Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Nice Hero, In His Own Words

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

We’ve had Nice, then at the beginning of this week Würzburg, now München – it’s getting hard to keep track of all the public massacres these days!

Still, there remains one ray of light amidst all this gloom. And that is the hero of the Nice attack – only just over a week ago – a guy named Franck. (Just so you know: That’s a somewhat common French first name, the guy obviously wants to withold his last name to better control his privacy.) He’s the brave gentleman who was on his scooter on the Promenade des Anglais and promptly pursued the terrorist’s truck on its deadly path, and who is in fact credited with helping to slow it down so that police ultimately had an easier time shooting the driver.

Amazingly, Franck survived the episode, I believe he wasn’t even injured. The same cannot be said, however, for that scooter he was riding. As I already mentioned on Twitter, there’s now a French-based crowdfunding appeal going on, via the “Leetchi” website, to raise the funds at least to buy him a new scooter.

cagnotte

FranckEven as I write this, they’ve already raised just over €11,000 there so far. The sort of scooter they have in mind buying for him (“PIAGGIO mp3 300 LT sport ABS/ASR Black matt sport”) is listed right there. Interestingly, that same Crowdfunding page has a full picture of Franck at the top (and which I have put here): a fit, distinguished-looking gentleman with dark hair but a white beard (so aged, say, between 45 and 55). More interestingly still, that same page has Franck’s account of the incident, albeit a shortened version. But there is also a link to the full version in an “exclusive” interview piece in the local paper there, Nice-Matin.

I’m going to translate that account (from Nice-Matin) for you here starting from when the truck appears on the scene. I know, usually I’m supposed to add some clever theme or comment in blogposts like these, but not here, the point is self-evident. Accuse me of being lazy if you like, on this summer Saturday morning, but it’s quite a wild tale. (more…)

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The Tour: Not Just For Doping Anymore

Monday, June 27th, 2016

This year is, of course, 2016 – an even year. I like even years or, rather, I regard odd years with dread. For in those odd-numbered years, the European football seasons routinely terminate towards the end of May as usual, and then the following weeks pass within what is for me a hazy mental cloud of wondering how to pass my time, indeed of wondering why I am even here. Even years, on the other hand, always manage to fill this particular period with meaning, with purpose, via the great football tournaments, either the World Cup or – this year – the European Championship.

You might object, “Well, you only need to make it to the beginning of July – then you have the Tour de France!” Yes, but that always strikes quite a different sort of note. The football tournaments are drama; the Tour de France, in contrast, is comedy.

Or perhaps I should specify further: The Tour de France is of course farce. No need to get very “in” to it, to recognize or memorize the rider who might happen to “win” it: sooner or later his accomplishment will be rescinded due to revealed doping of one sort or another. This ultimately makes the phenomenon only interesting in that faint way that WWE (that is, professional “wrestling”) matches are interesting: you can only marvel at how people can take so seriously something that is obviously so fake.

Now we have reports that a completely different problem has arisen to erode the Tour’s credibility further: that of hidden motors installed to provide competing riders with a bit of mechanical assistance.

TourMotor
This first came up last January at the world cyclo-cross championships in Belgium, where the Belgian favorite in the women’s under-23 event, one Femke van den Driessche, was indeed disqualified for having used a small motor installed on her rear wheel.

The officials in charge of this year’s Tour de France are ready to prevent any sort of monkey-business like that from occurring. This was announced today by no less than France’s Secretary of State for Sports, Thierry Braillard, who stated that there would be an extensive system of thermal cameras to catch such hidden motors. In fact, for some reason it is the French Atomic Energy Agency (CEA, in French) that will be installing them – yep, that’s what the article says – cameras so sensitive that even motors not in use will be detectable. Apparently, experiments run this past weekend gave these officials confidence that they will work as promised.

“It is very important that we can detect a cheat,” as the president of the Union of International Cyclists, Brian Cookson, pointed out at today’s very same press-conference. Well, yes . . . I guess, although the Tour does not have a very good record in doing so, or at least in detecting cheats in time to actually deny them the glory of appearing on the victor’s podium at the Tour’s end. Then again, its officials are fighting against the inexorable advance of science, after all – medical science, and now, mechanical and miniaturization science.

This is further a “special” year in that, shortly after the Tour is wound up, the Summer Olympics start in Brazil. And again we will have a classic WWE-type farce; indeed, from the turmoil that has already gone on about doping in athletics – including, of course, the exclusion of the entire Russian track and field team – the Tour will surely only be the appetizer to a veritable feast of cat-and-mouse intrigue in Rio between cheating athletes and those who are responsible for catching them.

It will be amusing, no doubt – but, as usual, nothing to take very seriously.

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Book Trade Fairs, In Minor Key

Friday, March 18th, 2016

Look what I discovered yesterday:

17MARLeSalon
“The Salon du livre invites [you] to discover South Korean literature.”

“The Salon du livre“: I had never heard of it! Looks like it’s basically a book fair, held every year (since 1981) in Paris. Its website is here (but only in FR, bien sûr), where it says that this year it’s being held at the Porte de Versailles Pavillion 1, and it opened yesterday.

Now, the thing that made this particular bit of news remarkable for me was my realization of the other book-fair that also opened yesterday, namely the Leipzig Book Fair (the link this time is in EN). But that book-fair has been held since 1632 (interrupted only very occasionally by various wars).

