and an opposition. If the majority is strong enough to control both the presidency and the parliament, Sarkozy sees no need for checks and balances. The legitimation of one-party rule comes from the ballot box--"I am elected"--and the remedy can therefore come only from the ballot box at the next election. The idea that it might be wise to create institutional obstacles to slow an impetuous majority, to oblige it from time to time to seek a supermajority or the advice and consent of the minority, does not cross the president's mind. As long as he has the power, his mission, as he sees it, is to run with it as fast as he can.

One of his characteristic rhetorical turns is also abundantly displayed. As is well known, Sarkozy likes to simplify. His favorite device is to turn every issue into a contest between "necessary reform" and plural "conservatisms" (of both the right and the left, meaning anyone who does not agree with him). Thus, when Le Monde refers to pending institutional reforms as "controversial," Sarkozy says, "This reform has been debated, it's not controversial. There is not a single political official, jurist, or journalist today who favors the status quo." As if the only conceivable opposition to the status quo were to support, without modification or nuance, the particular reform that Sarkozy favors at the moment. As though the word reform were synonymous with "my reform." He is so adept at this particular turn, he uses it so often and with such gusto, that it passes almost unnoticed.

"Très joli titre"

The punning title of my previous post has been noted with approval by MediaPart:

Quant à Arthur Goldhammer, analyste américain qui anime le blog French Politics, il estime, sous un fort joli titre («Collomb-et-les-Deux-Eglises») que le maire de Lyon réalise «la synthèse entre deux chapelles du centre-gauche» (Valls et les strausskahniens).

Maybe I can get a job as a headline writer with Charlie Hebdo, now that they've fired Siné for an allegedly anti-Semitic remark concerning Jean Sarkozy and his impending marriage to la fille Darty.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Collomb-et-les-Deux-Eglises

It seems that Gérard Collomb, the mayor of Lyon, may be in the process of uniting two distinct chapels* of the Center-Left Church: the Valls and Strauss-Kahnian courants. After Manuel Valls, Pierre Moscovici has now met with Collomb and approved a vague common line. So the PS contest may be in the process of simplifying itself a bit: the big-city mayors and their friends (Aubry-Delanoë of Lille and Paris vs. Collomb-Valls-Moscovici of Lyon, Evry, and DSKburg) vs. la présidente of Poitou-Charente.

*Whence the groan-worthy pun in the title of this post.

France

I leave for France on Thursday, just as the euro hits a record high of over $1.60. Great timing. I will blog tomorrow and Thursday, but then expect a hiatus. I don't expect to be spending much time at the keyboard while in France. But the blog should benefit from this opportunity to me ressourcer. I should be back on August 6, poorer but wiser.

No PR

Contrary to an earlier report, Nicolas Sarkozy says he has no intention of introducing a measure of proportional representation in upcoming regional elections. This may damp down speculation that he was seeking to encourage the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in order to divide the Left.

Institutional Reform

It appears that the vote on institutional reform is going to be very close. Jack Lang, mustering all the unctuous skills of the vain courtier he has become, puts his finger on the reason why. After lavishing flattery--"Aussi me suis-je réjoui de votre décision annoncée voici un an d'ouvrir le chantier de leur rénovation"--on the head of state, he implores and beseeches Nicolas Le Bien-Aimé to make the magnanimous gesture that will save the State and forestall, if not a revolution, then at least a few petites phrases at the next Socialist Congress:

Puis-je ajouter une ultime remarque : vous présidez une République dont l'une des deux Assemblées, le Sénat, n'est pas représentative de la diversité politique française. En raison d'un mode de scrutin digne de l'Ancien Régime, l'alternance y est en effet interdite. Puissiez-vous au cours des prochaines heures entrouvrir une porte à une évolution future de l'élection des sénateurs.


Puissiez-vous indeed. The Socialists are right to hold out for this concession, but they won't get it, because to grant it would be to accomplish not mere institutional reform but a real redistribution of power.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Legal Metaphysics of the Burqa

Philippe Bilger is an intelligent man, an elegant if often euphuistic writer, and, as an avocat général près de la Cour d'appel de Paris, a man well-versed in French law. His analysis of the Conseil d'État's decision to deny citizenship to a French salafiste is therefore all the more astonishing for its frank embrace of metaphysics and what I can only call male phantasms. I quote the concluding passage in full:

Ce n'est pas seulement par rapport à une conception occidentale de la femme qu'une épouse ainsi murée crée un infini dommage. C'est par rapport à l'humain tout court. Il convient d'affronter clairement que l'humanité véritable, quelle que soit l'infinie diversité de ce qui la compose, se définit d'abord par ce qu'on pourrait nommer l'offrande d'un visage à son prochain. Haineux ou amical, il vient, dans sa nudité et sa pureté, porter l'emblème de ce qu'il y a là un homme ou une femme, un homme et une femme et que le lien le plus éclatant entre les sexes est précisément cette existence à visage découvert, au sens propre.


