Friday, November 9, 2007


There is a kind of poetry to the slogans of street demonstrations, even if it's often the infantile poetry of the nursery rhyme. Here is a current sampling, as reported in Le Monde:

"Facs ouvertes aux enfants d'ouvriers,
facs fermées aux intérêts privés"

"Lutte sociale, grève générale,
derrière la réforme se cache le capital"

"Medef, Medef,
la fac n'est pas ton fief"

"Cécilia, on est comme toi,
on en a marre de Ni

"Ils privatisent,
on s'organise"


"On veut étudier
pour pas finir policiers"

The insistent, if sometimes wrenched, oom-pah rhythms and moon-June rhymes are of course made for the megaphone and the synchronized heartbeats and footfalls of a crowd on the march. None of it yet rises to the level of the more surreal slogans of May '68: Sous le pavé, la plage ... Now there was a slogan à faire rêver. Of course it was wall art, not suitable for marching--the fruit of a mature manif, on its last legs, battle-weary, and ready for retirement to the dustbin of history.

France and NATO

Does France want to rejoin NATO? "Today you have the freedom to choose à la carte. If you join NATO's integrated command structure, you'll have to take the whole menu." These are the terms in which a NATO official sums up the new agenda raised by Sarkozy's Washington initiative, as reported in Le Monde.

What's in it for France? Sarkozy sees NATO as a force multiplier. Working through NATO, France will be able to project a greater military influence around the world. His assumption is that France, by setting conditions for its re-entry, will be able to re-orient the alliance toward the defense of Europe rather than the projection of American might. He thinks he is taking advantage of a moment of American weakness, or need, and to prove his bona fides, he has apparently told Bush that he will increase the French presence in Afghanistan.

But is Sarkozy perhaps overestimating the potential French influence in a revamped NATO military structure? Back in the heady days before "shock and awe," the story was that the American military didn't need or want help from anyone; working with allies just got in the way of a beautiful, pefectly-honed command-and-control structure. America's vastly superior military technology, predicated on vastly greater military spending, made it virtually impossible, technically speaking, to collaborate productively with antiquated forces that hadn't yet developed the capacity to fight on the "electronic battlefield."

Of course Iraq has shown that the dusty battlefield and, even more, the grubby back streets of ancient capitals, may still have some relevance after the electronic battlefield has been stored away in the closet for old video games. Still, it's not clear what Sarkozy is signing up for. He seems to be aiming to build a transnational military capacity before there is any agreement on, or even adumbration of, a transnational military policy. What is France willing to allow its troops to be used for? And what missions does the United States now envision for foreign boots on the ground, now that it has discovered that drones, sensors, and laser-guided bombs aren't a panacea for the world's ills?

Portrait in Contrasts

A brilliant portrait in contrasts of Nicolas Sarkozy and François Fillon on the blog of Nicolas Véronis. Pay particular attention to the photos showing how each man looked circa 1980.

Death and Taxes

Écopublix has a terrific explanation of the bewildering maze of taxes and other deductions from French paychecks. In America we have a saying that "nothing is certain but death and taxes." In France, it seems, the tax system is so confusing that only death is certain.

Student Movement

The UNEF and PS both seem to be less than enthusiastic about the student movement that is currently blocking a dozen universities. Benoît Hamon, who just resigned from the PS Bureau National over the Europe issue, represents the left-wing of the party yet is skeptical that the students will accomplish anything: "A youth movement is hard to get going. It takes simplistic slogans." Razzye Hammadi, who used to head the Socialists' own youth movement, the MJS, recommended that the PS help the movement along by "moving it to a higher stage." "We should ask the government to reorient its policy." Not exactly the sort of ringing and simple slogan that Hamon had in mind, I imagine. Meanwhile, Bruno Julliard, the head of the UNEF (French national students' union), suggests that the government will not abandon the autonomy reform, so that the best strategy is to work on budgetary issues and try to get some concessions on student housing. And the minister in charge, Valérie Pécresse, is making none-too-subtle hints that the groups spearheading the movement are infiltrated by extreme leftists, which is probably true.