What can we conclude from this confluence of events, on both French and German sides? It’s easy, and it’s what I already realized when I went to visit the Leipzig Book Fair six years ago: that one may very well the second-biggest such trade fair in Germany, but in absolute terms it has a way to go towards really being important on a global scale. Because if it were truly important, if it were the international book occasion where everyone just had to be present, the Salon du livre would never dare to schedule itself at the same time. You can rest assured that the people in charge of the latter are very well informed of when the Leipzig Book Fair is scheduled to happen, and made their decision accordingly.

No, the world-dominating book fair is the one held in Frankfurt-am-Main every second week of October. I’ve been to that one a few more times than the one occasion I have tried Leipzig. That’s truly the one everyone who has anything to do with books, wherever in the world, has to attend, particularly those involved in a professional capacity. I mean, it’s simply impossible for mere mortals to arrange for anything even resembling a reasonably priced hotel room in Frankfurt when that is on – I’ve had to use the tactic of staying overnight at some other relatively close-by city (once Munich) and taking the train to and from the Fair on the day in question.

By the way, just when the Frankfurt Fair first started is hard to say, among other reasons because 1) Frankfurt had been a renowned fair town (i.e. in general) for quite some time before they added books to the wares; and 2) Books did exist many centuries before Gutenberg (who did his pioneering printing work in near-by Mainz), they were just hand-made and -copied. But 1454 is a common date cited for Frankfurt’s Book Fair, i.e. very shortly after Gutenberg’s innovation. Nonetheless, by the 1700s it was the Leipzig Fair that was doing better, attracting more visitors and business, due to various major booksellers simply deciding they liked Leipzig better, and Frankfurt slipped rather far behind. But 1945 brought a radical reversal of fortunes – hard to have a really good book fair under a regime that is not so fond of free expression – to produce the situation we still know today, of Frankfurt superiority by far.

I mentioned how, if you are a book professional (or indeed, an author with something to sell), you really have to be in Frankfurt the second week of October. I’m beginning to doubt whether that still holds true for those of us – like me – who are crazy about books but mere amateurs, i.e. with a private interest. For one thing, at Frankfurt you aren’t even allowed admission until they opened their doors on the weekend days (at the end of the Fair) to the great unwashed reading masses. But as well, the last time I was there I didn’t have much of a good time; I really started to wonder about the true extent of the Fair’s commitment to those public cohorts who, after all, merely supply the custom which keeps the whole publishing industry (in whatever form) profitable and ongoing.

So maybe Leipzig is a better choice – or Paris, both going on now and through this weekend? Well, maybe not: they’re smaller, and therefore more “intimate,” but one really goes there to see what is going on with the publishers in which one is interested, and there is no guarantee those publishers are going to be there, unless you are talking about Frankfurt.

Featuring the Undecipherable, the Untransmittable

Another minor reason to attend is that such book fairs like to feature the literature of a particular country and/or language on each occasion. Actually, Frankfurt and Paris do that; Leipzig does not. As we read at the very top of the 20 Minutes piece on the Salon du livre, “Who knows Hwang Sok-yong or even Lee Seung-U?”

Who knows them, indeed? In my mind that is the problem with such country-focuses, particularly when the literature being focused upon comes from such an alien culture as, here, South Korea (or indeed, for me, any Asian language). I’m not saying that any literature written in an Asian language is useless, certainly not. Rather, how relevant can such a fair-focus possibly be to attendees of book fairs in the West? The overwhelming majority of those people are going to read such literature in translation, if they ever read it at all, and really, just HOW distorted from its original artistic content – being made up entirely by the texture of the original language – will such translations necessarily be? Truly, to appreciate Korean (or any other) literature, you need to learn Korean (or any other . . .).

Now, on the other hand I understand the Frankfurt Book Fair happening later this year will feature Netherlands-Flemish literature (having already done the same back in 1993; and they did Korea in 2005). Perhaps that could be a reason to start searching for a hotel room in some neighboring city around that period, so I can give the event one more chance.

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“Bitter” Refugee Experiences

Monday, March 7th, 2016

Today there occurs that climactic EU summit with Turkey PM Davutoğlu devoted to the refugee crisis. It’s safe to say all Europe awaits the outcome of that with bated breath, although perhaps none more so than the many refugees now trapped in Greece, together with those others even further behind in the pipeline (e.g. still in Turkey; or trapped in Syria in front of the closed Turkish border).

Here and there, however, there will be some who are not so interested: they’ve made up their minds to head back where they came from. The following Agence France-Presse piece by Guillaume Decamme, carried on Yahoo! France, examines a couple of their “bitter experiences.”

AmereExp
Let’s take up these examples. Note that they all have to do with men from Afghanistan. (Note as well that there is also a two-minute video heading the article, in case you’d like to hear them make their cases personally – in language translated to French.)

First we have Mohammed Asif Nouri, 26 years old and with a degree in economics: “I thought my dream would come true in Europe,” he laments. Last year he braved the terrible journey which eventually landed him in Frankfurt-am-Main, via the route everyone knows about (once the Hungarians had put up their fence): Turkey-Greece-Macedonia-Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia-Austria. Once in Germany, he was shuttled between various refugee centers in Hamburg, Sachsen-Anhalt and then to Frankfurt.