Il y a donc plus qu'une intolérable soumission dont au demeurant Faiza M. serait victime. Il y a cette donnée qu'un tel couple imposant à la vue de tous une femme ainsi dissimulée transgresse ce qui constitue le fondement d'une société civilisée : que la liberté n'a pas de sens si elle enterre physiquement l'un, de son vivant, quand l'autre bénéficie de la lumière. J'ajoute que la preuve la plus significative de ce que j'avance résulte du malaise qu'autrui éprouve devant une telle dénaturation de l'humain. Qui n'a ressenti, non seulement de l'étrangeté mais de la répulsion devant une négation aussi construite et consentie de la transparence du visage, devant la prison que le corps s'était constitué lui-même au milieu de la liberté, belle ou laide, de tous les autres ? Puis-je dire que plus d'une fois, rêvant de remplacer la nuit par le jour, j'ai eu envie d'arracher et de montrer ?


C'est un cas d'école que cette burqa. Rien ne mérite plus d'être expliqué et justifié que ce qui nous semble aller de soi. Il faut s'acharner à montrer que le particulier des croyances ne nous importe que dans la mesure où l'universel est trahi, où il dénature l'universel. Le Conseil d'Etat a rendu l'arrêt qui convenait.


Au fond, contre toutes les burqas du monde, d'abord la beauté et l'humanité de visages nus.


Denaturation, strangeness, repulsion, betrayal of the universal. I find this flabbergasting in its excess.

Arbitrariness and Assimilation

Now that the Conseil d'État has declared that assimilation to French values requires a certain moderation in religious practice as well as acceptance of the principle of equality of the sexes, prefects are free, under a recently instituted policy revision, to deny applications for citizenship on their own arbitrary appreciation of the candidate's "degree of assimilation." This judgment is based on entretiens d'assimilation at the prefectoral level. Immigration expert Patrick Weil is critical of the resulting arbitrariness of the decision. The principle of equality is thus on the one hand extolled, on the other hand ignored in the actual practice of judging whether candidates meet the expected criteria.

The Union for the Mediterranean

Born l'Union méditerranéenne, rebaptized l'Union pour la Méditerranée (UPM--not to be confused with UMP :)), das Ding an sich has now at last been summoned into existence with Parisian forceps and force of will. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? An indifferent thing? Only time will tell. It would be easy enough to dismiss it as the product of a fantasy of Henri Guaino, but one might have said the same thing about the European fantasy of Jean Monnet and a few others. Yet there is something compelling in the vision, as there was in the vision of Europe, if only it can be made to work (and does Europe work? the jury is perhaps still out--as Zhou Enlai said of the French Revolution, "it is too soon to know how it turned out").

In any case, Eric Le Boucher reminds us of some pertinent facts: the global economy is organizing itself in "orange slices": there is an Asian axis, a North-South-Central American axis, and a Europe-Africa-Asia Minor axis. This is not at all the clash of civilizations, the supposedly ineluctable consequence of culture, religion, and mentality, but rather the usual systole and diastole of economic growth, with a metropole and hinterland, vast demographic and geographic and wage disparities, and therefore marked differences in the relative prices of land and labor.

Both within and between these slices of the globe there are predictable and regular flows of goods, resources, people, and ideas. Europe's "South" has a population of 265 million, 1/3 of which is below the age of 15, and this population is expected to grow by a quarter over the next 25 years. The only effective way to control the northward migration of people is to encourage development in the South, to invest and to educate. If the UPM can facilitate this, it will have served a purpose long after the photographs of Syrians and Lebanese sitting down together at the same table have been forgotten (but Sarkozy deserves credit for having achieved at least this).

The UPM may not yet have a grand project, but it is at least a set of initials, un sigle that may serve to keep an image of the South vivid in the mind of the North as something other than a Quai Branly full of masks or an unstanchable source of refugees dying of thirst as they land, extenuated, on Europe's southern shores.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Salafism vs. Statism

Nicolas Sarkozy said: "The schoolteacher will never be able to replace the pastor or priest, because he will always lack the radical readiness to sacrifice his life and the charisma of a commitment driven by hope." Religion, the president has argued, is the real bedrock of civilization and a source of morality more profound than any secular ethos, including the laïcité of the Republic.

Yet it seems that, according to the Conseil d'État, there are limits to the degree to which "the charisma of a commitment driven by hope" can be tolerated by the Republic. A woman of Moroccan nationality, otherwise entitled to French citizenship by virtue of her marriage to a man of French nationality, has had her application for citizenship denied on the grounds that "she has ... adopted a radical practice of her religion, incompatible with the values of the French community, and, in particular, with the principle of equality between the sexes." I make a point of citing the words of the Council's opinion, because the press has misleadingly indicated that she was denied citizenship because she wears the burqa. Her dress is in this instance merely the outward symbol of her choice of religious practice, salafism, and of a relation to her husband allegedly inherent in such a choice. It is the alleged incompatibility of republican values with certain aspects of private religious belief and private marital relations that motivated the Council's decision, which has been approved by any number of commentators, from Le Monde to Valérie Pécresse to the excellent legal blogger Maître Eolas, from whom I draw the particulars of the judgment.

