Monday, July 16, 2007

Abuse of Language

It's time to dump the lately much abused franglais term "le dumping," a word that Sarkozy favors when he wants to cast aspersions abroad without actually leveling an accusation. So today we learn that he and Angela Merkel are in perfect accord on the matter of the European Central Bank. Yet Merkel merely reiterated today's orthodoxy: that the Bank's credible commitment to price stability is everything and that threats of "political" intervention in this sacrosanct function cannot be tolerated. Whereas Sarko would appear to want to leave some wiggle room: "Article 121 of the treaty stipulates that the [European] Council can formulate the general orientation of exchange policy."

He then went on to "explain" that the problem was not with "the value of the euro," which is just fine, but rather with the value "of other currencies," left unnamed, and "the policies of monetary dumping conducted by certain states," also left unnamed. Lately we have been treated to the concept of le dumping social as well as le dumping monétaire. The obfuscation here is almost total, since France is in trade deficit and therefore selling (dumping?) euros for the other currencies its citizens need in order to buy what they want. And the implication that a currency has a "value" independent of the value of other currencies is a curious one, which Sarko ought to take up in the "daily conversations" he says he has with economics professor Dominique Strauss-Kahn, with whom he claims to see eye-to-eye on all matters of international economics.

When Ségo resorted to such obfuscatory language during the campaign, Sarko was quick to pounce, yet the uses of ambiguity are so alluring that chastity in this regard is readily sacrificed.

Press Independence

Round 937 in the unending skirmishes over press consolidations in France. If you haven't been following the saga of Les Echos, I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that LVMH, the group headed by Bernard Arnault, wants to buy it. The journalists at the magazine see a threat to their "journalistic independence," since Arnault is not only the wealthiest man in France but also already the owner of the competing La Tribune. But the same journalists favor a surprise offer from another source, the Fimalac group, which is headed by a figure almost as imposing in financial circles as Arnault, Marc Ledreit de Lacharrière.

The journalists have raised the banner of "press independence" and appealed for support to Christine Lagarde, the minister of finance, whose chief of staff said he "understood the writers' concerns" and recognized the "values of independence and pluralism." Arnault would of course be tempted to fold La Tribune into Les Echos to cut costs and reduce competition. But I'm not sure that his ownership would pose any greater threat to the "independence" of the magazine than ownership by his rival financier. Since the economy the journalists report on is a global one, moreover, I would think that the more serious contributions to pluralism would come from the financial press in other capitals such as the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and Financial Times Deutschland. But perhaps I'm missing something. I can understand why the journalists would fight for their jobs, but the cloaking of their corporate interest in the general interest of "freedom of the press" tends to diminish the force of the latter argument in cases where it is more urgently required. I hope I'm not being unfair to them, but the principle here seems somewhat muddled, and even more so since the appearance on the scene of the Fimalac offer. There is also something rather parochial, though alas in keeping with other archaic views of the economy, about casting the contest as one between two French national champions and two French captains of industry, as if the rest of the world were irrelevant.

Royal Self-Criticism, Sarko Self-Limitation

Ségolène Royal is reportedly organizing a meeting of friends--"only friends," says Libé--to consider the reasons for her loss. Some of these friends, to judge by the quotes in the article, have decidedly barbed comments on the campaign, but none spoke on the record. Of course there is no indication in the article, either, that the people quoted are among the 120 invited to the self-criticism session. If I were Libé's editor, I would have spiked this piece. I would also have redlined the following barbarisms: quelque peu cornerisé, officialisation de sa rupture avec François Hollande, son staff, OPA sur le parti, actualisation du logiciel socialiste. The Ministry of Immigration and National Identity has proposed making mastery of proper French a requirement for legal immigrant status. Maybe they ought to raid the offices of Libé.

Meanwhile, cornerisé in another corner of the media, Sarko appeared on FR2 on July 14 and set a ratings record. Asked whether he would appear on stage with Michel Polnareff, Sarko declined to carry his modernization of the presidency--or should I say actualisation du logiciel gaullo-présidentialiste--to Clintonian lengths: "I will not sing, I will not dance, I will not appear on stage." Nor would he play the sax. There are, apparently, limits to what Libé would call la hyperprésidence. This neologism, which has served for weeks now as a substitute for reflective comment on institutional change, is obviously an extension of the critique of the candidate as hyperactif.

The implication that the candidate was suffering from a behavioral disorder was presumably not intended as a compliment. In retrospect, however, it seems that while he may be hyperactive, he does not suffer from any attention deficit. He seems to be attending to everything, including next year's Bastille Day celebration, which is already in the works.

This president will not be cornerisé dans une tour d'ivoire. Though I do think I heard him say--perhaps it was a trick of the ear--that he would not permit himself to be trapped dans un tour d'ivoire--masculinizing the noun in his own image, I guess, just as he allowed himself to comment on the "beauty" of the women on the perron of the Elysée. Perhaps the Ministry of National Identity ought to look into this case of presidential gender-bending, if my ears didn't deceive me.

Though Sarko would no doubt get a pass for having done so much to emphasize that the European Union is a federation of nations--this was the point of the multinational and highly colorful military parade and multinational musical celebration. Each constituent nation belongs to Europe yet retains its distinctive identity, the president said--and the images of the day all reinforced his words--thereby reassuring any of his countrymen who might be worried that his concessions to the EU risked one iota of national sovereignty or cultural identity. And surely the choice of Michel Polnareff as pop icon was all the reassertion of la vieille France that was needed. It would be hard to imagine Polnareff, now somewhat monté en graine, as the icon of any other nation.

Sarko also compared the presidency to le Tour de France--he got that one right, but then the Tour is already a thoroughly masculine event, and he was reminding his interviewer, M. Delahousse, that the tough étapes, the mountain climbs, still lay ahead of him. A lucid comment, and a welcome corrective to the breeziness of the questioning, which seemed to imply that the next five years would all be like this first Sarkozyan Bastille Day, une course contre la montre won handily by an admirably conditioned athlete zooming from start to finish on flat ground, without competition, and at a pace set exclusively by his own inner clock.