The one constant he encountered? “European nationalism,” he says. “The Europeans think we are going to destroy their culture.” Then there was that time when he wanted to ask directions of some German, who first stood off to put some distance between them and then insisted in answering in German – “whereas 99% of Germans speak English.” (more…)

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Maybe She Was Just Glad to See Him?

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

That may very well have been true, but the one thing for sure was that this 26-year-old Frenchwoman was not as well-endowed as she would seem.

soutiengorge
Describing this woman’s journey to visit her man locked up in the city jail of the northern French city of Rouen, the newspaper Le Parisien put it this way:

Before going to visit her detainee, she had pumped up her bust. Nor for any erotic reasons, but just to supply him with various products he would need. To do this, she had loaded up her bra.

I’ll say: When prison guards inspected her more closely they found in there:

  • 5 “mini-telephones” with their chargers
  • 1 Sim card (OK, those are small)
  • 5 grams of cannabis
  • 2 packages of cigarette rolling papers
  • 1 recharge for an electronic cigarette
  • 20 euros cash; and, get this . . .
  • 2 packets of meat (further unspecified)

Quite the heavy load! I bet she was glad to get all that off her chest, even if it turned out to be in quite another room within the prison building than what she expected, prior to her being led off to incarceration herself.

The unnamed author of this piece characterizes this cargo as something out of Prévert, that is, Jacques Prévert who was a prominent post-World War II French poet. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything of his work. In any case, in view of this episode’s setting in Rouen, my own mind is cast much more in the direction of Emma Bovary, that protagonist of Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel who was so confused about love and men, and whose sad fictional existence was set in and around that city (where Flaubert himself lived most of his life).

Smuggling stuff – a lot of stuff – hidden in one’s bra to one’s lover: surely this the sort of incident Flaubert could have come up with for his fiction. Well, almost: Wikipedia reminds us that the bra was not even patented until 1889 (and that was in Germany; Flaubert himself died in 1880). Then again, the word brassiere originally came from Norman French (Rouen is the capital of Normandy) meaning a child’s undershirt. (Note: as you can see in the tweet, in French they use the word soutien-gorge.)

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French Anti-Brexit Threats

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Now this is curious . . . “Brexit would have ‘consequences’ for the migrant question, [France President] Hollande warns.” This comes right when French authorities have just wiped out about a quarter of the infamous “Jungle” camp of migrants at Calais trying to get into the UK – and just as British Premier David Cameron went to the northern French city of Amiens yesterday to visit with President Hollande, Premier Valls and other officials.

3MARBrexit1
What “consequences” could President Hollande have meant? Unfortunately, the Le Huffington Post story is not exactly clear. Here is what Hollande said standing next to Cameron at their joint press conference:

One should not raise fears, but speak the truth. There will be consequences if the United Kingdom quits the EU . . . including the manner of managing situations in the matter of migrations.

And here is Premier Manuel Valls:

The day that this relation [that between the UK and the EU] is broken, the migrants will be no more at Calais.

HuffPoFR reporter Alexandre Boudet then helpfully adds, “In plaintext, the doors will be thrown wide open for them rejoining the United Kingdom.” (Wait: RE-joining?)

And then Harlem Désir, French Secretary of State for European Affairs:

There is no blackmail, nor threat, but it’s true that we cooperate more easily as members of the EU than if the United Kingdom wasn’t that anymore, because for example we also work with common European tools such as Europol or the Schengen information system. Even though Great Britain is not a member of Schengen, it cooperates through this system and other means of exchanging information.

Still not very clear. And there still seems to be some element of threat, despite M. Désir’s denials. Luckily, this piece also references an article in the Financial Times (EN-language; but paywall) which helps to clear things up:

3MARBrexit2

Mr. Macron [that’s the French economy minister] said that Brexit could scupper a bilateral deal with France, known as the Le Touquet [A]greement, that allows Britain to carry out border controls – and keep unwanted migrants – on the French side of the Channel.

Finally the picture comes clear as to how, as David Cameron has also been warning his constituents, that “Jungle” over in Calais could potentially move across the Channel if Brexit were to occur – despite the best efforts of UK authorities. For when their officials can no longer first check travelers’ papers on the far side of the English Channel, then they have to do it once they are already in England – and what can you do then with those who you discover don’t belong there, who immediately claim asylum? According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, you have to deal with them in a humane way, which includes not just sending them back somewhere, at least not at first.*

Still, this key “Le Touquet Agreement” is a bilateral agreement, i.e. not something within the legal framework of the EU. Therefore, it does not logically follow that it should necessarily fall by the wayside should the UK no longer be an EU member-state. Rather, if that does happen, then that will amount to the French government canceling it after Brexit out of sheer vengeance. If this really is being contemplated, it could set a pattern, by which I mean: If the French will be vengeful after a Brexit, then why won’t the EU be so as a whole? How can those who advocate Brexit really be so sanguine that the UK will be able to re-negotiate basically the same terms for trade, etc. that it had as an EU member once it is out?