Once again I am obliged to measure the distance that separates the sensibility of an American "liberal" from that of a French "republican." I confess that I find this decision profoundly disturbing. The choices and commitments this woman has made are not mine, but there is no evidence that they are anything but voluntary. If she is "submissive" to her husband, she has chosen to be so of her own free will. Carla Bruni was just granted French nationality despite her admission, in an interview with Libération, that she no longer felt free to express herself on a variety of political issues because of her relationship to her husband. The question of whether her choice was compatible with republican values did not arise in granting her citizenship. Women in France did not enjoy the right to vote until 1948, and historically it is a matter of record that their exclusion was justified as a defense of republican values (women were said to be subservient to their antirepublican confessors) rather than denounced as incompatible with them. Even the ban on visible religious insignia in public places was limited to the regulation of public behavior. This most recent decision brings the state into the private sanctum of relations between husbands and wives and presumes to judge whether deference in a private relationship poses a threat to the state.

I find all this deeply troubling and profoundly illiberal. The fact that it attacks a profoundly illiberal religious practice, salafism, is in my view irrelevant. If the ambient cultural forces of modernity, secularism, and republicanism are insufficient to dissolve the bonds of tradition that hold this couple in thrall, so be it. There is a struggle to be waged here, but it is a struggle over private conscience, which cannot be dictated by the state, and a state that forgets this is in danger of forgetting that while states may be guarantors of liberty, they may also be its annihilators.

Le bal des pompiers


Does anyone know why le bal des pompiers became the locus classicus for celebrating le 14 juillet?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Le 14 juillet

A young reader of the blog, Daniel Nichanian, has written to call my attention to an article he wrote tracing the place of Bastille Day in the national memory for the Web site of The Atlantic.

Many of us older heads will of course remember the mother of all Bastille Days, the extravagant celebration of the bicentennial of the Revolution in 1989. For this François Mitterrand pulled out all the stops, enlisting historian Jean-Noël Jeanneney to toss out the bread and pitchman Jean-Paul Goude to lay on the circuses. The irony, of course, was that 1989 marked the triumph of revolutionary revisionism in the world of French historiography. It was François Furet who, along with Mona Ozouf as co-editor and dozens of contributors, deconstructed the event in the monumental Dictionnaire critique de la Révolution française (which was published that year and which I translated into English). "La Révolution est terminée," as Furet famously wrote (in yet another work on the ideological afterlife of the revolutionary phenomenon). In the streets of Paris, somber revisionism met exuberant kitsch, though the revelers at les bals populaires surely had no inkling that the ground was shifting beneath their feet as they danced la carmagnole.

Jeanneney nevertheless managed to salvage something of the revolutionary spirit by organizing the commemoration of Abbé Grégoire as French abolitionist, thereby building a bridge between the Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen and the modern "human rights" movement (not quite the same thing as les droits de l'homme: see Samuel Moyn's recent work on this crucial distinction). Since 1989 was also the year in which the Iron Curtain came down, in some measure owing to the human rights movement and its embodiment in the Helsinki Accords, Jeanneney's move turned out to be an inspired one. To overstate the case somewhat: it saved the Revolution for the 21st century.

The NPA

Jean-Christophe Cambadélis and Noël Mamère explain why they're skeptical about Olivier Besancenot's Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste. Those who long for the sectarian infighting of the good old days will feast on these essays.

Act II

"There are no second acts in American lives," Scott Fitzgerald said. Will there be a second act in Sarkozy's presidency?

The first act ended some time ago. That much seems certain, even if there is disagreement as to exactly when the curtain fell. Was it when his approval rating began to plummet? When Cécilia left him? When he took Carla to Disneyland? When he said "Casse-toi, pauvr'con?" Or when he complained that the coffers were empty?

Who can say? At first he had surprised many people with his sureness of touch. His initial appointments seemed to suggest a man who had contemplated the need to reinvent himself as president, to strive for greater breadth, to reach out to old enemies, to placate and conciliate and compromise while at the same time advancing steadily toward long-meditated goals. But then he lost his grip.

