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

Monday, January 13, 2014

She-wolf of France

Up until recently, the principal subject of discussion in France was the sad state of the nation and the apparent failure of François Hollande and his Socialist government in the economic domain. Then an amazing affair was created out of the blue by the French chief of police, Manuel Valls, seen here in a Jewish context.


Valls finally succeeded in censuring the black-skinned French anti-Zionist comedian Dieudonné, whose presentations were promptly outlawed through draconian laws and methods that would be surely unthinkable in many English-speaking nations (such as the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia).


All this agitation was taking place just a few days ago, and dominating the media in France. Then, in the space of a few hours, everything changed. Overnight (literally), a new affair eclipsed the old ones. The world learned with amazement that stealthy ScooterMan had been sighted in the middle of the night, at an out-of-bounds location not far away from the Elysées Palace, and that paperazzi photos would be appearing in a French magazine the following morning.


The next day, we were bombarded with images of a new glamor couple: the French president and a beautiful actress, Julie Gayet.


Now, I wish to make a humble and totally irrelevant personal statement concerning this lady. A few years ago, I was stunned by her portrayal of Isabella, the She-wolf of France [1295-1358], wife of the gay king Edward II of England, in the TV series entitled Les Rois maudits (The Accursed Kings).


At that time, I was unearthing genealogical links between the Skeffingtons and the Plantagenet monarchs. For a few days, my mind was filled with the crazy idea that maybe this mysterious creature named Julie Gayet—who struck me as one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen—might be an ancestor of mine. [Since those days of fanciful thinking, I've become aware that my authentic Skeffington ancestors had branched away earlier on, at the Tudor epoch, from those who would get mixed up with the Plantagenet monarchy. In any case, the real Isabella may have been less beauteous than her modern representation.]

Today, in any case, when I hear that Julie Gayet has apparently been swept off her feet by ScooterMan, I feel strangely relieved, for I see retrospectively that she was never really a make-believe creature associated with my imaginary past, but merely a modern and perfectly normal French woman, attracted by a quite normal French president. The following American cartoon provides a good summary of the situation:


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Robespierre on stage

On the extreme left-hand side of the political chessboard, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is a brilliant orator who has been trying to persuade us that a remake of the French Revolution of 1789 is about to unfold. At times, though, one has the impression that Mélenchon tries a little too hard. Last Sunday, for example, he tried to persuade TV-viewers that vast throngs of leftist militants had assembled on the Avenue des Gobelins in Paris, to take part in a protest march concerning tax injustice. In an interview conducted by the distinguished journalist Claire Chazal of TF1, we can see members of this supposedly huge crowd in the background behind Mélenchon.


The problem is that somebody up on the balcony of a nearby apartment building took a photo of the global scene, which actually looked like this:


Clearly, there were no throngs of militants, merely a few dozen friends of Mélenchon who were happy to behave like movie extras, grouping themselves together to form a dense background giving the visual impression that they belonged to a huge crowd of similar militants.

Needless to say, Mélenchon has lost a lot of his dwindling credibility as a consequence of this staged affair  One wonders, too, why the people at TF1 apparently condoned this unethical media behavior. Retrospectively, however, we can understand what must have happened. The people in charge of the TV crew, finding Mélenchon all alone on the empty avenue, must have said to themselves that the forthcoming interview would be somewhat ludicrous unless they could enhance the setting a little...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bachar al-Assad must leave the scene

The writing is on the wall. France has spoken definitively through our prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. The criminal Bachar al-Assad must fuck off.


When France talks like that, the world must listen. In the face of such explicit French determination, it is no longer thinkable that the Syrian dictator can possibly survive for long. It will be good riddance to an atrocious modern-day Hitler, who has cruelly exterminated thousands of his fellow Syrians. The dictator's game is virtually over. The disposal task remains to be performed as rapidly as possible. France can do that.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bastille blues

In his wonderful book entitled Jerusalem, City of Mirrors (1989), the late Amos Elon [1926-2009] spoke of a mysterious affliction referred to as the Jerusalem syndrome. Affecting American Protestant males, almost exclusively, this torment causes them to take off their clothes, evolve into a state of crazy ecstasy, and preach nonsensical prophecies to passers-by on street corners. After a few days in hospital, victims recover their normal behavior as calm tourists in the Holy City, and they even feel good about their traumatic experience. Psychiatrists explain that victims of this affliction arrive in Jerusalem with a preconceived but totally false vision of the place, which they've always imagined as a gentle and harmonious Holyland: a pastel-hued picture from a children's book.