One can look at the matter that way, or one can employ another perspective: That, starting here with President Holland and his top officials at this UK-France summit, a campaign has begun of threats and intimidation to try to head off a Brexit. Here at EuroSavant we view the UK remaining an EU member-state as a no-brainer – there’s little doubt future blogposts in the run-up to 23 June will faithfully reflect that – yet one can doubt whether this sort of tough approach is really best calculated to aid the British electorate to make that correct choice when they are called upon to cast their votes.

Anyway, that HuffPoFR piece also reported that President Hollande made special mention of the problem of reuniting the many refugee children stuck at the Jungle who have relatives already in the UK with those relatives. David Cameron was said to be accommodating on that. Further, Cameron announced a supplemental payment to France of €20 million to help out with those refugees still stuck at the Jungle – mainly, however, for encouraging them to be dispersed and moved away to other parts of France.

* Note that the “Le Touquet Agreement” has to do with people arriving to the UK via the cross-Channel ferries. There are analogous agreements (which are also bilateral), under different names, covering train (Eurostar) and aircraft travel, which also could be abrogated by the French/Belgians (train) or those and other EU member-states (aircraft) in the event of Brexit.

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Back to Doping Square One

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

Take a good look at the below tableau: Such a scene of triumph and female empowerment, smiles all around, the Russian flag wielded like a blanket and the (bizarre, disjointed) logo of the 2012 London Summer Games looming off to the left.

12JANBritseAthletiek
Sadly, as was revealed to the world not so long ago – by the WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency – if that Russian flag stands for anything these days, it stands for a state-sponsored campaign of deliberate cheating at international athletics competitions through doping and other artificial (and banned) chemical advantages. The two “athletes” pictured here, track-and-field runners Mariya Savinova and Ekaterina Poistogova, were both on a list of five published in November for which the WADA recommended a lifetime ban from any further competitions. (As you will further be aware, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) also banned all Russian track-and-field athletes from the upcoming Rio Olympic Games.)

Gee, people pay billions to build facilities and throw a a high-level athletics party (OK, “competition”), invite you to come join in – and then you cheat! Not being especially grateful for the hospitality there, wouldn’t you agree? That may be why, as the Volkskrant reports here, the British athletic federation, UK Athletics, has just put out a quite remarkable anti-doping proposal, entitled “Manifesto for Clean Athletics.” Here are the introductory words of Chairman Ed Warner:

Greater transparency, tougher sanctions, longer bans – and even resetting the clock on world records for a new era – we should be open to do whatever it takes to restore credibility in the sport. And at the heart must be a proper and appropriate funding regime for the anti-doping authorities to help confront the new challenges they face. Clean athletes the world over deserve nothing less.

“Greater transparency” means recording all doping-checks and their results in an open register, according to this proposal; “tougher sanctions, longer bans” means establishing a minimum ban of eight years for cheaters. There are a number of other interesting suggestions here as well (e.g. if your athlete is caught cheating, you as a federation compensate the lost prize-money to those athletes of other federations who were honest) which you can read, in English, on the UK Athletics website. But the one that particularly catches the eye, of course, is erasing all athletic records and just starting over. Why not indeed? (more…)

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Just *Forget* Charlie Hebdo!

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

WHY oh WHY do we have to look to Quebec for a little bit of contemporary wisdom?

6JANCharlie
Translated: Is it really necessary to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo attacks, as it seems France is doing all this week? In fact, the writer here, Nathalie Goulet, is from France, she is a member of the French Senate for the center-right party UDI and Vice-President of a government commission investigating how best to fight jihadist networks.

These Charlie Hebdo anniversary ceremonies, she makes clear, are not the way to carry that fight forward. What are terrorists looking to achieve, after all? What might those key elements be that transform them from angry young men thinking of causing mayhem to gun-toters ready to carry that out?

. . . what these murderers are looking for, other than to promote a violent ideology and to oppose our values, is a moment of glory: they are searching for acknowledgement from their mentors, from their friends and those helots [low-lifes] who surround them.

It’s inexhaustible media coverage and especially official ceremonial attention – repeating year after year – which gives them exactly what they want, and thereby also attracts future candidate-terrorists looking for their own chance to go down in a blaze of glory.

Within this international bond of terrorist crimes, what sort of effects can these images of the Charlie anniversary have, other than to reinforce their conviction that they have attained their aim? To cast families into endless mourning, create a security psychosis, divide society, make more fragile the [French] Republic which then forgets here and there its founding principles of Liberté Egalité Fraternité . . .

Yes, of course. Yet there’s another reason to drastically tone down or even cancel outright these sorts of commemorations. (And I’m also looking at you, 13 November 2016!) All you have to do is recall images of that parade through Paris last year after the Charlie Hebdo attacks – you remember, with French President Hollande there in the middle of a menagerie of other world leaders in the front row. The vast majority of those leaders were implicated in some way with harassment of journalists and restriction of freedom of the press in their own countries, even while this solemn Paris parade was supposed to be a celebration and defense of press freedom as expressed in the slogan “Je suis Charlie.”

In short, we also need rather less of these ceremonies because, through craven government cynicism as abetted public ignorance, they run too much danger of becoming gigantic exercises in hypocrisy.

By the way, if the French government still wants to indulge in such ceremonies, could it at least get the spelling of the victims’ names on the plaque correct?

