Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DSK as Post-Colonial History

An interesting take on the DSK story:

In the scandalous case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French IMF chief currently held in New York facing attempted rape charges, the powerful issues of race and gender easily overwhelm one curious geopolitical detail: what's a woman from a French-speaking, former French colony in West Africa doing in the U.S. in the first place? In this case, she is from Guinea, but she could just as likely be from Senegal, Cameroon, Rwanda, Gabon, or Benin -- all Francophone countries that once sent their most ambitious immigrants almost exclusively to France. Now these and other French-speaking African countries experience a steady outflow people to the U.S. 
The presence of a growing number of French-speaking Africans reflects a monumental shift in the relationship of sub-Saharan Africa to France and to the U.S. The shift has been years in the making, and its still-unfolding consequences are dimly appreciated.
The pragmatism and openness of American capital differs sharply from France's more closed, status-oriented managerial culture. About the time that France experienced a wave of protests by African immigrants in 2005, I met with a group of university-educated black Africans living and working in Paris. All of them uniformly complained about racial bias and about limits on the potential of even highly talented to immigrants to advance up French corporate ladders. They showed little gratitude for the government of France having paid for their university educations, a practice meant to bind elites from Africa to French society. The contrast with America's embrace of talented immigrants -- and racial equality -- was impossible to ignore. In a 2009 study of Francophone Africans, Whitney R. Henderson of Providence College found similar reasons for their choice of the U.S. over France.  

Morality according to Finkielkraut, Peillon, Woerth

This (video: Mots croisés, May 30, 2011) is long but not without a certain shock value: to hear MM. Finkielkraut, Peillon, and Woerth debate the question of who has won the "moral battle" is not without savor. Finkielkraut continues his descent into a peculiar form of senility: he is blind to all persecution except that of the powerful. It pains him, it truly pains him--and few are as gifted as Alain Finkielkraut when it comes to the expression of intellectual déchirement--to see DSK "driven out" of a NYC coop and forced to take refuge in a $50K/month apartment because of the inexplicable zeal of American judges and district attorneys to prevent him from returning to his home in Washington. What reason could there be for such acharnement except the desire of NY's DA, Mr. Vance Jr., to win re-election by "taking the scalp of a wealthy man?"

Vincent Peillon, for his part, reminds us that political figures who are seen as paragons of probity often don't do well at the polls. He mentions Jospin; he might have given us Mendès-France. By a strange non sequitur, this removes any stain from the honor of DSK: he would have been a winner, hence it's OK for him to be throwing his wife's money around. The bizarreness of this logic doesn't seem to occur to him. Nor does he ask himself whether DSK's pre-indictment position as the "inevitable" candidate of the left might have owed as much to his wealth as to his talent: which of the other candidates had the means to hire Euro RSCG to buff his image in the media?

Woerth's presence on this platform seems to have been decided by his status as a martyr: martyred, he is retrospectively canonized, and who better than a saint to lecture us on morality in politics? His "presumption of innocence" seems to count for just as much as an acquittal, and he is therefore whitewashed of all past indiscretion and entitled to tell us that black sheep may well be the whitest of the flock, if only we could perceive as he does their inner holiness. "Georges Tron, I knew him well ... " Finkielkraut takes the other tack: he doesn't know either Tron or Strauss-Kahn, hence his judgments are pure of all prejudice, and unlike others, he can see clearly that a "foot is just a foot." Alas, he seems not to have read the actual charges against Tron, which go well beyond foot massages. For the conscience of France, it is enough that Tron has been hounded from power to prove that he, too, is a martyr.

Roger Cohen, Recidivist

I have bashed Roger Cohen before. I might have forgone today's opportunity, except that a commenter begs me to go after his offensive screed (NY Times paywall). And offensive it is: the innocent Mr. Cohen seems to believe that the French have some sort of monopoly on conspiracy theories. He must never have run across a Kennedy assassination buff, a Birther, or a Ron Paulist perusaded that the Federal Reserve and the Trilateral Commission are in cahoots with South African gold and diamond interests. Indeed, it's a bit early to be certain of what happened in Suite 2806, since very little information has been released publicly. So if Mr. Cohen wants to indict entire nations for crimes of credulity, he had better be careful about giving testimony that might one day be used to convict Americans.


Is everyone now going to denounce every illicit sex act they've ever heard of? Luc Ferry wants to be the first.

Problem Solved

How to keep DSK out of trouble while he's out on bail? Hire male maids to clean the house. Meanwhile, Anne Sinclair and daughter have been shopping at Crate & Barrel for napkins and tablecloths. A little downscale for a $50K a month townhouse, but perhaps it was on advice of the image consultants.

Abandoning Nuclear Power

Angela Merkel's decision to wean Germany from nuclear power by 2022 has been wind in Cécile Duflot's sails--or perhaps I should say her turbine blades. Because Duflot is insisting that France commit to a similar course as a condition of her party's cooperation in any government. Given France's heavy dependence on nuclear power, I'm not sure that such a commitment is possible, even if it were desirable, but practicalities don't seem to have weighed heavily in Duflot's decision. Seize the moment, catch the wind, seems to have been her watchword.

So to a left that has not entirely given up the dream of le Grand Soir, France now adds a Green Party with utopian visions of its own. Not that there's anything wrong with utopia. It's a nice place to visit .... and imagining utopias is an antidote to hardening of the arteries. But funny things happen to utopians when they come to power. Not having thought very seriously about what can be done, as opposed to what it might be nice to do, they find themselves suddenly confronted with people clamoring for things to which they have become accustomed, like cheap electricity. And then they panic and make a hash of things.

One thing Sarkozy is good at is reminding his opponents of the constraints imposed by reality, and he is more keenly aware of those constraints now than he was in 2007. Of course it's never a sure bet when voters are asked to weigh past and proven failures against future potential ones. They may decide to go with the dreamers, but then again, they may prefer to believe that it's been a long time since France has seen a tsunami.