Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Leisure Preference

The graph shows the percentage of respondents (in the active work force) who preferred "greater purchasing power" (upper curve) to "more leisure time" (lower curve). What do you think accounts for the reversal of trend circa 2000? Source: CAE Report 73, "Mesurer le pouvoir d'achat," p. 10.

Kerviel's Profits

As I have speculated in past posts, Jérôme Kerviel did in fact earn profits--spectacular profits--for SocGen. And these were realized profits, not paper profits, so they had to have been credited to his trading account at the bank, which means that his superiors had to have known the large volumes of his trades. The one detail about which I was wrong was the timing: he made losses in 2007 and began to turn a profit only in the weeks before he was discovered. So in part this detail, if true, tends to diminish the responsibility of his superiors, since they may not have recognized his profits until rather late in the game, but we still do not know whether any of his losses were real rather than virtual. Real losses would certainly have gotten the attention of his bosses.

The Times and France

Nick wrote:

On a related subject, could you post your thoughts on Elaine Sciolino's coverage of France in the Times? Ever since she's gotten the France beat something about her writing makes me grit my teeth, and at this point my dentist is concerned. Shallow sterotypes of French pompousness? Deliberately awkward translations to make the French seem silly? Your thoughts would be appreciated.

I had the privilege once of listening to a previous Times correspondent explain the difficulties he faced in trying to cover France for the paper. He presented a remarkable statistic, the percentage of column-inches devoted to all foreign countries and then to France: both were impossibly small (I can't remember the precise numbers). He detailed some of the battles he had fought to persuade his editors to cover matters he considered important, to establish some continuity of coverage so that news could be placed in a meaningful context, etc. All for naught. And he showed us drafts of some of the many articles he had written that had been spiked or trimmed back in New York.

There was considerable resistance to the idea of expanded foreign coverage, he said, and that was at a time when the newspaper had substantially more resources to put into play than it has today. The usual refrain was that readers weren't interested. And no doubt the editors who made this reply had some basis for their opinion.

So I wouldn't want to level a finger of accusation at Sciolino without knowing more about what she is up against. Like you, I have been dismayed repeatedly by the coverage of France, but I don't know whom to blame. As for the lame translations, yes, I agree that the renderings are often flat-footed, but I also know that editors sometimes insist on excessive literalism because they are afraid of "misrepresenting" what some important figure said. Literalism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. It is a way of playing it safe, so that if haled into court and asked to swear on the Bible, the editor can always ask to swear on the dictionary instead. Perhaps you're right that the intention is to ridicule the French, but more likely it is to cover the ass of someone in the newsroom (pardon my French).

As for the use of cultural stereotypes, I think that newspaper correspondents are often posted to a country too briefly and with too little background to get beyond the stereotypes, but that judgment may in itself be a stereotype. I'd rather limit my criticisms to specific articles and instances, as I did in this post, than go too far with generalizations. The Times has done some good reporting on the Société Générale affair, for example. (Is that perhaps because reporters on the financial beat acquire expertise in the subject matter, whereas political reporters all too often rely on cultivating contacts with privileged sources, a method that surely works less well for foreign correspondents, who don't have the same usefulness to politicians as domestic reporters do?)

We could also discuss the coverage of the United States by the French media, but I think I'll reserve that for another occasion. Thanks for your question.

Une et indivisible?

La République une et indivisible has recently been sounding a lot like the multi-culti bedlam that is the United States. First, we have the Left's knickers in a twist over the alleged failure of candidate Jean-Marie Cavada (ex-MoDem, now backed by the UMP) to react when a speaker at a meeting at which he was present accused Bertrand Delanoë of courting "the Jewish vote." Imagine the chutzpah! The Jewish vote--when all good republicans know that there is no such thing as a Jewish vote because there is no such thing as a Jewish community. Didn't Clermont-Tonnerre say, "Tout pour les Juifs comme individus, rien pour les Juifs comme nation"?

Well, yes, he did, but that was 1791. There has been a lot of water over the dam since then, and perhaps if Cavada didn't hear the incriminated statement at the meeting, as he rather plausibly claims, it was simply because it is so much a part of the mental furniture of every politician to appeal to this or that part of his constituency that it simply didn't strike him as an offense against the Republic (one can't say "federal offense" in this context, because the Americanism would make nonsense of the republican ideal).

Might the attack on Cavada have something to do with his split with François Bayrou, whom he had initially joined in forming the MoDem as an anti-Sarkozyst party of the center-right? Cavada later left MoDem, accusing Bayrou of having created the party solely to serve his own presidential ambitions.

And then we have Rama Yade accusing the Left of attacking her because she is black--"playing the race card," as we would say in American English. To which the response of the Left is--incredibly enough--to threaten to take her to court for slander if she doesn't issue a public apology. As I remarked the other day, the French have become awfully litigious lately: politicians suing newspapers and journalists when not suing one another. As de Gaulle once said in a rather different context, "Quelle mascarade!"

"Trop Baba Cool"

"Trop baba cool" are not the first words that would come to my mind to describe the campaign of Françoise de Panafieu for mayor of Paris, but I'm not Claude Goasguen. His was only one of many coups de griffe exchanged among UMP candidates in recent days. Goasguen, Pierre Lellouche, who heads the UMP list in the 8th, and François Lebel, the incumbent UMP mayor of the 8th who is heading a dissident list (and who, by the way, married Nicolas and Carla), have been at each other's throats.

Even Sarkozy has gotten into the act, criticizing Panafieu for failing to take up his suggestion that she make "architecture and city planning a right-wing issue." Indeed, British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton and American conservative educator and sometime gubernatorial candidate John Silber have both recently taken to attacking architects who treat their charge as an "art" rather than a "craft" and therefore allegedly indulge individualistic genius at the expense of collective welfare. It does the heart good to hear conservatives discovering the virtues of "collectivism," but one might prefer them to be a tad less contemptuous of the likes of Frank Gehry and Louis Kahn. Could it be that Sarko, having enlisted Tony Blair into the UMP, is now going after bigger game: the noted architecture critic and Prince of Wales, Charles Windsor?

For the flavor of the Panafieu campaign, watch this.

Intellectuals and Others

I am an intellectual by trade and predilection, but there are days when I think the chattering classes should be gagged, for a few hours at any rate, and the floor turned over to people who don't make their living trading on opinions. I didn't bother reporting yesterday on Libération's feature on the "crisis of democracy," because I found the comments of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek on "formal democracy," popular violence, and the dictatorship of the proletariat just too depressing to bother with. We have passed this way before, and if certain of my confrères want to palliate the woes of middle age by retailing creaky revolutionary romances to the young, I haven't the energy to stop them. Marcel Gauchet apparently thinks this is a fight worth fighting, but his arms are purely theoretical. If he were more of an Anglo-Saxon empiricist, he might prefer to turn to the often interesting blog "Jours tranquilles à Clichy-sous-Bois." In the latest post, by David Da Silva, recounting an awful but not extraordinary week in les banlieues, one finds an excellent demonstration of the realities of the "popular violence" that Slavoj Zizek "recommends ... so that disadvantaged classes may make themselves heard" and a fine illustration of the emptiness of the "communist hypothesis" proposed by Badiou. I recommend that Badiou, Zizek, and Gauchet all read Da Silva. If they did, their well-oiled intellectual machinery might be less likely to tourner à vide.