UPDATE: Here’s what I mean about the sheer “Je Suis Charlie” hypocrisy, from Glenn Greenwald: France Spends Last Year Crushing Free Speech.

In all the many years I’ve worked in defense of free speech, I’ve never seen the principle so blatantly exploited for other ends by people who plainly don’t believe in it as was true of the Hebdo killings. It was as transparent as it was dishonest.

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Central European Money Laundering

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

I suppose Vienna has often been known as a depressing place – Freud’s hometown and all. Still, police there were taken aback last Saturday from witnesses reporting one person after the other jumping off a certain bridge into the cold waters of the Danube.

Danube
But these Viennois were not in dispair of life at all. They loved life, and in particular all the good things money can bring to it. Upon visiting the scene, the policemen discovered that numerous €100 and €500 bills were to be found floating on the water. (Strangely, no mention here of €200 bills.)

Naturally, further reinforcements and a boat were called to collect up as much of the currency as was left, and then to dry it all, as you see in that hilarious photo of the drying-rack. It was real money, all right; they just don’t (yet) know to whom it belongs. There haven’t been any recent reports of robbery in that area, for example.

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One That Got Away

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

I realize that the world in general is hardly in the mood to hear news about any more terrorist attacks. But at least this was one that was thwarted.

Tunisie
“Tunisia foiled a large-scale terrorist attack this month.” So at least announced today that government’s official in charge of security, Rafik Chelli. He claims they did so by discovering and breaking up a 17-man jihadist cell which was planning to execute a coordinated attack on hotels, security installations and politicians, “in order to sow chaos in the country.” Some of these people were said to have been trained in Libya – the country directly to Tunisia’s East – and some in Syria.

But if a bomb goes off, or a bullet is fired, in the Middle East these days, will people elsewhere necessarily care? You might have heard that ISIS suicide-bombers killed 40 at a South Beirut open-air market just the day before the Paris Attacks – or, likely, you may have not, as Paris soon overshadowed everything. It’s a shame, as the Beirut attack featured a heroic Lebanese man, Adel Tormos, who tackled the second suicide bomber and thereby gave up his own life to save those of many others, including his daughter.

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Male Leather-Strutting Misplaced

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Here’s something you don’t see in the streets of the Chinese People’s Republic every day. However, if the Beijing police have anything to say about it, you won’t ever be seeing this type of thing again.

ABChine
What is going on? Is it perhaps a casting-call for a Chinese-studio remake of 300? No, as the accompanying RFI piece explains, this was a marketing stunt, by a Beijing restaurant called “Sweetie Salad” – a marketing stunt gone bad for those taking part, as the local police swiftly moved in and conveyed at least some of the make-believe Spartans to the slammer.

ABBeijing
On the other hand, it was a marketing stunt gone good for Sweetie Salad – if you take into account that old maxim that no publicity is bad publicity – which according to this RFI report generated enormous on-line buzz about itself within China and was punished only to the extent of feeling obliged to post this message:

We have humbly recognized that, as a start-up, we lack a certain experience in the organization of large-scale events.

Where did all those buff foreign males think that they were – Amsterdam? In fact, the timing couldn’t be better: all they need to do is get out of jail (those to whom that applies), scrape up the funds for a half-round-the-world flight and find a hotel (admittedly a challenging proposition at this late point), and they then can all enjoy themselves royally this upcoming weekend at the yearly Amsterdam Gay Pride celebrations. They’ll feel right at home there, walking around Amsterdam’s streets in their Spartan suits (I assure you, that sort of get-up often verges comparatively on the tame side); yet they might very well impress the locals enough to be invited to join a boat for the infamous Canal Parade that kicks off this upcoming Saturday (August 1) at 1.30 PM CET. (more…)

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Utrecht Doped Up for Tour de France

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

It’s the beginning of July! It’s time for the Tour de France! But already there is trouble with the main sponsor of one of the competing teams.

Dopage
Right, check out that guy’s jersey: the team in question is called Giant-Alpecin after its two main sponsors, Giant bicycles (a Taiwan company) and the German shampoo manufacturer Alpecin. The trouble arises with Alpecin’s current advertising slogan, touting its concoctions as “doping for your hair.”

Oops. “Doping”: that’s an awkward word at the Tour de France. Alpecin executives quickly retreated, promising to suspend the slogan for the three weeks of the Tour. CEO Eduard R. Dörrenberg even promised on the company website “a team without any doping, without the slightest doubt. We are well aware of our responsibility and can clearly distinguish between promotion of the effects of a product and sportive trickery.” You can read it all here (if you read German: “No doping-advertising during the Tour”):

Alpecin
That’s very noble of Herr Dörrenberg, but it’s also naive. He has no ability to make such a promise. What is he going to do, have his Alpecin employees patrol the highways and by-ways around every Tour-stage looking into buildings, trailers, barns, etc. to see if anyone is transfusing blood?

(more…)

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Horror Flight 4U9525 On-Board Video

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

That story of that doomed Germanwings flight just will not die, and here is the latest revelation:

Mobilvideo
“Mobile video shows the last seconds before flight 4U9525 crashed.” Yes, while it is overwhelmingly likely that that Airbus 320 slammed into the side of a mountain at a typical airline-in-flight speed, it was still possible at least for a mobile phone’s removable memory-card (if not likely the mobile phone itself) to survive the impact and the resulting kerosene-fueled inferno (although the latter probably only by being thrown clear).

