Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weiler Wins!

I am glad to report that Prof. Joseph Weiler has prevailed in the lawsuit brought against him in a French court. I discussed this case in a post some time ago. Had Weiler lost, the verdict would have struck a serious blow against academic freedom everywhere. Fortunately, the French court recognized the suit's lack of merit (although it dismissed the case on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction):

In the ruling, the court said the review expressed a scientific opinion of the book and did not go beyond the kind of criticism to which all authors of intellectual work subject themselves when they publish. It agreed with Mr. Weiler's contention that the case did not properly fall within its jurisdiction anyway. It concluded that Ms. Calvo-Goller had engaged in forum shopping and had shown bad faith in bringing the complaint. It said it was ordering the plaintiff to pay the €8,000 to Mr. Weiler in reparation for the harm caused by the improper nature of her action.

Mr. Weiler has now posted an account of the ruling on his journal's blog, EJIL: Talk! Earlier, in a January 25 post, he described the legal strategy he and his lawyers used. They considered the action "an egregious instance of 'forum shopping'" or "libel tourism," he wrote. "It was important to challenge this hugely dangerous attack on academic freedom and liberty of expression," he said. "Reversing custom, we specifically asked the court not to examine our jurisdictional challenge as a preliminary matter but to join it to the case on the merits so that it would have the possibility to pronounce on both issues."

Dueling Images

Tonight's news had an interesting juxtaposition of images. Alain Juppé, freshly installed, headed almost immediately to Tahrir Square to try to wrap France in the mantle of revolution. He met with  generals, but he also met with bloggers and Facebookers, and his bain de foule in the symbolic center of the revolution was meant to take priority over substance.

Meanwhile, in Tripoli, Saif Kadhafi, the son of the Leader, gave a relaxed interview to French newsmen comme si de rien n'était. Perfidiously, he reminded his visitors that President Sarkozy had welcomed his father to France only recently. "Libya still regards President Sarkozy as a friend," he said. He added, moreover, that when you're strong, everyone flatters and courts you, but when you're threatened, your former friends make themselves scarce. Finally, he echoed the Sarkozy line that the uprising would unleash hordes of refugees on Europe. The only difference--if it was a difference--was that the young Kadhafi called them "terrorists," a menace that Sarkozy had left implicit.

With stalemate threatening in Libya, France will face important choices--soon.

Non passaran! Ban the polls ...

As predictably as night follows day, each poll producing disagreeable results unleashes a torrent of complaints about French polling methods, manipulation of the polls by occult forces, the uselessness of polling many months before an election, etc. etc. Here is a recent example, triggered by the astonishing rise of Marine Le Pen in one recent poll by the Institut Harris Interactif. One can admit the justice of certain of the critiques in this article without accepting its overall conclusion, that polling serves nefarious purposes and ought to be strictly limited. For example, there is no doubt that the quota method used by Harris is inferior to random sampling. But even random sampling has its limitations and requires correctives and a whole art of polling beyond what is covered in elementary statistics textbooks. The pity in France is not that there are so many polls but that there are so few. If there were more, with a greater variety of polling houses and corrective techniques in use, then someone might do for France what Nate Silver has done for the United States: compare polling results systematically to attempt to correct for (and explain) "house effects," which do not necessarily reflect, as is so often assumed in France, malevolent manipulation.

To say that, 14 months before the election, one poll shows Marine Le Pen topping all other candidates is not a prediction that Marine Le Pen will be the next president of France. It is no less foolish, however, to dismiss the result out of hand as the result of bad polling, the use of the Internet, or the hidden hand of some Machiavellian strategist. It's interesting, for one thing, that it used to be argued just as predictably that FN poll results were lower than they ought to be because people were "ashamed" to admit that they were voting FN. If nothing else, the new poll suggests that this "French Bradley effect," if it ever existed, is now definitively dead. Indeed, the opposite may be true: respondents may want to threaten to vote FN in order to "send a message" to the major parties that voters are discontented. An "expressive" rather than an "instrumental" poll response, as political scientists like to say, is nevertheless a warning to be taken seriously by all political parties. Attacking the messenger won't help, and outlawing polls, as Jean-Pierre Sueur and Hugues Portelli have suggested, is a solution worthy of ostriches rather than owls.