When such a visitor discovers the stark present-day Jerusalem, and finds it totally unlike his vision, his convictions are shattered traumatically... and his subsequent reactions and behavior express his momentary desire to be born again (naked, of course) into a reassuring but make-believe Christian context.

Here in France, a similar kind of affliction—which I designate as the Bastille blues—affects certain local intellectuals.


Typical signs of this disturbance are a sudden obsession that we might be on the eve of a replay (with variations, naturally) of the French Revolution of 1789. Victims of the affliction start to be hallucinated by visions of rioting, smoke and flames, destruction, bayonets, gunshots, guillotines... but they generally keep their clothes on. In May 1968, the youth of France were totally intoxicated by a severe case of Bastille blues.


Fortunately, the summer holiday season arrived just in same to save the nation from descending into total anarchy. And afterwards, everybody felt so much the better for having let off so much steam... much like a patient emerging from an attack of the Jerusalem syndrome.

A few days ago, I was intrigued to discover that a prominent French journalist, Franz-Olivier Giesbert, was apparently suffering from a massive onslaught of Bastille blues.


In his role as chief of the weekly magazine Le Point, he has written an editorial suggesting that France is bogged down in a pre-revolutionary quagmire.


Click here to access the French article. Not surprisingly,  64-year-old "FOG" (the acronym has become Giesbert's nickname)—born in Washington, and impregnated with Franco-American culture—backed up his claim by evoking the works of the celebrated viscount Alexis de Tocqueville [1805-1859]: in particular, his masterly analysis of the events and climate of 1789, The Old Regime and the Revolution, which describes the French people's appalling erosion of confidence in their monarchy.


Today, it's a fact that the Cahuzac affair [click here to see my recent blog article entitled Champion liars] has had a disastrous effect upon the waning respect of French citizens for their political leaders. Has modern France truly lost hope in its destiny? Is one half of the nation ready to cut the heads off the other half? Have the French become totally pessimistic and cynical? What has gone wrong?

Basic differences between American and French attitudes to economic progress are illustrated by a humorous anecdote concerning the reaction of onlookers towards a prosperous fellow who drives by in a luxury automobile. A typical American might ask himself: "What can I do in order to buy myself a car like that?" A typical Frenchman would complain: "Why doesn't that wealthy weasel drive a worn-out jalopy like the rest of us?" In the above article, FOG evokes the metaphor of François Hollande scooting around on an antiquated Vespa, while some of his acquaintances drive Ferraris. This image of an old-fashioned president, no longer on the same wavelength as progressive citizens, is made explicit in the cover of the current issue of FOG's weekly.


The rhetorical question "Pépère, est-il à la hauteur ?" could be translated as follows: "Can Grandpa still handle things?" Many citizens are starting to consider that the answer to that disturbing question might indeed be negative. But maybe, hopefully, there are plausible remedies that would fall short of a bloody revolution.

BREAKING NEWS: The Bastille blues theme has become quite explicit in the cover of the latest issue of the weekly:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pumping

The erotic operation that English-speaking people designate curiously as blowing is generally looked upon, in France, as sucking.


It's also referred to as pumping.


