Saturday, September 8, 2007

Rugby, Resistance, and Poshlost

France lost its opening match in the rugby world cup to Argentina. Since the country had been working itself up into a frenzy of nationalistic sports lust before the match, the defeat came hard, and already culprits are being sought. There is a political dimension to this, since Bernard Laporte, the coach, is a Sarko favorite and will join the government as a deputy to sport and health minister Bachelot when the Cup is over. So it's interesting to note that one of the tricks Laporte tried to work on his players' emotions prior to the game was to have them read the letter written by Communist Resistance martyr Guy Moquet on the eve of his death. You will recall that this is the same letter that Sarkozy had read by a schoolchild on the day of his inauguration and that he has ordered be read in every French school on October 22. Now the letter is being blamed for France's defeat. It left the players in tears, critics say, and this is not where they should have been psychologically before the game.

This absurd polemic puts me in mind of what Vladimir Nabokov called poshlost: the lavishing of emotion on things of false importance. When martyrdom, memory politics, and sports nationalism eventuate in self-immolation and self-pity, you know something's gone awry somewhere.

TIP for readers who can't follow links to the Le Monde subscribers' site: just substitute "www" for "abonnes" in the URL and you'll be able to connect.

Zero Tolerance for Farting Around

Employers, unions, and economists have been weighing in on the question of labor market reform. So has Secretary of State for Urban Policy Fadela Amara, who has posted an excerpt from what she calls her intervention at the last Council of Ministers meeting on her official blog, as distinct from her Skyrock blog, where le tutoiement is de rigueur. Under the heading of "employment" she proclaims: "Objectif: tolérance zéro pour la glandouille," zero tolerance for farting around.

Well, it's direct, simple, and comprehensible. No cross-country panel regressions, no neo-Keynesian vs. neoclassical wrangling about why labor markets fail to clear, no handwringing about maintaining la gestion paritaire, no active labor market measures or passive ones either. But one does wonder how the readers of "Pour ma ville" take to being described as loafers and slackers before the Council of Ministers. One wonders, too, if the likes of Christine Lagarde and Michèle Alliot-Marie really sat still while being lectured at in the following terms:

La politique de la ville a besoin de franchise. Entre nous, on ne va pas se la raconter.

Or is "intervention" a polite term for "screed deposited in the official record and promptly ignored by the people who actually make policy"?

Apparently not. We do have the reaction of the president of the Republic: "The prime minister and I thought it was absolutely remarkable and the right way for us to make policy, namely, direct, authentic, and with the will to succeed. It was really one of the best moments of this council meeting."