Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Who's Playing What Game?

So the GMO law failed by one vote to gain a majority on a procedural question and is temporarily sidelined. The Left was jubilant: Arnaud Montebourg could be seen in the hemicycle rubbing his hands together with pleasure and nearly jumping for joy. The ever-smarmy Jean-François Copé appeared first in the corridors of the Assembly and then on France2 to accept responsibility: j'assume, accident de parcours, etc. But he was so gleeful in accepting responsibility for what might have looked like a serious embarrassment to the majority that one had to ask what his game was. There is plenty of sentiment in the UMP both for and against this bill, so perhaps Copé contrived the "tactical glitch" to soothe hurt feelings or even to make way for further amendments. He didn't seem embarrassed, and no one was issuing any reprimands or censures. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet was notably silent: no further accusations of cowardice or fecklessness were forthcoming. Whether the bill will be watered down to appease pro-GMO farm groups or watered up to appease eco-conservatives remains to be seen. Probably there will be a little of both, and it will take a genetically modified organism to grow in the arid muck that results.

My Review of Lucien Jaume

My review of Lucien Jaume's new book Tocqueville: Les sources aristocratiques de la liberté can be read on nonfiction.fr.

Media Independence

François Bayrou wants to amend the constitution to guarantee (or is it require?) the independence of the media. The impulse is comprehensible, perhaps, but the content of such a guarantee is difficult to imagine. The media are subject to influence by way of financial dependence, but if the state promises subsidies to maintain pluralism, they become dependent on the state and potentially subject to its control. The content of coverage is already regulated: for instance, there are equal-time requirements for the coverage of political campaigns. Whether these actually promote fair coverage or hinder it is a matter of debate. The immediate issue of contention is criticism of the media by government officials, including Sarkozy and culture minister Christine Albanel, both of whom attacked the AFP for failing to give more play to Ségolène Royal's conviction in a case involving illegal termination of two of her employees. If the intent of Bayrou's proposed amendment is to muzzle such criticism, I think it's a bad idea. Let such matters be fought out in the open rather than regulated and muffled.

Fair and intelligent journalism would no doubt be a national asset, but it can't be achieved by fiat.

Historical Memory

President Sarkozy wants the schools to emphasize selective memories of World War II, including the story of resistance hero Guy Môquet and the deportation of Jewish children. To judge by this exercise in video journalism, he has a more fundamental problem to solve first. World War II itself has been forgotten. May 8, V-E Day, has been celebrated in France for generations, but the meaning of the event is evidently lost on many Parisians. When asked why the day was a holiday, they gave answers ranging from commemoration of May '68 to welcoming the sunshine.

Of course Americans would do no better on this quiz. And in the interest of full disclosure, let me tell a tale on myself. The first time I was in France on a May 8 was in 1977. I happened to pass a spot where some politician was giving a speech from a flag-bedecked podium. Many uniformed old soldiers were in the crowd. I walked on to a café, ordered a coffee, and asked the waiter what the fuss was about. He answered that it was a celebration of the victory over the Germans in World War II. So, two lessons: even the educated need educating about specific events, and it's never easy to measure a population's actual depth of historical knowledge. Was the well-informed waiter who educated me about May 8 more or less representative of the French population than the sun-baskers singled out for ridicule in the video? Or have the intervening thirty years caused historical memories to fade? I have no idea.

Thanks to Scott Guye for the tip.