Showing posts with label French industry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label French industry. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Is ancient France fucking off?

Readers who know French will have understood that my title is an awkward attempt to translate our fear that « la France d’autrefois fout le camp ». The concept of a legendary France has always been fuzzy but nevertheless perfectly real... at least in my mind. And the rhetorical question behind the present blog post might be rephrased as follows: Are there alarming signs, at the present moment, suggesting that the France of our dreams might be receding inexorably into the world of dreams?

Let’s leave aside Vercingétorix… who didn’t necessarily correspond to my idea of a typical Frenchman.


And Joan of Arc, too… who wasn’t exactly a typical Gallic female. (Many modern French women often find that English gentlemen can be charming.)


My legendary France might be thought of as starting with Denis Diderot [1713-1784], the brilliant instigator (with d'Alembert) of the Encyclopédie, which was intended to encompass all human knowledge of “sciences, arts and crafts”. To my modest mind, Diderot was one of the greatest intellects that the planet Earth has ever known.


His fabulous novel Jacques le Fataliste remains an astounding literary creation. Recommended to me enthusiastically long ago—for reasons that I was incapable of understanding at that time—by a lovely young student at the Sorbonne, Christine, who would become the mother of our children, this primordial work of Diderot happens to be my current bedside book.


Jumping shamelessly over countless scientists, philosophers and artists, I would next name Louis Pasteur [1822-1895] as a symbol of my legendary France.


He would be followed, soon after, by a woman who (like many famous French people) wasn’t even born in France: Marie Curie [1867-1934].


In the contemporary era, it’s not surprising that I’ve always been captivated by the spiritual presence of Charles de Gaulle [1890-1970]. Besides, his widespread arms inspired the gadget that enabled me to uncork countless bottles of wine throughout my early years in Paris.


Today, a trivial news item makes me think that all that gigantic intellectual heritage of France might be disappearing down the kitchen sink like dishwater. Let me explain.

Many of my Australian readers are familiar with the embarrassingly-stupid story of the railroad from Sydney to Melbourne, culminating in a notorious break-of-gauge singularity at Albury, on the frontier between the rival states of New South Wales and Victoria.


Insofar as the adjacent states failed to agree on a a standard common gauge, passengers have to descend from one train and get up into another. This innocent-looking country platform is in fact a monument to human stupidity, to the apparent impossibility of ever seeking agreement on simple issues.

For ages, I was convinced that nonsense of that deplorable kind could never occur in my hallowed France, where everything was conducted under the metrical auspices of René Descartes [1596-1650] for the mathematics and Napoléon Bonaparte [1769-1821] for the creation and enforcement of laws.

Well, my dear old France has just become involved in an astronomical fuckup. The dumb bastards in charge of French railways have recently ordered 50 million euros of rolling stock that’s slightly too wide for some 1300 stations! They simply forgot to take out a tape and get down on their hands and knees to measure the existing reality. So, more millions will have to be spent in shaving off the excess width of countless existing train platforms.

Once upon a time, this kind of error would have been unthinkable in France. Something has obviously changed... for the worse. Between now and the delivery of this rolling stock, certain human heads will surely roll. But this will not erase the nasty conclusion that my beloved ancient version of an eternal France—superbly philosophical and mathematical—would appear to be simply fucking off before our sad eyes.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Take-off

The Airbus A350—in competition with the Boeing 787—took off from Toulouse Blagnac less than an hour ago on its maiden flight.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

French Rafale fighter plane

In my blog post of 1 March 2010 entitled Australia's choice of fighter planes [display], I suggested that, instead of waiting for the US Joint Strike Fighters ordered by former prime minister John Howard, the French Rafale would be an excellent choice.


Dassault Aviation has just announced its first foreign sales contract for this aircraft: 126 planes for India, an affair of some 12 billion dollars.

That kind of economic news is welcome in France at the present moment. One of the key arguments of the Socialist contender for the presidency, François Hollande, is that France needs to reassert rapidly and dynamically her high-tech industrial prowess on the international marketing scene.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Railway of shame

People in France have known for decades that the French national railway system—called the SNCF—was implicated explicitly in the ignominious transportation of Jews from France to the Nazi death camps in Poland.

Today, the president of the SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, admitted publicly that his corporation had been "a cog in the Nazi extermination machine". He was speaking from the old station of Bobigny, on the outskirts of Paris, from which some 25,000 individuals were freighted away to the camps.

The SNCF has decided to donate its Bobigny real estate, including the old building, to the local municipality, to be transformed into some kind of Shoah memorial.

The Bobigny station lies just two kilometers away from the notorious transit camp of Drancy, where inmates tried desperately to lead an everyday existence while awaiting their deportation to places named Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, etc.




At the same that we recall the shameful behavior of SNCF authorities who once condoned the evil exploitation of their railroad resources, we must not forget that countless SNCF technical employees played a vital role in the Résistance through their sabotage operations.

French media have drawn attention to what might be construed as an insidious purpose behind this sudden SNCF apology. The company is making bids for gigantic railroad contracts in California and Florida, and US Jewish lobbies have expressed their opposition to hiring a company with Jewish blood on its hands. The SNCF president tackled such criticism by stating that the decision to transform the Bobigny station into a memorial was "not dictated by circumstances", but by his "convictions". We'll see how people in the USA react to all this.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Let's get aboard a dream

Click the image to access a video that presents a project for the construction of a luxury liner that would be named France.