And so there has been a mobile-filmed video discovered of Flight 4U9525’s very last moments, filmed by somebody – whether crew or passenger – in a back row. It confirms much of what the French prosecutor’s office has been able to reconstruct by means of other evidence, for example that the airplane’s captain spent some time desperately trying to get back in the cockpit, including by hitting it with an axe. And that all on board were aware of their impending fate fairly early on; the video records all manner of anguished cries, of “My God!” and variations thereof in a number of languages. There is a new bit, though: apparently the airplane first hit the mountain with one of the wings, so that it was violently jerked to the side, or maybe swung around at high speed, before ultimate impact.

One quite curious thing here is the sheer phenomenon of someone whipping out their mobile in such a dire situation in order to film it. One could just say “Isn’t that just 2015 developed-country civilization for you?” although in my opinion the incident would only have truly reflected contemporary mores if what had been produced was rather a selfie-video, turned back on the phone’s owner to capture for posterity’s sake the facial expressions of his/her last moments on this Earth. We must offer heartfelt, if posthumous, thanks to that protagonist for resisting the temptation, turning the phone’s camera forward and thereby helping to fill in facts for the record.

Even more interesting, though, is the prospect of what happens next with this fortuitous video back in this world upon which the rest of us are left behind. Word slipped out about it in the first place after journalists from both France’s Paris Match and Germany’s Bild Zeitung were allowed to view it. The choice of the latter was particularly unfortunate, as the Bild has been an icon of (West) German culture for decades as the premier tabloid newspaper, by which I am not referring to physical form but rather to the rather older definition of “tabloid,” i.e. catering to a sensation-minded readership, featuring nude women upon its inner pages – that sort of thing.

Clearly, we “all” want to view that video, just as no one in the end turns out to be self-disciplined enough to avoid at least sneaking a peek while slowly driving past the site of a particularly gruesome highway accident. Yet “decency,” “responsibility” and, I suppose, respect for those who died militate against it ever being made more public than it already has been.

Early indications are not good: here is Paris Match’s “exclusive” account from that mobile-phone video, and here is Bild’s – both in English, as both publications have made sure that they have German, French and English versions on-line.

Again I ask: How long before the video itself is accessible to all on-line, somewhere? Probably not long.

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FN Derangement Map

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

The French edition of the Huffington Post, that media outlet’s first presence in a non-English-speaking country which dates from January 2012, is the “new boy” on the French media scene. That’s probably what makes it think it has extra license to come up with this sort of on-the-edge coverage of the upcoming regional (“departmental”) elections there:

derangeant
First, the tweet text: “The FN [that’s Marine Le Pen’s right-wing Front National] and its hundred-or-so repulsive candidates.” But how can they legitimately call them dérangeants (“disagreeable,” “repulsive”)?

Libération, L’Obs, Rue89, Le Figaro, France3, La Nouvelle République… All have worked hands-on to dissect the social media accounts of some thousands of candidates put forward by the party of Marine Le Pen, aided considerably by cybermilitants . . . more-or-less openly hostile to the FN.

In other words, a pack of researchers from the news organizations named above supplemented by interested “cybermilitants” have simply dug deeply into what these candidates have themselves been putting out to the public on social media.

The result is a Google Maps mash-up which you can see at small-scale in the tweet, and which you can examine in all its glory by clicking through to the article. But what do all those little flame-like marks mean? Here’s the Key to them; I think no translation is really necessary, other than “Combo” = “Combination”:

combo
And there you have your handy guide to the FN’s more distasteful candidates for those upcoming elections, and why they are distasteful. Now, it’s true that much of this can be merely a matter of opinion: again, it has to do with interpreting the language on various social media messages, although I should think that in many cases it’s fairly clear when someone is being anti-Semitic, racist, etc.

Although certainly partisan, this sort of enterprise is all the more a necessary contribution because French opinion polls show that the FN is the party most likely to gain the most representation from those elections. One would think this sort of mash-up technique cannot be copyrighted – wouldn’t we like to see the same sort of thing as well just before national elections held elsewhere, e.g. Israel, the US?

UPDATE: While we’re on the subject of innovative, informative maps of France, here is another one (this time from Le Monde which shows, again by département, the number of cases of “radicalization” reported since last April, basically incidents of people either succeeding or not in traveling to Syria to fight for ISIL. As you would expect, the Paris area takes the prize.

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Spain’s Low-Cost Miracle

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

After the glance back into Spain’s past last time, I thought a look into that country’s future might be in order. First off: you’ve perhaps heard of the new political party there Podemos, but have you heard of Ciudadanos?

Ciudadanos
The name means “citizens,” and that is another recently formed politial party there. The writer of this piece in the Spanish edition of the Huffington Post, César Ramos, is a politician from the mainstream leftist PSOE party (the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party – formerly of Felipe González). Yet he sees potential in this new political formation, mainly to put an end to the monopoly of the Popular Party (Partido Popular, now in power under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy) of the political space on the Right.

