Monday, March 29, 2010

Sarko on the Upper West Side

Every once in a while, one really should watch a Sarkozy speech in its entirety. Today he spoke at Columbia University. The other day, when he spoke to the French after the elections, I said that he seemed to be scolding misbehaving children. Today he condescended to another group of children. These were not his own, so he tried to conceal his annoyance with them. He came across as something between an insufferable uncle and an amateur rendering of Polonius in a high-school version of Hamlet. His gestures seemed to have been practiced before a mirror; his lines, to have been written in a simplified French, as if to make it easier for his audience to understand him. He flattered Joe Stiglitz in the audience but in the question and answer session made clear his contempt for economic theory, about which he confessed to know nothing. But then again, he said he didn't need Mr. Smith (Adam, that is), because his job was to turn "information" into "decisions." He takes a great deal of satisfaction in his self-confidence. May it never desert him. What a pitiful spectacle he would make if it did.

And I might add that he made quite a point of speaking without a text. The text kills the creativity, he said, although he seemed to have memorized his speech, not to improvise it. Why bother to travel if one is going to read one's text? Mail the text instead. Was this a barb at Obama and his teleprompter?  Has Sarko been watching Fox News?

Hulot Is Out

Nicolas Hulot will no longer participate in the "Grenelle de l'Environnement." Yet another sign that lines are hardening in the wake of the last elections. Unlike many commentators, I don't greet this development with glee. The consensus seems to be that l'ouverture was nothing but an electoralist maneuver and that the reversion to type--a hard and fast distinction between left and right, with ecologists on the left--is natural and desirable. I don't agree. A recomposition of the center is necessary if France is to progress on any number of issues. Whatever Sarkozy's motives, he seemed to recognize this and to be prepared to help bring about it. But now he has either recoiled because of the latest setback or had his hand forced by his own base.

A Striking Figure

From Charles Bremner:

More than eight out of 10 of this year's intake at the National School for Judges (Ecole Nationale de la Magistrature) are women. Men represent only 23 percent of the whole student body at the Bordeaux-based institution which trains all French trial judges, investigating magistrates, prosecutors and so on.

A British View of le Mal français

The world doesn't need so many psychologists. (h/t TexExile) Has psychology become the new sociology? And anyway, would France really be any better off if all the psych majors took up le marketing instead?

A Sign of Discontent

Alain Lambert, a UMP Senator from the Orne and budgetary expert, is usually quite reserved in his criticisms of the government. But he seems to have caught fronde fever along with many of his colleagues. This is not only outspoken but dripping with bitter sarcasm:

Vu d’ici, je subodore que le séminaire de la majorité présidentielle va consister à catéchiser les parlementaires sur les thèmes : « ce n’est pas le moment de se diviser », « les élus n’ont pas envie de grogner mais de construire » ! A diffuser une petite musique douce invitant à laisser passer l’orage comme si les régionales n’avaient délivré aucun message et que tout peut continuer comme avant. Peut-être, à les culpabiliser en les désignant comme premiers et seuls responsables de l’échec, avec les candidats et ceux qui les ont soutenus. Bref, s’ils avaient eu ce génie incommensurable de nos plus hauts dirigeants que le monde nous envie, nous n’en serions pas là. Ce soir, nos électeurs apprendront qu’ils se sont sans doute trompés, lors des élections, puisque rien ne doit changer. La 5ème République a inventé le fait majoritaire, avec les années il s’est transformé en « mouvement brownien » : je suis dans la majorité donc j’écoute et je fais ce que l’on me dit. Les chefs ont toujours raison et réfléchir c’est déjà trahir. Circulez, il n’y a rien à voir. Puisqu’on vous le dit ! Pour l’avenir, on verra demain.

I think I have been underestimating the degree of anti-Sarkozism on the right. Now that Caesar is bleeding, everyone seems to want to get in on the act.

The Euro and Its Enemies

Who knew the euro had so many enemies? They're everywhere now, not only in Germany. Two more surfaced today, here and here. Of course, all sorts of agendas are being mixed together in these critiques. Is the real target the policy of the European Central Bank, the theory of inflation targeting, monetary economics more broadly, the north-south cleavage in Europe, the peculiarities of EU institutions, the fecklessness of southerners, the (self-)righteousness of northerners, the evils of real-estate speculation, currency manipulators, the absence of currencies to be manipulated, etc. etc. Journalism is of course not the place to look for analytic clarity (nor are blogs, usually). But the moment really calls for a historian of applied ideas to follow the remaking of conventional wisdom among the "serious people" who stroke their chins and ultimately make decisions with the stroke of a pen that will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people. It's really rather appalling to see recommendations of such sweeping magnitude made with so little basis in theory and no substantiation by data.

One can, however, smile at the suggestion of  "neuro" and "sudo" as the names for two future European currencies, one for the northern tier and the other for the southern. One other point that few commentators have made: Turkish membership of the EU will now be postponed indefinitely. If the southern tier can't hack it because economies there are so differently constituted from the northern economies, then Turkey, whose GDP per capita makes it a real outlier, would be even more differentially affected by any future crisis. To be sure, it wouldn't have to join the Euro zone. But Europe itself is now so fractured that there is little enthusiasm for further expansion, especially to the east. The implications for tomorrow's geopolitics will need careful analysis.


For some reason, food items top today's news.

"A Cosmopolitan Fifth Column"

Speaking of chowing down, it seems that changes are afoot in France:
Le Fooding is in part a move to épater la bourgeoisie—it was at a Fooding event that the young chef Petter Nilsson famously assembled a plate of vegetables that symbolized the world’s religions, with a giant frite in the shape of a cross on top—but it has also been accused, by left-wing journalists, of representing the bourgeoisie; the populist left-wing magazine Marianne charged that it was a kind of cosmopolitan fifth column in the continuing modern assault on French values, and Emmanuel Rubin left the movement last year, disillusioned by what he considered its loss of moral mission.

Le fooding, evidently. is to the Michelin Guide what le footing is to the 1500-meter Olympic run.