Thursday, February 5, 2009

Still Punching

I didn't watch the whole Sarkoshow. I'm not sure whether he's lost his touch or I've just tired of his style, but he seems to have lost the capacity to surprise. He's like an old actor--a Nicholson or a de Niro--who has ceased to act and simply parodies himself. When he's on the defensive, as he was tonight, he loses his playfulness. He becomes a counterpuncher, as when he insisted that the loans to the banks were moneymakers and that the proceeds would be put to use "exclusively for social programs." Clearly he's gathered that people are upset that banks are being bailed out while working people can't make ends meet. He was clever enough to defend the rescue of the banking system by invoking the Capra film, "It's a Wonderful Life," though I wonder how many people in France have seen it.

And a bit of free media counsel: if you're going to do Meet the Press in the Elysée, lose the ultra-contempo modular office furniture that looks as though it was ordered from an Ikea catalog. It just doesn't go with the sumptuous backdrop, or with the equally sumptuous Laurence Ferrari, whose blouse put me in mind of the haute couture lovingly described by Zola in La Curée.

From a Reader

On university reform:

Dear Art,
to "balance" the post from Le Figaro":

As an introduction to the debate the video of Sarkozy's discourse (and some data) that has been read as a provocation from right to left (his contempt is palpable...)

(Sorry ... this link no longer works, but I leave the comment as is.)

More importantly, Olivier Beaud's (law professor at Paris II) view -- the best presentation of the reform project-- technical, serious and opiniated:

The Sarkoshow

So, I'm watching the Sarkoshow live, and I will reserve serious comment until later, but a couple of things for now. Don't Pujadas and Ferrari look like Ken and Barbie seated side by side? Doesn't Sarko sound like he's campaigning again: "Le coeur de ma campagne était la réhabilitation du travail, M. Pujadas!" And why is it "Monsieur Pujadas" and "Laurence?" A little égalité, Monsieur le Président! Or would you rather be called Nicolas?

Le Torchon Péan

Pierre Péan, the investigative journalist who revealed that Mitterrand had received a medal from Pétain, has a new book attacking foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. There has been a good deal of noise about the book's discussion of Kouchner's work as a consultant to dictatorial regimes in Africa. Less attention has been paid to Péan's own biases and to the questionable techniques he uses to blacken Kouchner's name. He recounts a scene in a restaurant in which Kouchner allegedly stood, hand over heart, while the English national anthem was played at a televised soccer match, while he sat, indifferent, during La Marseillaise. This anecdote supports an allegation that Kouchner is motivated by "le cosmopolitisme Anglo-Saxon," a phrase that harks back to the use of the same word, cosmopolitisme, in the 1930s to accuse Jews of nursing extra-national loyalties. The cover depicts Kouchner arm-in-arm with George W. Bush.

These tactics are not subtle, and Jean-Michel Aphatie exposes them on his blog. Charles Bremner is also worth reading on the subject. Le Monde takes it up in an editorial. Kouchner has defended himself in public, not always to good effect. On France2 last night, he answered David Pujadas' questions with an odd mix of theatricality, belligerence, and self-aggrandizement. But whatever one thinks of Kouchner's flair for self-dramatization or of his political choices, nothing excuses an attack as base and scurrilous as Péan's.

University Reforms

A correspondent responded to my call for academic views of the university strike movement by sending an article by Chantal Delsol, which is to appear in today's Figaro, although I can't yet find it on line. It's written with an acerbic pen and worth reading. Here is the conclusion:

Il est probable qu'au moins dans un premier temps, les universités renâcleront à appliquer ce décret, sous la pression du mécontentement interne. Mais l'inusable bon sens est le maître de l'histoire. Peu à peu, on se fatiguera de l'égalitarisme imbécile qui impose d'appliquer à la lettre, dans la société civile, la parabole des ouvriers de la onzième heure. Les universitaires jouissent d'une liberté entière quant au contenu de leur enseignement et aux thèmes de leur recherche. Ils sont protégés par leur statut de tout licenciement ou écart de salaire. C'est bien le moins, qu'on leur demande quelque compte sur l'étendue du travail fourni. Quant à l'argument selon lequel personne ne saurait les évaluer, parce qu'ils ne sont en aucun cas des salariés ordinaires... n'y a-t-il pas là une jactance patricienne, marouflée sur le discours égalitaire ?

Now there's a blast that should provoke some response. Let's hear from some strikers or sympathizers!