He had come into office with a vision of reform that was not without a certain coherence. Perhaps it ceded too much to the conventional wisdom of certain economists, to OECD orthodoxy, that what ailed the economy was mainly labor-market rigidity and tax fatigue. Perhaps he had taken too much to heart the charts showing that French hours worked per capita stood near the bottom of the European range. Perhaps this econometric fact resonated a little too neatly with UMP ideology, that the 35-hour week and the special retirement regimes were to blame for all of France's woes. And maybe the exhilaration of remedying these supposed ills while finessing the expected opposition distracted attention from the fact that in the meantime the global economic situation had changed dramatically, that the bottom had fallen out of the US economy, that oil prices were beginning a sharp and probably irreversible increase, and that the euro was continuing its inexorable rise against the dollar. These developments--and the expectation of worse to come--might have been expected to elicit new thoughts or a course correction or a policy adjustment on the part of the French president. But nothing happened. He seemed distracted. In love perhaps. Intoxicated with his new power.

And though he did everything he said he would do, as promised--"je dis ce que ferai et je ferai ce que je dis"--his popularity plummeted. He got everything he wanted, but respect eluded him. This made him petulant. He lashed out. He got even. He seemed petty. The old instincts returned. He had always escaped trouble in the past by reinventing his image. Now he would make himself over again. Sobriety would replace energy. He may have married a woman renowned for her légèreté, but she became the instrument of his new sobriety. She curtsied to the queen and calmed the energumen. Yet no one seemed to notice.

He sought refuge in statesmanship: Europe was to have been his second act! But even before he took the stage, there was a mishap in the wings: the Irish voted no. And then in his first foray before the European public, he found himself forced to endure a tongue-lashing by Cohn-Bendit, the ghost of the May '68 he thought he had slain and whose gift for catching the eye of the media he thought he had usurped. So the second act began with humiliation.

Yasmina Reza, the playwright to whom he had played musky male muse, had long ago lost interest in him. She had written a book about him, a book that shared the illusion that Sarkozy harbored about himself: that he had staked his all on his election, that the fascination of the political life lay entirely in its existential risk, on the great gamble that everything one did should be directed toward one end and one end only, to win the supreme magistracy--as if the winning were the end of it, and the wielding of power did not count. The whole first act had been built not on the logic of the world but on the logic of an election: What did he have to do, what did he have to say, what lessons did he have to absorb, in order to win?

Beyond winning none of it really interested him. Really, at bottom, he cared no more about economics than Mitterrand did, but he knew enough and was clever enough to know that others--the serious people, the people with money and power--expected him to pretend to have mastered enough to parrot back what they wanted him to say. But now, anxious that their conventional wisdom is not adequate to the growing peril of the hour, they turn to their creature as if he might have an answer of his own, and all that he can offer them is precisely ... nothing. He does not know what to do next. He is reduced to hoping that something will turn up.

And the French feel, yet again, that they are adrift, as in the final years of Chiraquie. But Chirac was old and worn out, as Jospin said. It was almost to be expected that he would be out of ideas, running on empty, serving out his time. Sarkozy was to have been the new. His accession was to have marked the "passing of the torch," as Kennedy said, to a new generation. That is why so many people turned out to vote. But all the careful staging of this national as well as personal redemption--the jogging, the sweat, the New England summer,, the chest-poking of union stewards in railway yards, the personalization of the presidency--came to naught.

And with frustration have come nastiness and arbitrariness. If he could not be Jack Kennedy, he would become Margaret Thatcher. He gloated that under him the unions had become invisible (but Thatcher had waited longer before crushing the unions, and when she crushed them, she hurled bolts that were real, not rhetorical). He moved against state television. He prosecuted a hapless citizen whose T-shirt had mocked him. He denounced institutions that displeased him: the army, the courts, the media. Yet none of this vituperation seems to have reversed his slide. None of it seems to be making him wildly popular or prompting a cult of idolators. He has denounced the state theater for serving up stale classics that leave him bored to tears, yet his own second act seems thus far to be that stalest of French presidential classics, la fuite en avant into the vapid marches of foreign policy. And so Sarko will celebrate his second Bastille Day with such sultans of the Mediterranean as he has been able to entice to the City of Light while he waits to be upstaged by Obama later this month. Perhaps the Apostle of Change will inspire in him a new thought before it is too late: the thought that perhaps, having won the presidency after a life spent preparing to do just that, he had better do something with it before it turns back into a pumpkin.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Adieu, PPDA

Patrick Poivre d'Arvor just signed off for the last time. He went out with class, citing Shakespeare. I wasn't sorry to see him go, but whenever a monument falls, it marks yet another step on our way to dusty death. For 20 years PPDA's career embraced all our yesterdays. His demise will not, however, mark the last syllable of recorded time. Harry Roselmack replaces him starting tomorrow. Then, at summer's end, Laurence Ferrari will brighten the screen. Diversity comes to TF1.

Boulognegate?

Ségolène Royal's apartment in Boulogne was burglarized--"sacked," she says--for a third time. She sees a French version of CREEP (the Committee to Re-Elect the President, responsible for Watergate in the US way back in the 70s) at work. Her accusation, made on national television, has triggered a furor.

The police investigating the affair report that the door to her apartment was not locked, the alarm system, though operational, was not engaged, and the computer was not touched.

