Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nadine, ou la droite décomplexée

It's Not Just Rama Yade

Sarko and company are mightily ticked off by rumbling opposition within the ranks. And it isn't just Rama Yade who's getting the back of the hand (Fillon let her have it, apparently: h/t MYOS). Sarko let Jean-Pierre Raffarin know just what he thought of his disloyalty. It's good to know that the tough talk is not just for young women.

Jack Lang in the Workers' Paradise

Will Jack Lang charm Kim Jong Il? Judah Grunstein doesn't think so. Since Judah recounts his one and only meeting with Lang at a Ségo rally in 2007, I'll recount mine: it was in the basement of Widener Library (actually, for Harvard aficionados, the tunnel linking Widener to Pusey). Lang was striding along with an official delegation on some sort of business/pleasure junket--you know, find out why Shanghai thinks Harvard is better than Normale Sup while enjoying a weekend on the Vineyard between high-level discussions and high-priced dinners--while I was plodding my way in the opposite direction with an armload of books. I was of course dumbfounded to see him there among the heating pipes--not a very ministerial location. "Bonjour, Monsieur le Ministre," I said. He was dumbfounded in turn but managed to grace me with his famous smile and a hearty wave over his shoulder as his delegation turned the corner and disappeared. A born politician, I thought.

Next chapter of my memoirs: How I met Lionel Jospin in a men's room at MIT (another true story). The short version: not a born politician, I thought.

Lévi-Strauss Dead at 100

The bulletin just arrived from Le Monde. The influence of Claude Lévi-Strauss on French intellectual life is a subject worth dwelling on, but this is not the place. In some ways too much was always made of his role. The title of the book with which he first made his mark, Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté, provided a word, "structure," which became an emblem for all sorts of things that should never have been yoked together, but given the slapdash way in which intellectual "movements" are often conjured up out of very little more than ragtag platoons of irregulars, the word, and the "mythology" of "structuralism," if I may put it that way, colored the way in which a whole generation came of age intellectually.

A more rigorous history of the age will probably reduce Lévi-Strauss's role considerably, and his work was never received with the same warmth outside France as inside it--where his elegant style and grand public works such as Tristes tropiques greatly broadened his readership. Still, he was a formidable mind, who left his mark and initiated a number of important debates, not least with Sartre, who was born only four years earlier but, in the realm of symbolism, stands for the generation that Lévi-Strauss and his epigones dethroned.

Three video mementos here.

Identity Debate Truqué?

See here.

The Post Office


"Imprivatisable," opined Christian Estrosi, innovating with bravitude where the authors of the Dictionnaire de l'Académie might fear to tread. Already the voters of the Left, impavide, had responded to the clarion call of France's ubiquitous postman-in-chief: No pasaran! But now Henri Guaino, ce fêlé (dixit Sarko), says that, well, maybe nothing is forever, and anyway the EU insists that the postal service be opened up to private competition.

But here's the thing: With all this passion, you'd think that privatizing La Poste was as momentous as, say, nationalizing the banks. Postal workers have every reason to be concerned, but the rest of us? Do we regret undermining the postal service when we send an e-mail, read the news online, buy from Amazon, or FedEx a document to Levallois-Perret?

One doesn't have to be an idolator of the free market to acknowledge that some monopolies, while traditionally sanctioned, may not be socially optimal. I like the story of how UPS, after delivering countless Dell computers, came up with the idea of building assembly stations for the machines attached to its delivery hubs. The carrier became a subcontractor, order-to-delivery time was cut in half, transportation costs and carbon footprint were reduced, and everybody lived happily ever after (until further price competition upset the applecart). Creative destruction, people! Sometimes you've got to live with it.