Monday, April 11, 2011

Another New Blog

Arun Kapil, a longtime reader of French Politics, has a new blog, Arunwithaview.

Pécresse at Harvard

Valérie Pécresse came to Harvard today and gave an impressive account of university reform in impeccable English. You can follow the proceedings via the liveblog transcript here. Given the number of people in the audience, I couldn't ask all of your questions, so I confined myself to asking about selection. Once the clusters are created, some will be "more excellent" than others. How will students be channeled to one rather than another? Her answer was somewhat evasive. Selection is going on now, she said, which is true, but the Grande École model of selection will not be viable in the cluster system, and the university selection (admit large numbers, flunk out large numbers after a couple of wasted years) is a poor use of resources. Much of her talk was focused on research and innovation in the sciences, which  is fine, but does not address the problems of the humanities, as Prof. Muriel Rouyer pointed out. The minister fended off this question by blaming the victim: grant applications had been invited, and humanities departments either did not apply or submitted proposals that did not meet with the approval of the jury.

Still, the overall impression left by the talk was positive. She understands many of the system's problems and has a set of prioritized strategies for achieving reform in a highly contentious environment. One can disagree with many particulars of the program and still be compelled to admit that alternative proposals would be subject to similar criticisms. One suggestion that appealed to me was the reform of the khâgne-hypokhâgne system. Pécresse noted that 4,500 students competed for just 200 places in two Ecoles Normales Supérieures. This was extremely wasteful and led to "selection by failure," with damage to student self-esteem. A reform has opened new avenues to those who are not selected, however. After finishing the khâgne, they now have other options, including political studies and entry into university master's programs.

One thing is clear: Mme Pécresse is a minister of talent.

Why do the French discriminate against Muslims?

Academic research on the question is discussed here. The answer seems to be the one given (inadvertently) by Brice Hortefeux (indeed, cited as an epigraph in the paper): "Il en faut toujours un. Quand il y en a un, ça va. C'est quand il y en a beaucoup qu'il y a des problèmes." Or, as Henry Farrell puts it:

Adida, Laitin and Valfort conduct a variety of field experiments, and find that 'rooted' French people (those with four native grandparents) are less likely to be generous when the 'salience' of Muslims in the group increases. They furthermore suggest that this is best explained by a taste for discrimination rather than some rational system of beliefs about how Muslims will reciprocate or not reciprocate towards them.

Sarko Approval 29%

Sarkozy's approval rating now stands at 29%. Although 62% approved of his intervention in Libya, he got no personal boost from taking action--just as I told NPR he wouldn't.

Austerity Is Austere

The IMF has cut its UK growth forecast for the third time this year. Apparently, the IMF staff doesn't buy the idea of "expansionary contraction." Neither does Larry Summers: see his answer to Martin Wolf's last question in this video. Incidentally, though I have mixed feelings about Summers, I think his performance here is impressive for the way in which it acknowledges criticism and reflections tensions between Summers' own judgments and the numerous objections that have been raised to his policy advice from both right and left. Martin Wolf prods him just the right amount to get the most out of him.

One of his best lines (alluding to his stormy tenure as president of Harvard): "I am one of the few people who has ever gone to Washington to get away from politics."

Arrests in Paris

Two women wearing niqabs were arrested in front of Notre Dame (video below). The provocation seems to have been deliberate, and the arrests were for "unauthorized demonstration" rather than violation of the anti-niqab law. The first court cases should be interesting, especially at the European level, which this law will undoubtedly reach at some point.

Gbagbo Arrested

French special forces have captured Laurent Gbagbo:

Laurent Gbagbo a été arrêté à Abidjan

L'ambassadeur de France à Abidjan a annoncé que Laurent Gbagbo a été arrêté. Selon un conseiller du président sortant ivoirien, ce sont les forces spéciales françaises qui sont intervenues dans la résidence présidentielle. (AFP et Reuters)

My NPR interview on French operations in Ivory Coast and Libya (recorded last Thursday, aired today) can be heard here.

The Niqab

The "no face covering" law goes into effect today, but for some reason the media seem to think its main target is Muslim women wearing the niqab and burqa rather than motorcyclists with smoky face masks. Imagine that. In any case, an informal survey by the Open Society Institute shows that women who wear the niqab do so for a variety of reasons:

Volontaires pour témoigner, toutes déclarent sans surprise que leur démarche relève d'un choix ; seule une femme reconnaît que son mari, un imam, a évoqué le premier l'éventualité qu'elle adopte cette tenue. Une autre y est venue après un vœu exaucé : "J'ai dit à Dieu, si tu veux que je porte le niqab, donne des papiers à mon mari (la nationalité française)." Il les a obtenus, elle a tenu sa promesse.
La plupart sont entrées en conflit avec leur entourage, notamment leur mère, lorsqu'elles ont adopté cette tenue. Parce que cela ne correspondait pas à leurs traditions ou par peur des difficultés dans leur vie sociale. "Ma famille me traite de salafiste, de fondamentaliste", assure Haifa, 19 ans. Six maris ont été ravis de la décision de leur femme ; quatre étaient en désaccord.

Grunberg on Borloo

He's puzzled.