And that brings me to one of the most celebrated anecdotes in France... which I heard for the first time from a professor during a class at the Institute of Political Science in Paris, many years ago. Most French people are aware of the exceptional circumstances in which the life of the 58-year-old president Félix Faure was brought to a joyous end. He had a 30-year-old friend, Marguerite Steinheil, known as Meg, the wife of an artist. On 16 February 1899, the president phoned Meg and suggested that she might drop in at the Elysée Palace towards the end of the afternoon. Well, they were engaged in a hot pumping session on a sofa in the Blue Room of the presidential residence when Meg was alarmed to discover that her lover had suddenly gone limp. Not just his organ, but all over. Clearly, Félix Faure had suffered some kind of major attack, and Meg was convinced that her man was dying. So, she called for help, while scrambling to get her clothes back on and preparing to abandon the palace before all hell broke loose. The president's staff arrived on the scene immediately, as depicted in this stylized magazine illustration:


The anecdote that has gone down in history is a bit hard to translate into English. It concerns the arrival of a priest who asked timidly, before being ushered into the room where the president lay dying: "Has the president retained his consciousness?" A secretary, imagining that the priest was referring to the young lady who had spent the last hour pumping sublime consciousness into the president, replied: "No, Father, she took off immediately down a side staircase as soon as she realized what had happened."

In French, the words for "pump" and "pomp" (as in "pomp and circumstance") are identical. And the everyday expression for an undertaker's activity is "pompe funèbre", literally funeral pomp. So, it was inevitable that people, aware of Meg's active role in the passing of the president, would get around to giving the young Angel of Death a charming nickname: the "Funeral Pump".

Today, if I was reminded of this historical event, it was no doubt because of the news that Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be spending the night at Lille in a police station, where he is being questioned about libertine evenings in a local luxury hotel, the Carlton.


For the moment, he hasn't been charged with any offense whatsoever, but anything could emerge from the intense ongoing investigations. A perspicacious journalist made an interesting observation. Let's suppose that DSK had never become involved with Nafissatou Diallo in a Manhattan hotel, simply because he had decided to leave for France instead of staying in New York. In that case, there would never have been a DSK Affair, and it is highly likely that Strauss-Kahn would have become, as planned, the presidential candidate of the French Socialist Party. Carrying our "what if" scenario one step further, we might conclude that the Lille affair would have still blown up. So, France would have been totally shocked this morning to learn that the popular candidate DSK was being held officially for questioning in a police station in Lille. In these circumstances, it is likely that DSK would have been obliged to abandon his presidential candidacy this evening. So, from a retrospective viewpoint, it was thanks to Nafissatou Diallo in Manhattan that the French Left avoided a catastrophic waste of time, energy and enthusiasm. We lost our illusions in time, well before they caused us to lose ourselves.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Nice couples, nice tax

These days, people who hear of the Sarkozy couple would have normally imagined this duo:

There's an offspring. The extreme right-wing politician Marine Le Pen was offended by the fact that the given name of Sarko's child, Giulia, is not pure dyed-in-the-wool French. But this will surely not give rise to a revolution.

Meanwhile, the major couple in the news is the Merkozy duo:

And a little bit of the Obamazy duo:

The couple strolled together in the rain, at Cannes, in front of musicians of the French Foreign Legion.

Then, on the Friday evening TV news, Obama heaped praise upon the French president for his rôle in the current Greek crisis.

I've never been a fan of Nicolas Sarkozy, but I've admired his tenacity in dealing with this affair… even though nobody is convinced yet that all the basic problems have been solved.

Governments of progressive societies need lots of finance to improve the situation of their citizens, and it's obtained through taxation. To my mind, Sarkozy is on the right track when he advocates a Tobin tax on financial transactions. I would imagine that François Hollande, our likely next president, would also strive to install this good tax.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brilliant French lady becomes IMF chief

This afternoon, Christine Lagarde was still in Paris, working at her everyday job as minister of Finance in the government of François Fillon. When a French TV news phoned her concerning the imminent announcement of her appointment as head of the International Monetary Fund [IMF], Lagarde replied with typical elegance that she was hoping that the announcement would be made in time for the evening TV news, so that she would be able to share her limelight with another splendid French woman: the Socialist chief Martine Aubry, who had indicated today that she would be a French presidential candidate. Lagarde's behavior was exemplary in a gentlewomen's spirit, in that Aubry is an opponent of Nicolas Sarkozy, who could be considered (up until today) as Lagarde's superior.

[Click the photo to access an Al-Jazeera video announcing Lagarde's appointment.]

