Monday, October 5, 2009


On the university front, Valérie Pécresse wants to "persuade" the presumably autonomous universities of greater Paris to join together in a confederation in which each will retain its "identity" while presenting a common front to the world. The idea, presumably, is that an enlarged "University of Paris" will fare better in international rankings based on publications, citation counts, number of distinguished faculty, etc. Somehow the change is also supposed to make the new university more competitive with the Grandes Ecoles.

We also learn that as many as 25 percent of those teaching in French universities are interim employees without tenure and subject to dismissal at will.

No Respect

Thanks again to Polly for this one:

Chirac’s dog Sumo, a Maltese Bichon terrier, started biting the former head of state after moving to a Paris apartment.

Sumo was treated for depression, but was unhappy after leaving the spacious gardens of the Palace Elysee.

The dog bit Chirac twice in past, but after jumping up and biting him on the chest, Chirac and his wife Bernadette decided the dog would be better off outside the city.

"He just never came to terms with leaving the Elysee," Bernadette Chirac said, according to Le Parisien newspaper. "He was just little, he was a newborn and after some time, he started getting depressed in that apartment."

The dog is now with family friends and hasn’t attacked anyone since leaving Paris.

Clearstream: Rondot Testifies

General Rondot has made 3 points embarrassing for Villepin's defense. He claims that:
1. Villepin knew that Sarkozy's name was on the list.
2. Villepin invoked "presidential instructions."
3. Villepin instructed him not to notify Michèle Alliot-Marie, his hierarchical superior, on the grounds that her companion (Patrick Ollier, UMP deputy from Hauts-de-Seine) had ties to les milieux d'affaire (is this--as printed in Le Monde--what he meant, or was it le milieu des affaires, another kettle of fish--and, by the way, Ollier also figures on the list).

Pretty damning for Villepin--if you believe Rondot, of course. To be sure, he has his notebooks. But he might also have had his ulterior motives for recording the conversations in his notebooks as he did. Everybody in this affair claims to have been the dupe of someone else. Perhaps they're all right. What if all these Machiavellis à la petite semaine were dupes of someone really clever?

Cultural Paradise?

France, says culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand, is a "cultural paradise." Well, I suppose he would say that. It's his job (the full interview, in which he reflects on the nature of that job, is here). I'll be giving my own take on "The Future of French Culture" on Nov. 23 at the Center for European Studies at Harvard (4:15-6), and, trust me, I will find an adjective rather more nuanced than Mitterrand's "extraordinary" to describe it. But I am interested in the new Sarkozy-Mitterrand project of a museum of the history of France, a place "to put history, all history" (emphasis added).

I take this to be an attack on the partial historical museum (partial et partiel, as one can say in French, and as Sarkozy has said) dealing with immigration and colonialism, which has not met with presidential favor. I find it difficult to imagine what form the new historical museum might take or what clientele it might attract. All of France is a historical museum, but the entry price is perhaps higher than most people are willing to pay: it takes study to bring the past alive.

I am also intrigued by a neologism that crops up in Mitterrand's interview, la culture sociale. Here, "social" is used not in the sense of "pertaining to society" but rather in the sense in which the adjective functions in the phrase "l'Europe sociale." The idea is that le social is what remains after the elite has taken its lion's share. La culture sociale is a series of schemes to bring the masses into the temples of high art, with reduced admissions fees to lower the bar to entry and enhanced enticements to increase the allure and reduce the alienation factor. There are also schemes to improve the terms of trade in the opposite direction, diffusing the hoarded treasures more widely.

Mitterrand is hardly the first minister of culture to have concerned himself with these issues. He follows in the footsteps of Malraux and Lang. The novel element here seems to be the announced "alliance" with Fadela Amara, the secretary of state for urban affairs. Clearly, la culture sociale has taken on an integrative as well as a redistributive dimension. But will there be absorption as well as diffusion? Is this a mission of propaganda or enrichment? On these crucial points the minister is vague.

What Will Bové Do ...

... in response to this? (h/t Polly-Vous Français on Facebook)

McDo at the Louvre ... What's next? Applebee's at the Élysée? Starbuck's takes over Les Deux Magots? Steinbrenner buys the OM? Feel free to speculate in comments.

The times, they are a-changin' ...:

However, even if there were a last-minute u-turn at the Louvre, statistics suggest the battle of Le Big Macs has already been lost. France has become McDonald's biggest market in the world outside of the US, according to the chain. While business in traditional brasseries and bistros is in freefall, the fast food group opened 30 new outlets last year in France and welcomed 450 million customers – up 11 per cent on the previous year.

Additional Stimulus for France

President Sarkozy has decided to make 2 billion euros in additional stimulus available for small and medium firms having trouble raising capital. The funds will be used to purchase convertible bonds paying 5 to 9 percent interest.