At least Señor Ramos, as a PSOE delegate, would wish for that to be true. From its Wikepedia page it seems that Ciudadanos is more of a regional party for Catalonia, founded to counteract the anti-Spanish feeling there. On the other hand, there is this:

PSOE
Ciudadanos is said here to be able at least to expect enough votes in the upcoming Andalusian regional election, not to win it, but to affect the outcome in favor of the PSOE. By the way, this particular La Información article is unintentionally funny in the way it writes the party name Ciudadanos just like a regular word – so that, for example, the picture caption (to the same picture you see there in the tweet) has the PSOE Andalusian Governor Susana Díaz meeting with ciudadanos meaning just ordinary citizens, when you’re tempted to think instead that it means that she’s meeting with members of the competing party! (OK, so it’s only me who finds this funny . . .) (more…)

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Monuments and Overdue Memory

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Check out this statue:

Franco
If you were to ask me, especially with the hat this looks rather like Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts movement. But you’ll actually find this sculpture in Spain, and – as you might have been able to make out from the tweet’s text – it depicts General Francisco Franco, Spain’s dictator from April of 1939 to his death in November of 1975.

In fact, there are still a number of public works of art of this sort and other monuments to be found in Spain which refer directly to Franco and/or his “accomplishment” of taking over the country in a bitter civil war and then violently disposing of hundreds of thousands of political opponents. That sits rather uncomfortably with Eduardo Ranz, a Spanish lawyer and, at 30 years of age, much too young to have had any contact with Franco or his regime directly. Nonetheless, he filed suit last month against the mayors of 38 Spanish cities and towns to have them get rid a total of 86 specific such monuments to Franco.

As we know, it’s always an almost irresistible temptation to drag Hitler and his Nazis into almost any argument one undertakes, but here I think one can properly forgive Ranz when he points out that “It’s as if, in Germany, a victim of Naziism were to see a swastika in the street. It’s unthinkable.” So one might think, yet those many monuments to Franco remain there, in public, almost forty years after his death.

Topping the list is Franco’s tomb at La Valle de los Caidos, what is characterized here as a “pharonic” sepulcher, maintained at public expense and located not far from Madrid at the “Valley of the Fallen,” where the “Fallen” referred to are Franco’s “Nationalist” troops. It is joined by a Victory Arch, within Madrid and located near the prime minister’s official residence, and towering some 50 meters high. Once again, the “victory” commemorated there is that of Franco in 1939.

The very existence of such shrines must be a shock to the foreign tourists who go see them – those who are able to grasp their full meaning, anyway. Further, for anyone familiar with the extensive persecution and killing of regime opponents that went on during the Civil War and afterwards, Ranz’s Nazi analogy must ring true and lead to a certain incredulity that these are still there in Spain, available to be seen by one and all. Yet this phenomenon reflects the peculiar nature of Spain’s transition away from that dictatorship to democracy. It was swift: Once the caudillo was dead and his designated heir King Juan Carlos was in charge, everyone knew that the King was ready to move the country to democracy and that happened directly. It was also quite bloodless: as this piece briefly mentions, a key development in that movement to democracy was an amnesty law covering everyone associated with Franco and his crimes.

Spain basically gained instant relief from dictatorship in exchange for not making any fuss about those who had misruled the country for so long (indeed, many of whom who had committed what today would be termed “crimes against humanity”). Since 38 years had passed, so that most of those holding irreconcilable grudges against the Franco regime had died out, the country was glad to accept that deal. For about the next ten to fifteen years it was characterized both by the political predominance of the Left (understandable) and by free-wheeling, even dizzy cultural change as all the old legal barriers to behavior disappeared and society had to find new bearings in that Brave New World (including a new attitude towards the Catholic Church, a pillar of Franco’s regime).

Political Amnesia

Again, that Left (mainly Felipe Gonzalez’s Spanish Socialist Workers Party) was careful to continue in the spirit of that amnesty law and not stir up recriminations against villains of the country’s tragic past. Whether of the Right or the Left, subsequent Spanish governments have continued that policy to this day. But that has meant maintaining a deliberate black spot in the collective memory about the most terrible episodes of internecine savagery and cruelty in Spanish history, going back at least to the forcible expulsion of the Muslims that ended in 1492. And it has meant that you still see all those monuments to Franco.

Yes, people die out, but human memory is nonetheless a pretty long-term and durable thing (if not especially accurate, at least in its details). Such terrible episodes cannot be suppressed forever. Slowly, gradually, as (for example) new and revealing histories are written, published, and discussed publicly, a new willingness to reopen this history and come to terms with it is emerging.

No one without a more specific knowledge of how the Spanish courts work can know whether Ranz’s lawsuit is something serious, or merely symbolic. Furthermore, if he does win, then what precisely is supposed to happen with artifacts such as that victory arch and (especially) Franco’s tomb? But if things do come to that, surely the Spanish authorities will be able to figure something out. For now, Ranz’s audacious legal maneuver must surely be greeted as a token of how far things have come, and how far he wants to push them further.

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Fair Maiden Protected or Abused?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

The just-murdered Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was 55 when they shot him last Friday night, and as he made that fateful walk across Moscow’s Great Moskvoretsky Bridge he was in the company of his 23-year-old Ukrainian girlfriend (and fashion model), Anna Durytska. Although that great disparity in age will surely prompt tsk-tsk’s even in this day and age, surely any man who shows himself ready to face down the criminal Russian political establishment over many years must surely be vouchsafed certain sweet side-benefits. Even the sainted Václav Havel was said to be something of a womanizer – when he didn’t find himself in jail, of course – and in the eyes of many he lined up his second wife, a prominent Czech actress, rather too quickly after the death from cancer of his first wife, Olga. These must be classic alpha males we are dealing with here, after all.