I was surprised and disappointed to learn that my native country, Australia, had backed the Mexican candidate Agustin Carstens for this job. At a moment when the eyes of the world are turned towards the financial problems of Greece, in the context of the European Union, I believe that Australia's choice reflects the political naiveté and lack of economic vision of prime minister Julia Gillard and her advisors.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Torrid times in French politics

Objective methods make it possible to measure media buzz in a quantitative fashion. This statistical approach informs us, apparently, that Dominique Strauss-Kahn happens to be, at the present moment, the most well-known and asked-about celebrity personage in the universe. Jeez, you might say, this is crazy: DSK doesn't have anything like half the arse of Pippa [display]. Isn't it amazing, the way that buzz can evolve in just a few weeks…

From May 2002 to March 2004, during the presidency of Jacques Chirac, when France was governed by Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the minister in charge of youth, education and research was Luc Ferry.

The surname of this 60-year-old philosopher remains mythically magic in the modern French republic.

Luc's great-uncle Jules Ferry, a former mayor of Paris, was responsible for the glorious law that promoted "free, laic and compulsory schooling" in the Troisième République. He might be thought of as the spiritual granddaddy of all the smart (and less bright) republican schoolkids who created—and are still creating—the French nation as we know it today. A fabulous heritage!

Last Monday evening, on a French TV channel, Luc Ferry stirred up shit by declaring that many people were aware of the fact that a former French minister had once been found playing around with little boys in Marrakech. Needless to say, this sort of declaration cannot possibly be ignored by legal authorities, neither in France nor in Morocco. For the moment, everybody's trying to guess the identity of the alleged wrongdoer. This anonymous ex-minister risks a lot if the allegations were to be proven… and he might well compete with DSK, as soon as he's identified, for the title of the buzziest man in the Cosmos.

Now, even if many of us were to feel that this kind of notoriety is neither genuinely deserved nor advantageous for France, we might ask rhetorically: What the hell can we do about it?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Three decades ago in Paris

At 8 o'clock in the evening on 10 May 1981, this is the TV image that informed us that the new president of the Fifth Republic was a Socialist, François Mitterrand.

Revelers soon took over the Place de la Bastille in Paris. Here is one of the rare surviving photos of that wonderful evening:

I myself was lost in the middle of that huge throng. People flocked there spontaneously. Ever since the French Revolution in 1789, it has been a sacred spot for the People of the Left. It was an astonishing evening. People found it hard to realize that Mitterrand, who had been defeated in several presidential elections, was finally victorious. During those first few hours, nobody worried too much about possible political problems that might lie ahead. The citizens merely bathed in the euphoria of their momentous electoral victory.

The celebrations at the Bastille took the form of an impromptu evening of singing and dancing. There was a makeshift stage on which various singers and other celebrities appeared from time to time. In a way, I think that everybody was half-expecting that Mitterrand himself would soon be there in front of us, in the warm air of a May evening in Paris. Instead, we were greeted with thunder, lightning and a deluge of rain. God Himself had dropped in on us, to join in the victory celebrations.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Looking for laicity

I don't know where exactly in France this splendid doorway exists:

The doors might not appear to be open… but maybe it's winter, and visitors merely have to push on a panel marked Entrée to enter, as in the impressive doorways of countless French churches.

Let's talk about the concept of laïcité, subject of the day examined by collaborators of the political party of Nicolas Sarkozy. Let me ask a simple question: If you happened to bump into a laic in the street, would you recognize him/her as a layperson? That, in a nutshell, is the metaphysical problem that besets Sarko's party.

As somebody pointed out recently, looking for laics is much like trying to draw up a list of individuals whose specialty is that they don't collect stamps. Can people be classified according to what they don't do, or don't believe? Simple question: How do we identify ourselves, we global non-accepters of bullshit of all kinds? Maybe we need a recognizable label... but certainly not a party or a club.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy's great assembly on laïcité fizzled out thankfully into a stupendous and forgettable non-event. Fortunately, at the last moment, Sarko was saved (as always) by a happy coincidence.