If my apartment had been burglarized twice, I think I'd lock the door.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chinese Threat

No sooner had Nicolas Sarkozy announced his intention to go to China for the opening of the Olympics as the representative of both France and the EU, thus withdrawing the threat of a boycott in protest of the crackdown in Tibet, than China announced a threat of its own: there will be "grave consequences" if Sarkozy meets with the Dalai Lama when the latter visits Paris in August. Cohn-Bendit is scandalized by Sarkozy's decision. So is Robert Menard. Pierre Moscovici is flabbergasted by China's threat, which does leave Sarkozy in rather an awkward position.

Top of the Pops

I don't really want to lend myself to the Bruni publicity machine, but, well, it's just so bizarre to have a pop album promoted by the Élysée, and why not? when its occupant is described thus in lyrical paean:

faut qu'tu saisisses, faut qu'tu comprennes
tu es mon seigneur, t'es mon chéri,
t'es mon orgie,
tu es mon carême
tu es ma folie mon amalgame
tu es mon pain béni,
mon prince qui charme
je suis ta tienne,
je suis ta tienne,
je suis ta tienne,


No comment.

But here's a wicked thought: maybe the song on the album that best describes the presidential couple is not Ma Came or Ta Tienne but Il Vecchio e il Bambino.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Responding to Comments

A previous post concerning the government's report of a 40 percent increase in overtime hours in the first quarter of this year over the same period last year elicited the following two comments:

"... Whether or not this increase can be imputed to the detaxation of overtime is a question that will have to be sorted out by econometricians... "

At a time when the economy is anemic,
can you think of another cause for it ?...

and

Indeed, the question in itself is almost funny. Of course the detaxation has effects.


To which I respond, Gentlemen, you are too easily satisfied. The problem with the government's good news is that it is too good. The economy has indeed been "anemic," with growth in aggregate demand around 2 percent, if that, so what could account for a 40 percent jump in overtime? The theory of the detaxation was that growth was inhibited by supply-side restrictions in the labor market. It was too expensive for an employer to offer additional hours of labor to meet increased demand, so the solution was to reduce the expense. But there has been no increased output. So if more overtime hours have been added, it is plausible to think that firms have decided to meet existing demand with fewer workers working longer hours, which is now an economically viable alternative. Indeed, this was one of the predicted possible consequences of the detaxation proposal. The contention is not about whether "detaxation has effects." The question is whether those effects are benign or perverse (that is, is overtime being substituted for additional employment). So I reiterate: the proof has yet to be given. The sheer number, 40 percent, even if accurate, doesn't tell us what we want to know, and the claim that it does is sheer ideology, because, after all, the actual goal of detaxation is not to increase overtime hours but to increase output.

Of course it is perfectly possible that the workers earning overtime wages will increase demand in subsequent quarters by spending their earnings. But that is a separate issue from the question of whether supply-side rigidities were responsible for a suboptimal allocation of resources given current demand.

Lassitude

Irony seems to be gnawing at the edges of the Betancourt aureole within days of her deliverance (see, for one of countless examples, here). I can't help but compare the French hoopla with the low-key reception of the American hostages. It's not that we don't know how to perpetrate such media extravaganzas in the United States: think of the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch. Indeed, I think we pioneered the genre. Is it simply that, in this case, the only "white woman in the hands of bloodthirsty savages" was not American? No, it was clearly more than that. The Betancourt phenomenon has exceeded even the Aubenas phenomenon, perhaps because Aubenas, once freed, insisted on returning to la vie ordinaire, while Betancourt, even before her capture, led a life that was not quite ordinary and, since her capture, has seemed to revel in her quasi-apotheosis. She had been iconized during her captivity, so that it seemed only natural that she should present herself as a living icon now that she is free. Yet there is an inherent contradiction between the status of icon, as the focal image of an enduring cult, and the status of media idol, which endures only until the next idol comes along (Warhol's "fifteen minutes of fame"). Betancourt survived her captivity, but will she survive her inevitable twilight of the idol? Doubt is permissible.

Nettled

The sharp criticism of the defense white paper by a group of military officers who signed themselves "Surcouf" appears to have nettled the Élysée. An investigation has been launched to ferret out the identity of the dissenting officers. Personal computers have been searched.

The investigation, which is being pursued by defense minister Hervé Morin but resisted by army chief of staff Georgelin, has been justified in the name of the devoir de réserve incumbent upon military officers and civil servants. One doesn't want a politicized and insubordinate military, of course, but one doesn't want an abject groveling military either. The "Surcouf critique" seemed to me a reasonable exercise of the right to dissent concerning matters upon which the writers claimed professional expertise (though of course it is difficult to judge the expertise of writers who must remain anonymous). In any case, the response strikes me as excessive.

