Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Foreign Press on Sarko's Speech

Rundown here.


The UMP apparently used two songs of the American rock group MGMT (which I confess I had never heard of--I'm getting old, I guess) without permission and must now pay the group an indemnity. One critic says the group specializes in "shape-shifting psychedelic pop." Not a bad choice for the UMP, then, which specializes in shape-shifting hallucinogenic economic pap.

Sarko Convokes Les États Généraux

Uh-oh. They say that those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it. President Sarkozy is convoking les États généraux ... in Guadeloupe. While he may have fared badly with La Princesse de Clèves in grammar school, surely at some point he read about what happened when the king convoked the Estates General. O! Ça ira, ça ira, ça ira/les aristocrates on les pendra!


Oh, man, this is really too much:

"The consumption of alcohol, and especially wine, is discouraged," say guidelines that are drawn from the findings of the National Cancer Institute (INCA). A single glass of wine per day will raise your chance of contracting cancer by up to 168 percent, it says.

And these past few years I've been laboring under the pleasant illusion (?) that a glass or two of wine a day is good for the heart. Selective reception time. I'm just going to tune this warning out. Without wine and cheese, what is life?

My favorite French proverb: Est-ce que la vie vaut la peine? C'est une question de foi(e).
[Is life worth living? It's a question of the liver. -- The pun is different in English, but it still sort of works.]

A public service announcement:

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Oral de rattrapage

The president last night announced a series of relief measures intended to ease the plight of those who live from paycheck to paycheck in this time of crisis. The total sum to be disbursed is estimated at 2.6 billion euros, which Benoît Hamon promptly denounced as "derisory, not a hundredth of what the Americans are spending." Well, I suppose if you add up the TARP funds here, the auto industry bailout there, the bank subsidies, the infrastructure spending, the tax cuts, yadda yadda, you might come somewhere close to the $3 trillion or so implied by Hamon's statement, but that would be comparing apples to oranges. Sarko did at least make a stab at showing that he had heard the pleas that he do something about le pouvoir d'achat.

Oddly, he made his decisions before holding the "social summit" that was supposed to discuss them. Of course this was just business as usual in the French style of governance. The government would not actually want to be seen responding to l'intérêt particulier de Machin ou Truc, so it pre-announces a plan that is soi-disant l'incarnation de l'intérêt général. And then all the representatives of l'intérêt particulier rush outside to announce their disappointment on le perron de l'Elysée.

It's always an affecting ritual, so monarchical in its mise en scène of supplicants beseeching the king to favor them with his largesse. But as Sarko sharply reminded Laurent Joffrin some months ago, "Je ne suis pas monarque, Monsieur Joffrin, j'ai été élu par le peuple de France." Indeed. And he is fond of reminding the French that "j'ai été élu pour faire X." It's an interesting twist on the logic of democracy. Sarko's reasoning is almost syllogistic in its simplicity: I was elected, I want to do X, ergo I was elected to do X. It is this conflation of the will of the people and the will of its agent that gives Sarko his autocratic air. Of course every agent of democracy will present himself as carrying out the will of the people, but there are less provocative ways to present the sleight of hand involved in substituting what a leader or party thinks is best for what the People in its mythical unity might think best. Sarko eschews such finesse.

But we must cut him some slack, since he is caught between a rock and a hard place: the European Union has warned France that it is in violation of its Maastricht budget obligations and that financial sanctions may follow. Europe's action is at once necessary and absurd. Necessary, because ignoring deficit limits "renders them inoperative," to borrow a phrase from the Nixon era. Absurd, because the economic emergency renders such limits ridiculous, and the European Commission's insistence on them irrelevant. It may be that we defend virtue by branding derogations from it vice, but when "vice" simply becomes the name for what everybody is doing--birds, bees, and finance ministers alike--then denouncing it becomes the affair of cranks and prudes.

On University Reform and Sarkozyan Governance

A very illuminating note by Bernard Girard on what the attempt to measure academic productivity says about Sarkozy's style of governance and its likelihood of success.

France, According to the Ad Men

The New York Times looks at French advertising this morning. Some choice quotes:

“That’s because we have always had a very unhealthy relationship to money,” explained Jacques Séguéla, chief creative officer for Havas, the country’s second-biggest advertising agency. ...“To us money implies corruption, and moreover, because we consider ourselves the inventors of freedom, never mind if that’s not true, we still consider advertising as a kind of manipulation,” Mr. Séguéla said. “This explains why television commercials started so late here — essentially because leftist opposition saw ads as corrupting the soul.”

“We’re not a Protestant culture,” said Stéphane Martin, director of the French union for television advertisements. “So we have difficulty accepting successful people and embracing advertising as a means of selling. And there has always been such a strong sense that the state should be responsible for public services, like television.”

“We stress sex and wit in our ads because that’s our culture,” Mr. Martin, the union chief, said. “Advertising is about presenting an idealized view of its audience. And this is who we would like to think we are.”

I can't wait for the French version of "Mad Men" (an American TV series about advertising men in the 1950s.)