Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cat Fight

How would La Bruyère recount this spat among les sots en vue?

A certain lady, enjoying a high position at court and an even higher one above the courts, may have claimed certain titles of nobility to which she had no right. A votary of merit and honest labor spread word of this usurpation throughout the land. The lady dispatched her footmen to administer a thrashing to the gentleman of excessive and exigent virtue. He then availed himself of his bruises and contusions as proof that his charge was true, though he had no evidence of this but his own stigmata, and the lady's rage. A rival of the man of virtue, whose prowess was that of wielding a mere feather as though it possessed the weight and heft of a saber, sought the favor of the lady's patron by vilifying her attacker. Yet in defense of his own virtue he employed his prowess to strike a glancing blow at the lady, whose footmen had thrashed him as well, he averred, the only difference between him and his nemesis being that in the battle with the footmen he claims to have given as good as he got, this being the only gauge of true virtue in the war of all against all that is political life in the Great Nation.

Should you follow the links above, you may want to follow this one as well, in case you don't know the word escagasser. I didn't.

Astérix Teaches Economics

If you can't get your students to read Mas-Colell, try this.

Arche de Zoé Affair

I have refrained from commenting on the Arche de Zoé affair until now because I had hoped that some clarity might emerge from the fog. I still can't say what actually happened, what mix of motives were involved, or what the individuals charged in the case thought they were up to, which may of course have varied from individual to individual. What is clear, however, is that the incident confronts Sarkozy with a delicate problem of foreign policy, to say nothing of a headache he doesn't need and probably wishes that someone--Kouchner, Rama Yade, an intelligence service, the army--had headed off.

The more lurid charges--pedophilia, organ harvesting--made by President Déby (one can imagine the puns on his name in the corridors of the Quai d'Orsay) have not been retained by the Chadian court. Sarko reportedly telephoned Déby to "sensitize" him as to the need for a "presumption of innocence" (conspicuously ignored in his own handling of the "Little Enis" case). Opinions in France may differ as to the methods of these "humanitarians," but the fact remains that they have appeared on television as yet another group of Western "hostages" in the hands of an aroused and irate populace that has already made up its mind about what happened. Sarko would no doubt like to extricate the detainees before the situation degenerates. He has already asked that the journalists among the prisoners be released. There are reports that he would like the remainder extradited for trial in France. If so, one wonders what price the Chadians will demand in return. The Libyan precedent may have shown Déby that a fairly high ransom can be extracted in such high-profile affairs. Innocence and guilt are of no relevance here. What matters is the ability to inflame populations on both sides by shrewd exploitation of the particulars of the case and the indisputable fact of habeas corpus.


For those who live in the Boston area, there will be a discussion of Sarkozy's first five months in power this afternoon, 4:15 PM, in the Lower Level Conference Room of the Center for European Studies at Harvard, 27 Kirkland St., Cambridge. The speakers will be Stanley Hoffmann from Harvard, Sophie Meunier from Princeton, George Ross from Brandeis, Justin Vaïsse from Brookings, and me. For more information, click here.

I will post my PowerPoint slides from this lecture tomorrow.