Saturday, October 13, 2007

Constitutional Reform

Le Monde has revealed the preliminary recommendations of the Balladur Commission on constitutional reform. There is some nebulous language about changing the president's role from that of "determining" the nation's policy to "defining" it. I would suggest that the commission apply a Popperian falsifiability test to this idea: how might a citizen, or a constitutional court if there were one, decide whether this provision of the constitution had been violated? Is there some action that might be construed as "defining" that would not also be "determining?" Is there any clear statement of the difference between the two words? Will the constitutional commission share with the public the thinking behind this recommendation, or is to be taken simply as an oracle, to be interpreted by the high priests currently occupying the temples gathered around the Elysian Omphalos?

Other proposals suffer from no such ambiguity. Senators and deputies would be barred from le cumul des mandats. This would indeed be a significant and healthy reform. A two-term limit would be imposed on the president. Presidential nominations would be subject to the advice and consent of parliament. The scope of Article 49-3, which permits rule by presidential fiat, would be strictly limited. And a small degree of proportional representation would be introduced.

If adopted, these would be significant reforms. It will be interesting to see how the debate evolves.

Trop d'Allégresse Climatique

I am somewhat dismayed to find my estimable colleague François Mitterrand (reincarnated), a reader of this blog and a self-described "left-wing Sarkozyste" of generally sound views, denouncing the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore as a lamentable exercise in political correctness. Tonton is evidently skeptical about global warming, and in expressing his skepticism he is entirely within his rights, but the authorities he cites in his post as "les vrais scientifiques de cette planète," namely, Claude Allègre and a certain Web site, do not represent the full range of sober scientific opinion on the issue. I heartily recommend that M. Mitterrand acquire and read the recent book by Kerry Emanuel, the eminent MIT expert on the subject. It might well enlarge his views. Or he might want to look at some of the papers listed in this review of the career of Princeton climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer.

Les Thibault

Charles Bremner, French correspondent for the Times of London, interviews Bernard Thibault and comes away with the impression that Thibault is as much an impresario of image as his nemesis Sarkozy. The showdown comes this week, and we shall see whether or not Thibault's stern game face proves to be as ineffective as the war dance of the All Blacks.

L'Origine du Monde

A curious coincidence brings together in this morning's news roundup a fine article by Antoine de Baecque on the Courbet show currently at the Grand Palais and several ruminations on the rumors of a Sarkozy divorce. De Baecque remarks that the Courbet exhibition is organized around "L'Origine du Monde," the painter's unadorned representation of the female genitalia, "a shocking fragment and image of pure provocation, a form of truth that cannot be escaped when faced." If "undisguised by the usual allegories associated with this genre," what was once pornography commissioned by the "erotomaniac Khalil Bey" has now donned the guise of art so successfully that museumgoers can gaze upon it in the company of perfect strangers without undue discomfort, and the image can be displayed on the Web without the warnings to minors or requests for credit cards that accompany the display of similar images on other sites.

Such sophistication does not extend, apparently, to discussion of the Sarkozy divorce. Arrêt sur Images feels compelled to justify its interest in "un sujet people" by publishing its own readership statistics: although readers complain about such subjects, they come in double the normal numbers when the topic is broached. Libération continues its coy denunciation of other sources in Web and print for scurrilous rumor-mongering and invasion of privacy, but after asserting, wrongly, that L'Est républicain had eaten its words, the paper added this:

Que les choses aillent mal ­entre les époux Sarkozy est une évidence que même les conseillers du Président (hors micro) ou de pseudo-intimes de Cécilia finissent par admettre. D’où la course au (faux) scoop, à la rumeur relayée à la va-vite sur le Net.

Having one's cake and eating it too. Meanwhile, Le Nouvel Obs gleans comments from editors and reporters working for other publications: "According to a Swiss journalist, 'newsrooms are in the starting blocks. French journalists are just waiting for a communiqué from the Élysée or an announcement from Cécilia to run their headlines." One marvels at such crackerjack reporting: a French journalist, probably staked out in front of the Geneva hotel in which Cécilia Sarkozy is believed to be staying, takes the word of a Swiss colleague for news about what French journalists are up to.

Jacques Lacan once owned "L'Origine du Monde," a fact I already knew, but what I learned from De Baecque was that he kept it hidden behind another Courbet. Some truths cannot be faced. Or perhaps the psychoanalyst did not wish to reveal to all comers that he shared the id of a Turkish erotomaniac, just as "French journalists" seem to believe that the ethics of their profession require them to deny what they have in common with the rest of humanity, a perverse and prurient fascination with the private lives of public men.

Perhaps the Sarkozys will tire of this dance of the seven veils and either announce their divorce or appear on the palace perron holding hands, at which point we will know precisely as much about the state of their marital relations as we know about the marriages of our closest friends, which is to say, not much.