Obamania Comes to Paris

Barack Obama will be in Paris on July 25 and will meet Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée. (In an unrelated development, I, too, will be in Paris on July 25, but I don't expect to meet with either Obama or Sarkozy. The blog will very likely be in hiatus from July 18 to August 6, however. Paradoxical as it may seem, I will be spending my time in France listening rather than opining, unless the itch to find a keyboard becomes overwhelming.)

Monday, July 7, 2008

EU Accepts French Immigration Proposal

The EU has acceded, with some important modifications, to France's proposal on immigration reform. The modifications involved a ban on mass regularizations, such as that carried out by Spain in 2005, and a rejection of the French insistence on "integration contracts" that would have required immigrants to promise to learn the host country's language and take other steps toward assimilation. The amendment allows countries to adopt whatever assimilation policies they wish.

But the significance of the agreement has less to do with the specific provisions than with the existence of any agreement at all. The news is that Europe has adopted a common approach to immigration, which concedes that immigration cannot be unlimited. To be sure, none of the practical proposals for setting limits is likely to work, so the agreement belongs more in the category of pious wish than of policy. Will any more concrete policies follow from this agreement in principle? Probably, but I would be surprised if they are very far-reaching.

Why Did He Say That?

"Now, when there is a strike, nobody notices." Why did he say that? It was an unnecessary provocation, and the unions have been duly provoked. It was not the sort of thing he said back when he was still popular, still riding the crest of the post-electoral wave, and still claiming that he aspired to be "the president of all the French." Certainly it's not the minimum service law that tamed labor, so he can't claim that as his government's great achievement. Certainly it's not the relatively painless reform of the special retirement regimes. The strikes were noticed, but they didn't last long, because everyone agreed, whether publicly or not, that some reform was necessary. But now, just as negotiations with the unions are really getting sticky, with even the generally amenable CFDT expressing serious problems with the attack on the 35-hour week, Sarkozy decides to come on like gangbusters--or, rather, union busters. "Nobody notices." This claim to have emasculated the unions is the sort of stupid remark that the president may yet regret--and I use the word "stupid" advisedly, because the stupidity is similar to that remarked upon by Patrick de Carolis in regard to Sarkozy's comments on public vs. private television. Both remarks were stupid because they were assertions contrary to plain and ascertainable fact.

So why does he say these things? Is he in the process of taking leave of reality, as George Bush has done? Has he convinced himself that it is enough to say that things have changed for people to believe that "Sarkozy's reforms have succeeded"?

ADDENDUM: On the other hand, perhaps he was simply feeling flush, given the currently favorable rapport des forces.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Trichet Plays Defense

Jean-Claude Trichet did not let Sarkozy's latest swipe at the European Central Bank go unanswered. His defense demonstrates that he is not above playing the politician un peu démago when necessary to respond to an adversary. Sarko, who prefers sports metaphors to Taylor's rule, likes to say that he's prepared to compete but only if the game isn't rigged. The United States, he insists, is guilty of "le dumping monétaire," an unnecessarily franglais way of pointing out that the Fed has chosen to reduce interest rates in response to the credit crunch rather than respond to the uptick in inflation. Trichet's response is twofold: political and economic. He notes that the ECB's single mandate--to ensure price stability--was the choice of "the European democracies" and that Eurobarometer polling shows that price stability is the number one issue in the minds of European voters. He also notes that 15.7 million jobs have been created in Europe since the adoption of the euro, and that Europe's performance in this respect is slightly better than that of the US. This economic justification is worth what it is worth, and it would be a bold economist indeed who dared to assert what Trichet strongly implies, that it was ECB vigilance alone that deserves credit for this job growth. But since he's fighting on Sarko's terrain--the media--rather than giving a seminar, one has to concede that he gave as good as he got. Nevertheless, this quarrel is more than a little tired, and the fundamentals of the situation will probably force both men soon to alter their rhetoric. The demand that is driving commodity inflation currently isn't coming from Europe, so braking the European economy further isn't going to do much to slow it.

But there is always the risk of a price-wage spiral, and the opinions of economists diverge as to the likelihood and iminence of this threat.

Sarkozy the Un-American

Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe reports that Nicolas Sarkozy used harsh words in a heated dispute with George Bush over environmental policy at the G8 summit last year. The press at the time was reporting on the newly amicable relationship between the US and France and affixing the sobriquet "Sarkozy the American" to the recently elected French president. Rien que de l'esbroufe.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fragility and Inevitability

On Le Monde Diplo, Chris Bickerton tries to understand why the EU is a strange mixture of fragility and inevitability. In so doing he offers some interesting reflections on the tension between rule by experts--what theorist David Estlund calls "epistocracy"--and the democratic ethos.

