Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Société Générale Fraud

I haven't written yet about the Société Générale fraud, astounding as it is, because the details are sketchy and I have no idea what actually happened. But here are some reports from Bloomberg, Kevin Drum, FT, and more FT. And economist Élie Cohen. I'd be glad to hear from anyone who knows more about banking than I do and who might be able to explain how a 31-yr-old trader, "computer genius" though he may have been, could have established an options position of 40 to 50 billion euros without anyone above him noticing. And if his bet had turned out well, would he have profited himself, or was he taking this enormous risk solely on behalf of the bank?

Curiously enough, it seems that Nick Leeson, the trader who similarly bankrupted Barings Bank a few years back, has been paid $700,000 for the rights to his story, which has been made into a film. Who said crime doesn't pay?

Business Week has picked up this article. Readers coming from there should see this later note as well.

Debray on Laïcité

Régis Debray, who begins by quoting Sarkozy:

"The schoolteacher will never be able to replace the pastor or priest, because he will always lack the radical readiness to sacrifice his life and the charisma of a commitment driven by hope." What would Jean Cavaillès, Marc Bloch, Jean Prévost, and Léo Lagrange have made of this [statement by the president of the Republic] as they faced the firing squad?

So much for that argument of Sarkozy's. Debray of course omits to mention that he, too, faced a firing squad, believing that he was about to be shot because of his radical readiness to sacrifice his life and the charisma of a commitment driven by hope. And he has also written in recent years about religion. Hence his thoughts on the subject are doubly worth attending to.

Parity in the Cities

Seven years after the passage of the parity law, 47 percent of municipal councilors in France are women, but only 11 percent of mayors are, according to political scientist Mariette Sineau.

See also Le Monde's editorial.

La Vie C'Est Pas de Glander

A delightful article appears this morning in the blog of Le Monde's proofreaders. It explains the origin and varied uses of the verb glander, which has become a staple of the Elysian vocabulary since Fadela Amara blamed the problems of the suburbs on la glandouille, or loafing, hanging out (Americans will be reminded of William Foote Whyte's classic Street Corner Society). Of course the French word sets up interesting resonances because of its sexual connotations. Le gland is the male sex organ as well as the fruit of the oak tree. The dictionary provides a memorable example of this usage, taken from a novel by Sartre:

Latex sortit son sexe de sa braguette : − Regarde! dit-il, et tire ton chapeau : j'en ai fait six avec. − Six quoi? − Six lards. Et des beaux, t'sais, qui pesaient à chaque coup dans les vingt livres; je sais pas qui va les nourrir à présent. Mais vous nous en ferez d'autres, dit-il, tendrement penché sur son gland.

So when Sarkozy visits the fortuitously named suburb Sartrouville (!!) and tells the youths lolling about streetcorners there that "la vie, c'est pas de glander," it's as if the president of the United States were to go to Watts and tell a group of young idlers that "life is not about standing around and scratching your balls."

And how did the youths respond? One of them, apparently referring to Sarkozy, said "Oui, ça craint!" in what the proofreaders refer to as "a remarkable intransitive use of a traditionally transitive verb." Because of this and the use of the impersonal subject ça, this beautifully succinct judgment of the president and his entourage is virtually untranslatable, but one might venture this: "Yeah, they be afraid." Afraid no doubt that the exhortation to work more in order to earn more isn't going to be enough to get anyone to stop scratching his balls absent the 45,000 new jobs that Fadela Amara has pledged to create out of thin air.

The French Model

When the words "French model" appear in a US newspaper, it's usually to highlight yet another supposed inefficiency, friction, rigidity, or failure of the welfare state. But in this morning's New York Times, Roger Cohen looks to France as a model for the future of nuclear power: "It’s time to look to the French. They’ve got their heads in the right place, with nuclear power enjoying a 70 percent approval rating."

If the subprime crisis continues to shake orthodox thinking about the American economy, moreover, the European welfare state may begin to look almost as good to followers of fashion like Cohen as the Evolutionary Power Reactor, formerly known as the European Pressurized Reactor (note that Cohen mixes up the two names).