Sunday, November 8, 2009

Buy a Urinal

Ever wanted une vespasienne of your very own? Now's your chance.

Principe de Précaution Dinguo-Insensé

In the US, thieves are hijacking truckloads of swine flu vaccine because the stuff is in such demand. In France, only 19.3% of the population intends to get vaccinated, because la méfiance is so out of control that people are more afraid of the government than they are of the flu. Or something. Here we have an item for the French identity debate: Why are people in this country so afraid of cell-phone towers, genetically modified organisms, and swine flu vaccine yet perfectly willing to drive at 150 km/h on 1-lane country roads, ride bicycles in Paris, and consume triple-crème cheeses?

Dumas Looks Back

Roland Dumas, very relaxed and quite jovial, looks back on the fall of the Soviet bloc and Mitterrand's attitude toward German reunification, in a fascinating conversation, which I would recommend viewing with a skeptical eye.


Sarko at the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Carla Bruni teams up with Harry Connick Jr. And other Sarkogossip. UPDATE: And what if Sarko's memory is faulty?

Le Déclassement

Le déclassement has become a hot topic in French sociology of late. Eric Maurin, in La Peur du déclassement, contends that the phenomenon is largely psychological, a fear of what is in fact rather rare. Camille Peugny, the author of another book on the subject, disagrees.

If I hesitate to translate the word in question, it's partly because I'm not sure there's an equivalent English term and partly because definitional issues are central to the disagreement. One might think of "downward mobility," but part of Peugny's riposte to Maurin is that the latter adopts too strict a definition. What appears to be a position of given status may now require more substantial credentials than it did a generation ago, for example. If a foreman now needs a licence to hold a position that didn't even require a bac before, then the educational credential has been devalued, déclassé. Or has it? Perhaps the job carries with it a greater autonomy and responsibility than the job of the same name in the past. But has its relative remuneration risen or fallen? And so on. Clearly, the issues are numerous and difficult to resolve given the available evidence.

I'd be curious to hear your views on whether déclassement is more real than imaginary. Readers interested in an American comparison might like to look at Caroline Hoxby's recent paper on changing selectivity in American universities. Hoxby finds contradictory tendencies at work: the most selective colleges have become more selective than ever, but more than 50 percent of colleges at the lower end of the scale have become markedly less selective. Hence higher education has been both déclassé and reclassé depending on where in the spectrum a student lands.

Le Maire's Loyalties

Bruno Le Maire, who was Dominique de Villepin's chief of staff but is now Nicolas Sarkozy's minister of agriculture, has spoken out against Villepin's persistent sniping at the government. "There is a limit" to legitimate debate, he said, defined by "the interest, the unity of the majority." As normative political theory, this is of limited interest, but as a sign that Villepin's tactics have exasperated even his friends, it is worth noting.

All Digital Textbooks

France will move to all digital textbooks. The publishing industry is not happy.