From the NPA and CGT to the FN

Fabien Engelmann, a cégétiste who was no. 2 on the NPA list in Moselle in the 2010 regional elections, has joined the Front National. His reasons:

Cela tient tout d’abord à l’arrivée de Marine Le Pen. Elle a su dédiaboliser le FN, qui, je pense, a souvent été victime de caricatures par les bien-pensants. Actuellement, elle est la seule à défendre véritablement la loi de 1905, à dénoncer la banalisation du halal et les prières illégales sur la voie publique. Elle apporte des solutions contre la mondialisation, et donc contre les délocalisations, elle propose aussi de lutter contre la concurrence imposée de la main d’œuvre étrangère avec la main d’œuvre « locale » dans le but avoué de faire baisser les salaires quitte à jeter au chômage des Français. Marine Le Pen lutte aussi contre l’Europe de Bruxelles qui nous appauvrit de jour en jour et, bien sûr, elle songe aussi à un éventuel retour au franc, car si un risque d’effondrement de l’euro existe, nous avons tout intérêt à nous doter d’un plan de sortie anticipée. De plus, je pense qu’elle a raison de défendre la préférence nationale et de rappeler que nous ne devons avoir honte ni de notre culture, ni de nos couleurs. Chaque pays a sa propre histoire et certains acquis qui lui sont propres. Je suis donc plutôt favorable à une Europe des nations.

Engelmann is only the symptom of a much larger problem:

Notre consoeure de L’Est républicain mentionne l’intervention de Loïc Karboviac, adhérent CGT et pompier en Moselle “Au SDIS 57, les trois quarts des syndiqués votent Le Pen ou Sarko. Et s’il y avait un ‘Engelmann’ chez les pompiers aujourd’hui, ils le soutiendraient. D’autres sections ont le même problème. A force de dire que le syndicat ne fait pas de politique, ne s’est-on pas tiré une balle dans le pied. D’autres syndicats sont aujourd’hui contaminés par le Front. Alors qu’est-ce qu’on fait ?”

That said, a report on France 2 last night stated that among recent adherents of the FN, 21% voted for Sarkozy in  the first round of 2007, compared with 7% who voted for one of the candidates of the Left. Still, the important point to note here is Engelmann's justification of his switch, which is a point-by-point summary of Marine Le Pen's platform. Her message--economic and nationalist--has apparently removed the stigma from her party for an increasing number of working-class voters. It is also worth noting Engelmann's explicit rejection of the charge of racism or Islamophobia in regard to what he understands as a "defense of laïcité," which is precisely the way in which the FN under MLP has recast the anti-immigrant politics that have defined the party from its inception. For him, it was the NPA's acceptance of a veiled candidate that he could not admit:

 En mai 2009 un peu avant les élections européennes, j’ai rejoint le NPA, car je trouvais intéressante l’idée de réunir la gauche de la gauche autour d’un programme commun. Grande a été notre déception quand, avec mes amis du comité NPA de Thionville, nous avons appris que notre parti présentait une candidate voilée aux régionales, dans le Vaucluse. Nous nous sommes aussi rendu compte que toute critique de l’islam était immédiatement taxée de racisme ou d’islamophobie, alors même que les critiques à l’encontre du catholicisme ou d’autres religions étaient les bienvenues. Quelle drôle de conception de la laïcité ! … Nous sommes tous partis.
He also rejects Mélenchon for the same reason:

Le problème avec Jean Luc Mélenchon, ... c’est l’immigration. ... Aussi lorsque Jean-Luc Mélenchon dit vouloir régulariser tous les sans-papiers, je ne suis pas d’accord
ADDENDUM: Another case of CGT->FN crossover, resulting in suspensions in Montreuil.