The project is the brainchild of a young Parisian entrepreneur named Didier Spade, whose ancestors used to build luxurious furniture for great ocean liners such as the former France (now demolished). Click the photo to visit the website of Spade's Paris Yacht Marina.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Avant-garde French train technology

Just when the French acronym TGV [train à grande vitesse] has even found its way into English-language dictionaries [such as on my Macintosh] to designate French high-speed electric passenger trains, we'll be obliged soon to become familiar with a substitute: AGV [automotrice à grande vitesse]. I'm not sure how we should translate this expression. Maybe simply as high-speed train motor (a little awkward)... unless somebody attempts to introduce a neologism such as automotive, as a rail equivalent of automobile.

In the context of an AGV system, the power does not remain solely in the locomotive. Instead, it is distributed out to each carriage in the train. This means that the velocity of a train can be stabilized, no matter how long it is. And there are gains both in speed and in energy consumption. The Alstom manufacturer states that the new trains will be lighter than TGVs, through the use of new composite material.

Alstom has made it clear that it aims to export this revolutionary train. The Italian NTV operator has already ordered a batch of 25, and Argentina plans to use this train on its line between Buenos-Aires and Cordoba, for an investment of 1.5 billion dollars. The success of the TGV has been largely a matter of prestige. Unfortunately, as we all know, mere prestige won't buy shoes for the kids, or (as they say in French) put butter in your spinach. This time round, with the AGV, France would like to earn a lot of that old-fashioned stuff called money.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nuclear energy

In my recent article entitled Australia's submarines [display], I suggested that there is insufficient political consciousness and statesmanlike imagination in Australia to envisage a big project such as the construction of a fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines. In The Australian today, there are a few negative remarks on this question. For example, Opposition Senator Nick Minchin states: "Australia has no capability or expertise to build or maintain nuclear submarines and the Collins-class boats have proved that conventional submarines can do the job. Rather than have a distracting debate, Labor should just rule out the nuclear option now." Peter Briggs, president of the Submarine Institute of Australia, stated that the main problem is lack of knowledge: "I think they should rule out the nuclear option because frankly we do not have time for such a major debate if we are to deliver new submarines by 2025. Australia has no nuclear industry and no nuclear facilities at our universities, and so we don't have the personnel or the knowledge required."

I'm dismayed by this defeatist thinking, which reflects Australia's stubborn head-in-the-sand attitude towards nuclear energy. And, with Kevin Rudd now elected, it's almost certain that the nuclear-energy situation in Australia will be bleaker than ever.

Here in France, of course, nuclear energy has become an everyday affair. Technological progress and advanced expertise should normally decrease the risks of catastrophes, and relatively few people—apart from Greenpeace and a handful of environmental groups—would contend today that developments in this domain should be halted. On the contrary, the commune of Cadarache in the south of France (near Marseille) will soon be hosting a huge futuristic research program called ITER [International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor] funded by the European Union, India, Japan, the People's Republic of China, Russia, South Korea and the USA.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Unwelcome guest... with money

"It's normal that the weak resort to terrorism." Apparently, that sentiment was expressed last Friday by Mouammar Kadhafi at a summit conference of African and European leaders in Lisbon. In the spirit of French law, these words might be construed as an apology for terrorism, and this would appear to be a crime in France. But we're on unstable ground. From a certain viewpoint, Kadhafi is merely describing a situation that exists in the real world, where the weak do in fact resort regularly to terrorism. And the French never forget that their heroic Résistance fighters, who didn't wear military uniforms, were in fact considered by Vichy and the Nazi occupant as terrorists.

Throughout the world, today is the 59th anniversary of the creation by the United Nations, in Paris, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many observers in France are disgusted to find Nicolas Sarkozy receiving Kadhafi as a guest at the Elysées Palace this evening. One of the most outspoken critics of this reception is Sarkozy's state secretary in charge of Human Rights, Rama Yade.

This exceptional 31-year-old lady, born in Senegal, accompanied Sarkozy to Libya when he went there on 25 July 2007 (without his wife) to thank Kadhafi for liberating the Bulgarian nurses. Full of smiles, she even shook hands with the Libyan dictator.

Consequently, many people are surprised, today, by the violence of her words concerning Kadhafi's visit to France. She stated publicly that the Libyan leader must "understand that our land is not a doormat on which a leader, terrorist or not, can wipe from his feet the blood of his deeds". She concluded her declaration by a dramatic metaphor: "France must not be the recipient of this kiss of death." Although Rama Yade is hardly an authentic representative of the downtrodden (her father, a professor of history, was the personal secretary of Léopold Sédar Senghor), her direct language is that of a youthful and intelligent France: the opposite of the so-called langue de bois (empty "woody" language) often employed by politicians.

Needless to say, the words of Rama Yade have made a huge impact in the media today. Countless individuals who don't necessarily admire Sarkozy's young lady from Senegal have voiced their disapproval of this state visit... whose obvious aim consists of signing French contracts (weapons, nuclear power, desalination equipment, etc) for some ten billion euros. Money like that goes to your head, and makes you forget—for a day or so—about human rights.

Monday, September 3, 2007

French energy

After months of discussions, a merger was announced this morning between two major French corporations in the energy domain: state-owned Gaz de France (the national utility handling natural gas) and part of the private group named Suez (processing of water and waste resources). The future conglomerate, to be called GDF-Suez, will be at least 35% state-owned. The final go-ahead for the proposed merger still has to be obtained from Suez shareholders, representatives of personnel and finally the European Commission. If all these authorizations are obtained, which appears likely, the merger will become a reality at some time in 2008. The new French giant will be the fourth-largest energy group in the world, following Gazprom (Russia), EDF (French electricity) and EON (Germany).