Island Blogging


I'm on an island (see picture) off the coast of Rhode Island, a tranquil place, but the Internet allows one's tranquility to be disturbed anywhere in the world. So it is that I read on Rue89 the report of a strange "French Pride" gathering of assorted reactionaries and extreme rightists in a Paris bar that features a mural of "Gallic warriors" inflicting mayhem on various despised personalities from Bernard Kouchner to Jamel Debbouze. The gathering was held at the invitation of a Web site cleverly named "fdesouche.com" (for its eponymous proprietor François de Souche--get it?), which, having been booted by its French host for its extreme views, is now hosted in the United States. The site features links to the "prophecies" of Enoch Powell as well as to didactic material on "lefts" and "Islamo-Christian 'dialogue'" (scare quotes in the original). The guest of honor was none other than Marine Le Pen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Overtime Hours Up 40 Percent

Overtime was up 40 percent in the first quarter of 2008 compared with the same period a year ago. Whether or not this increase can be imputed to the detaxation of overtime is a question that will have to be sorted out by econometricians, but the news is certainly good for the government, which is trumpeting it as such.

Miliband Backs Sarkozy

Judah Grunstein calls attention to UK foreign minister David Miliband's announcement of support for Sarko's common EU defense policy. Does it have anything to do with the award of the contract to dismantle the asbestos-laden carrier Clemenceau to a British firm? Grunstein merely notes the coincidence.

In any case, "Mr Miliband said it would avoid the danger of Europe waiting 'impotently' until America and Nato were ready to intervene in trouble-spots." Another convenient coincidence. Indeed, with Gordon Brown sinking rapidly--"he is toast," a recent visitor to England with close Labour Party ties reported to me--Miliband is a top contender for the leadership, but owing to his past association with the Blairites he needs to shed the "Bush's poodle" identification. What better way than to hype EU defense as a means to independence from America, even if it means throwing in one's lot with the man whom some regard (wrongly in my view) as the new hyperpower lapdog? Miliband and Sarkozy can serve each other's interests--and mutual interests are of course the best bond in any alliance. Here we have the basis of a new Entente Cordiale.

To See Ourselves as Others See Us

Hat tip to Boz for calling my attention to Der Spiegel's take on the Betancourt release:

There's a second loser in this drama: Nicolas Sarkozy. The French appeared to have been just as surprised as Chavez to hear about Betancourt's release on Wednesday. Paris had only just managed to establish fresh contact with the new FARC leader Alfonso Cano. Sarkozy had hoped that the French could score a coup by negotiating Betancourt's release and flying her directly to Paris. Colombian government officials had spoken reproachingly about what they often deemed to be politically motivated attempts at intervention on the part of the French.


At Marianne, no surprise, Nicolas Domenach is not inclined to cut Sarko any slack:

Nicolas Sarkozy croit à la contagion du bonheur pour faire face aux mauvaises ondes et à la tyrannie du malheur. Le moral se vitamine d'un rien. Les Dieux se retournent d'un souffle. A condition de savoir prendre le vent, d'être capable de démultiplier la force et l'impact du positif dans les têtes comme dans les cœurs. Et ça, le «médiacteur» Sarkozy, sait faire - mieux que personne. Il a donné, feuilletonné, une nouvelle preuve de son talent, dans une mise en scène faite non pas d'hystérie auto-promotionnelle cette fois, mais toute d'émotion, d'amour, de joie, de larmes retenues. Pas de triomphalisme, surtout pas, même si certains conseillers y poussaient. Genre, Vive Sarko le libérateur des infirmières bulgares à Ingrid Betancourt. Gloire à notre Zorro national. C'était risqué et pouvait passer pour obscène. Il valait mieux jouer le familial fusionnel. C'était à la télé hier soir…


But the harshest comment of all comes from Marc Cohen at Causeur:

L’abominable calvaire qu’a vécu Ingrid Betancourt lui a été imposé par son statut de micro-vedette des médias, pas par ses idéaux. Certes il est possible que son exfiltration ait un impact sur les affaires intérieures colombiennes (mais, en vrai, qu’est-ce qu’on s’en fiche ?) ; en revanche, il est certain qu’à l’échelle planétaire, cet heureux dénouement c’est peanuts. Pardonnez-moi de gâcher la fête, mais cette libération-là n’est pas celle de Sakharov ou de Mandela. Il est vrai que, dans ces deux cas, TF1 n’avait pas jugé impératif d’interrompre ses programmes.


Me? I'm glad she's out. I'm equally glad that her suffering will no longer be exploited.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The EU Crisis

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber reflects pertinently on the divergence between European elites and people. The elites, maintaining the attitude that has led to the present impasse, want to believe that if repeated rejections of the Lisbon Treaty indicate the existence of a problem, it is a problem best left to them to fix. There is important business to be done, they say, so let's get on with it somehow or other. Yes, the disgruntled voters need to be dealt with, but this is a problem that can be fixed.