At the sacred Panthéon in the heart of the Latin Quarter (just across the road from the Lycée Henri IV, where I worked for three years as an English assistant), the president celebrated the introduction of a memorial for the great African poet and politician Aimé Césaire [1913-2008].

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Direct contact through Twitter

For an ordinary citizen such as me, it's amusing and reassuring (as I've already said on my blog) to be able to get in contact, almost in real time, with a major political leader in France. Admittedly, since I'm a great admirer of the Socialist personality in question, Jean-Marc Ayrault, my remarks have a mild flavor of flattery. But I think he appreciates the positive reactions of his followers. And furthermore, his Internet presence has been constantly impeccable for ages.

Half an hour ago, Jean-Marc Ayrault was being interviewed on national TV about the scandalous conduct of Sarkozy's minister of foreign affairs, Michèle Alliot-Marie, concerning her recent private connections with members of the ousted ruling clan in Tunisia. Ayrault, chief of the opposition group in the French parliament, is spearheading a campaign to have her removed from the French government.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Korean fireworks

Curiously, I haven't noticed much in the media about a spectacular and successful operation that has just been carried out by South Korea against Somalian pirates. A week ago, the 11,500-tonne Samho Jewelry was transporting chemicals from the United Arab Emirates to Sri Lanka when it was hijacked between Oman and India. Aboard, the hostages consisted of 8 South Koreans, 2 Indonesians and 11 Burmese.

Over the last week, the South Korean destroyer Choi Young has been stalking the stolen vessel, 24 hours a day, and disturbing the 13 pirates aboard by flying periodically a helicopter over their heads.

Finally, South Korean commandos from the destroyer moved in rapidly and boarded the Samho Jewelry, as seen in this amazing photo:

They killed 8 Somalian pirates, captured 5, and liberated the crew.

By chance, an expert report about piracy on the high seas was being presented this morning to the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon by one of our favorite and most brilliant French Socialist statesmen, Jack Lang, who's an experienced producer of all kinds of theatrical events. OK, Jack, tell us: This perfect timing cannot possibly be coincidental. How did you organize things so that the performance took place exactly at the right moment, and with the right results?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sticks and stones

When I was a kid at school, we had the habit of reacting to verbal insults by means of the following ditty:

Stick and stones can break my bones
But words can never hurt me

This lilting incantation was quite effective in the case of the supreme insult in Graftonian scholastic circles, which consisted of having one's face described by a poetic urchin as resembling "a sucked mango seed".

In France, I had got into the habit of thinking that most people are mature enough to consider that mere words are rarely lethal, and that we shouldn't normally be disturbed by apparent insults of a purely verbal nature. Recently, however, there have been several spectacular incidents suggesting that certain individuals believe that words can hurt them no less than sticks and stones.

Back in January, the Socialist boss of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Georges Frêche, was speaking of a fellow-Socialist, former prime minister Laurent Fabius. "For me , it would be a problem to vote for that guy in Normandy. His face isn't Catholic." For ages, the expression about such-and-such a thing being "not Catholic" has been used in everyday French as a trivial synonym—devoid of religious connotations—for "irregular" or "unorthdox". Now, Frêche is a big-mouthed bumpkin with hordes of friends down in his Mediterranean region. They admire him (in spite of his frequent verbal faux pas) because of his huge local achievements of a political nature. Everybody realized, of course, that his derogatory remarks concerning Fabius were nothing more than a quip of the kind: "I wouldn't buy a used car from that guy." The problem, though, is that Fabius is a Jew, and the idea of his not having a "Catholic look" sounded immediately like a racist remark, based upon his physical appearance. Consequently, in the context of the forthcoming regional elections, the Socialist party officially "disowned" Frêche... which did not prevent him from obtaining a huge electoral victory.

Everything would have been so much simpler if party authorities, instead of outlawing Frêche, had simply said to him: "Georges, why don't you control your language? At times, you give us the impression that you're a silly old bugger. And this is a pity, because we know it's not true." Ah, if only serious politicians could talk among themselves, from time to time, in such a cool style...

