Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Howard on 1968

Dick Howard, a regular reader of French Politics, has published a piece on 1968 that may be of interest to many of you. Dick is a professor of philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook and was a participant-observer in the events he writes about.

Blog Visitors-Top 10 Countries

Visitors during the blog's first year came from 168 different countries. Top ten:

Sharing the Wealth

The latest government plan to juice purchasing power involves intéressement and participation. Both are forms of profit sharing, but as far as I know there are no precise American equivalents, so the terms are perhaps best left untranslated. In France, participation is mandatory in firms with more than 50 employees. A share of any profits earned by the firms is distributed to employees, but distributions had been "blocked" for five years, meaning that they could not be converted to cash until a five-year waiting period had elapsed. Sarkozy is eliminating this waiting period, so accrued bonuses can be spent immediately.

Intéressement is a voluntary form of profit-sharing established by agreement between a firm and its employees. No waiting period is associated with it. Sarkozy is offering small firms that have not created such plans a tax credit to encourage them to do so now.

A firm can implement both types of profit-sharing if it wishes.

"Entre les Murs"

The feel-good story of the week is the award of the Palme d'Or at Cannes to Entre les murs, a film about an 8th-grade class in a collège filled with students of color (it was filmed at the collège Françoise Dolto in the 20th arrdt. of Paris). The students who participated in the film lived the dream of stardom on the red carpet at Cannes and returned home yesterday to a hero's welcome at school. Students kissed; pupils hugged teachers; parents cried. Having celebrated les Ch'tis, France can now rejoice in the equally magical transformation of a still less appreciated minority.

I look forward to seeing the film, which has been well reviewed, and I don't for a moment begrudge the students their moment of delirium. More than one is now contemplating a career in film, and perhaps one or two of them will make it. But most will probably find the ever-widening gap between the momentary apotheosis and everyday reality increasingly difficult to bear. There might even be in the descent from the heights of irreality material for François Bégaudeau and Laurent Cantet to make a second film.

Question of the Day

Here's a question to which I would seriously like to know the answer. This morning Sarkozy said:
"Comment voulez-vous que les gens achètent leurs journaux en kiosque s'il est gratuit sur Internet ?" Notice that in this sentence he consecrated the accepted French usage of "Internet" as a noun that must not be used with the definite article. Why is this the case? In English we would say, "Why would people buy their newspapers at the newsstand when they can get them for free on the Internet?" Since "we" invented the Internet any way you look at it (whether you think it was Vinton Cerf or Al Gore or DARPA or Tim Berners-Lee who deserves the credit), shouldn't English usage be decisive here? How did "Internet" lose the "le" in France? Speculation welcome.

I will pass over in silence the fact that the president used the singular pronoun "il" to refer to the plural noun "leurs journaux." It is the solecism of a nation that concerns me this morning, not the solecism of the individual who incarnates the nation.

Après Disneyland, Rungis


The Sarko show is back. No one will admit it, but people had begun to miss it. It was like a TV sitcom: sort of cheesy, but good for a laugh when you were tired at the end of the day. The last few months have been like a summer of reruns and second-rate replacements. But today the president got up early to go marketing at Rungis and brought Carla with him. Then he went for breakfast at RTL so that la France qui se lève tôt could listen to his table talk as they drove to work. He demonstrated the requisite concern this time around with le pouvoir d'achat. He would ask Brussels for permission to reduce the VAT on petroleum products--something for the fishermen, farmers, truckers, commuters, etc.--and on CDs and DVDs--something for the kids. There would be no austerity, because austerity doesn't work: others "more brilliant" than he had tried it and failed. He mentioned Barre, Delors, Bérégovoy--prime ministers all. Subtext: prime ministers focused on the bottom line may appear to be models of probity, but reviving the animal spirits of the Keynesian entrepreneur requires a more openhanded, Micawberesque assurance that something will turn up.

It was a change from Disneyland and Luxor. In recent days the president has visited factories, markets, provincial town halls. He's campaigning again, greeting the sunrise, jutting his jaw, letting folks know that their lives will be better tomorrow. He's getting his groove back. Campaigning, after all, is what he does best.