"Ordinary voters" are of another mind altogether. (In Austinian language, they seem to believe that a vote is a performative and not merely a constative utterance: the expression of the will of the people is supposed to change the state of the world, not merely provide a datum for leaders to take into account in their calculations.) Henry points to a Ouest France article that reports a sharp decline in French support for the EU (down from 61 to 30 pct since 2003 according to the Eurobarometer). According to a BVA poll, the French want Sarkozy to use his EU presidency to push for more consumer protection and more environmental protection (43% in favor, 66% among left-wing voters). They could care less about European defense (2%) and the Common Agricultural Policy (3%). Yet 53% believe that foreign policy should be orchestrated at the European level.

Similar thoughts are expressed by French Politics guest contributor Christopher Bickerton in the Guardian.

Guilty Confession

I've had some fun mocking the "contributions" of the various Socialist courants to the upcoming convention. I feel a little sheepish about it. The exercise requires no great talent. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, to borrow a phrase. No one is likely to attribute to Plato or Hobbes sentiments like these (from Aubry's contribution, not previously ridiculed here):

We want every family to have decent housing, adapted to its situation, not too costly, in a pleasant and respected (?) setting.

We want every child to have the same chance to succeed in school and in life and to be able to acquire basic knowledge and gain familiarity with culture and sports.


And fifty-six pages more of the same. The problem is that when I bash the Left in this way, it's simply used as ammunition by those who dislike either the Left or France or both. So, for instance, my comment the other day on the Moscovici-Montebourg contribution was picked up by mega-blogger Andrew Sullivan, who introduced my comments with a remark to the effect that some things never change, especially the French Left, with the result that French Politics received more hits on Monday (over 3,500) than on any other day in its history, and links decrying the "loony left" ended up on my pages.

This was not my intention. If Sullivan were to read me closely rather than mine my posts for useful nuggets, he would know that I regard the dilemma of the Left as a tragedy rather than a farce. The humor is gallows humor, and if I mock leftist doublespeak and empty verbiage, it's because I am myself incapable of proposing a way out of the current impasse. I do think it would help if the issues were faced more forthrightly rather than evaded by circumlocution and pious wish. In any case I feel guilty that my cheap shots seem to attract attention more readily than more thoughtful reflections, but such is the nature of the blogosphere.

As for handicapping the Socialist sweepstakes, more and more of the smart money seems to be shifting to Aubry, who has the backing of the two largest Socialist federations, those of the Nord and Pas-du-Calais. She is probably also the contender who divides the party least, just as the Third Republic was said to be the regime that divides the French least, and in a contest of this sort the equilibrium position often turns out to be the least divisive rather than the most arresting. But the party contest is one thing, the party's fate is another. Aubry seems to me unlikely to unify the party or quell the factional infighting, which stems from the deeper dilemma alluded to above: how to define the Left for the decades to come. Her father, Jacques Delors, might have imparted a new tone to Socialism had he decided to become a candidate back in 1995. But he didn't, and Aubry herself, beholden as she is to the traditionalist federations that are the base of her support, isn't likely to change the party's direction. If she and Delanoë agree to share power, the influence of Jospin and Hollande will cast its pall over yet another presidential election season. What the Socialist Party needs is new blood. The situation is ripe for a charismatic leader to step forth.

"Totally Stupid"

Patrick de Carolis, the head of France Télévisions, evidently believes he's on his way out. When asked what he thought of Sarkozy's remark that there is no difference between the private and public networks as presently constituted, he said, "I find that false, I find it totally stupid, and I find it profoundly unjust." The pres was irritated the other day when he visited France3 and a technician refused to say bonjour. One suspects he'll be even more displeased with the answer of M. de Carolis.

As for the facts ...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Another Bang

As if the slap from Poland's president were not enough, Sarko took another claque on his first day as EU president from EU trade czar Peter Mandelson--an old enemy. Mandelson took issue with Sarkozy's remarks on Monday about not standing for the agreement on agricultural trade that Mandelson is in the process of negotiating. He accused Sarko of playing fast and loose with the facts and resorting to cheap demagoguery. The charges are not altogether false, but the issues are complex and do not lend themselves to civilized discussion by way of dueling sound bites. One wants to take these two by the scruff of the neck and say, "Take it inside, gentlemen." Sit down across the table and work things out. Quietly. In private. Then announce Europe's policy.

Sarko's EU Presidency Begins with a Bang

If Nicolas Sarkozy hoped to use the French EU presidency as a test of his mettle, his wish has been granted on day one. Poland's Lech Kaczynski, whose recalcitrance during the Lisbon Treaty negotiations previously allowed Sarko to demonstrate his negotiating skills, said today that he would refuse to sign the treaty that he himself had negotiated along with his brother the then prime minister in a late-night bargaining session orchestrated by Sarkozy, who, freshly elected at the time, still had le vent en poupe. Now Kaczynski feels emboldened by a new wind from the west--Ireland, despite the fact that his brother has in the mean time been voted out of office. Whether or not he has the authority to impede ratification, he has made a play to delay the process in the hope that the treaty will simply collapse because of the Irish vote. Sarko-watchers await his reaction to this challenge.