The next storm in a verbal teacup occurred on TV, on March 6, when a brilliant but pugnacious journalist, Eric Zemmour, declared: "French people with an immigrant background are stopped more often than other citizens for police checks because most drug dealers are Blacks and Arabs." The journalist was immediately accused of racism, and there are rumors that he might be sacked by his employer, the Figaro group. Furthermore, Zemmour dared to suggest that the TV celebrity who had interviewed him on TV, Thierry Ardisson, had contributed deliberately to the creation of a troubled atmosphere in the studio... and now Ardisson is attacking Zemmour for slander. A respected TV personality, Rachid Arhab, referred to himself when he stated: "A person can be Arab without being a drug dealer." From a logical viewpoint, this truism was a totally irrelevant comment.

Meanwhile, a distinguished judge, Philippe Bilger, attempted to calm things down by pointing out publicly that an observer only has to attend court trials against drug dealers to learn that Zemmour's remark was perfectly factual. Once again, it's a pity that the simple juxtaposition of the words "Blacks", "Arabs", "police checks" and "drug dealers" is enough to send everybody into a state of illogical frenzy.

A third case of words with the apparent damaging power of sticks and stones has arisen since the second round of the regional elections. Observers have been trying to analyze, among other things, the unexpected success of the extreme Rightists led by Jean-Marie Le Pen. Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy called upon a minister named Eric Besson to investigate a curious subject: the so-called "national identity" of the French. Primarily, this operation consisted of defining what it means to be an authentic French citizen. Inversely, it put the spotlight upon immigrants and minorities who were stigmatized indirectly as being un-French... and this fallout played into the hands of Le Pen and his xenophobic followers. Conclusion: It was Besson—who happened to be a recent defector from the Socialist party (in other words, a kind of traitor)—whose preoccupation with national identity had created the necessary conditions for Le Pen's high electoral score.

A few days ago, a brilliant but vitriolic radio journalist, Stéphane Guillon, painted a harsh portrait of Eric Besson, designating him as "unpleasant", a "Mata Hari" of politics, with "weasel eyes and a receding chin, a true portrait of Iago" (the sinister villain in Shakespeare's Othello). Not unexpectedly, Besson didn't like to hear himself described in such terms on France's state-owned radio, and he swore vengeance upon Guillon. Now, this was probably a silly move, because there's a time-honored tradition in France of granting total liberty to humorists to produce harsh caricatures... through images, comedy sketches and, of course, plain words. That's to say, the anger of Besson is likely to backfire on him, and land him in trouble.

At the present moment, I don't know whether or not Eric Zemmour and/or Stéphane Guillon are going to be punished for their strong words. I don't think so, and I certainly hope not. In any case, it's reassuring to see that percussive words, in France, can apparently have as great an impact as punching a guy in the face, or breaking his bones with sticks and stones.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Socialist overseer of the nation's spending

Didier Migaud, a 57-year-old Socialist, has just been appointed to the prestigious position of first president of the Cour des comptes ("court of accounts"), which is the national institution that examines constantly the spending habits of the République.

Migaud is a local politician: a député (member of parliament) for an electorate regrouping the southern part of Grenoble and the Oisans mountain range. It's not bad at all that Nicolas Sarkozy has called upon a political opponent to fill this important position, previously occupied by the Gaullist Philippe Séguin who died last month.

I like the cluttered look of Migaud's desk. How could anybody seriously claim to be a competent bookkeeper (or even a blogger, for that matter) without a good bit of clutter around him? The Linux penguin sitting on a bookshelf is a positive sign, too. Anybody who appreciates Socialism, Grenoble and Linux can't possibly be a fool.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Democracy has caught up with me

I've just received my French voter's card, and I'm tremendously proud.

It has my name and address inside, with a municipal stamp, and it's signed by Bernard Bourne-Branchu, mayor of Choranche. For the first time in my life, I shall be voting in a French election. What elections? Learn all you need to know from this excellent English-language Wikipedia page. And for whom shall I be voting? Now, you should know that it's not democratically correct to ask people to reveal the party for which they're going to vote. It's like asking somebody to identify the individuals with whom he/she has been sleeping lately. But I'll tell you, all the same. You shouldn't be surprised to learn that I'll be voting for the Greens.