But back to Ms. Durytska, who had to endure the horrible experience of seeing her lover, with whom she was holding hands during a romantic midnight stroll on a bridge, cruelly shot down and killed right before her. According to all accounts, the first thing she did was call the police, and then call her mother back in the Ukraine. The police naturally had to take her in for questioning, but, according to the on-line account at BBC News, she was then allowed to return to the Ukraine, and her lawyer stated that the police had been “acting correctly.” (That BBC site also – inevitably? – is topped by a glamor head-shot of Ms. Durytska, just in case anyone wanted to doubt her modeling credentials.)

Other reports, however, paint a picture that was much more unpleasant for Nemtsov’s girlfriend.

Nemtsov
She was retenue – “retained,” of course – in Russia, which hints of a certain freedom of movement denied. And in the actual linked news report, taken from Le Point, that is the case. “The investigators interrogated me and wouldn’t tell me when I would be free nor why they were detaining me [there],” Ms. Dyritska is quoted as complaining. “I have the right to leave Russia, I am not a suspect. I am a witness and I gave them all the information that I had, I did everything I could do to help the investigators.”

Inna Durytska, Anna’s mother, already figures in this tale through that midnight telephone call (she was also naturally Anna’s first destination when first arriving back in the Ukraine – Anna is 23, remember), and she became plenty worried. “I was afraid they would accuse her of murder, simply because they need some Ukrainian trail of clues.”

But again, I’m just a little concerned by this discrepancy between the BBC’s account and others’. And it is not just L’Actualité24/Le Figaro, either: this other piece in Germany’s FAZ – surely a source you can trust most of the time – also reports of Ms. Durytska having her departure from Russia “obstructed” (gehindert; it also has yet another shot of her fair countenance, for those who cannot get enough). And surely we all can intuit that a visit to the Russian police – under any circumstances, much less when one is associated with someone so much out of favor with the authorities – is likely to be quite unpleasant.

So what’s going on with the BBC? Or could it be (as ungentlemanly as it may seem) that the Moscow police authorities really gave her no harsher treatment – and detained her no longer – than any witness ordinarily has the right to expect, so that there is an element of personal hysteria here which the BBC was prudent – even gentlemanly – to ignore?

BTW I just heard on VRT, Flemish Radio, that Boris Nemtsov was buried today at the same cemetery that holds the grave of investigative journalist Anna Politovskaya, another figure whose mysterious street-murder (in 2006; well OK, in her apartment building’s elevator) was mighty convenient for Vladimir Putin.

UPDATE: Whatever the true nature of her treatment in Moscow, Die Welt reports that Anna Duritskaya has had to seek police protection in the Ukraine after receiving multiple threats to her life.

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Annoyed Iberian Cohorts

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Unwise! It looks as if the new Greek premier Alexis Tsipras is alienating those within the EU who otherwise could be potential allies.

Iberia
“Spain and Portugal exasperated by Tsipras’ remarks.”

Tsipras is already under fire to some degree in his home country due to the temporary settlement he reached with the Eurogroup earlier in February which gained for Greece needed additional financing for another four months, but at the cost of what seemed to be several retreats from the ambitious plan to reject outsider-imposed austerity that had led his Syriza party to electoral victory in January. On Saturday (28 February) the French newsmagazine Le Point reported him hitting out at what he perceived as the distinct lack of support he had received in those negotiations from countries you would think were in the same situation as Greece, namely Spain and Portugal, accusing them of wanting to lead Greece down the road to a “financial asphyxiation.”

Top politicians from those two countries were quick to react, including Spain Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who told a party gathering in Seville that “[w]e are not responsible for the frustration that the radical Greek Left created by making promises that it knew were unsustainable.” Meanwhile, the spokesman for the ruling PSD party in Portugal termed Tsipras’ accusations “very grave, lamentable and false.”

The thing is, that party gathering Rajoy addressed in Seville was of the Partido Popular, Spain’s right-wing, Christian democratic party, while although that “PSD” of the Portuguese ruling party’s name translates to “Social Democratic Party,” it is also of the center-right. Syriza, as everyone knows by now, is of the Left; indeed, that word is an acronym of the party’s longer, formal name which translates as “Coalition of the Radical Left.”

All this stands to reason when you see how the two Iberian countries are not hitting it off with the new Greek government if only because, clearly, in the context of the on-going EU sovereign debt crisis, “conservative” means plodding onward with the terms of the bail-out packages granted by the infamous “Troika” (made up of the EU – meaning mainly the Eurogroup, but also the Commission – the ECB and the IMF). “Radical,” on the other hand, certainly means trying to break out of that arrangement. Although not necessarily only “Radical Left”: indications are that the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” party, and so of the Radical Right, should it come to power – Heaven forfend! I understand that much of its leadership is in jail, anyway – would be similarly dismissive towards the terms of Greece’s bail-out package, or worse.

On the other hand, if everyone would just stop and think a bit, it’s clear that all periphery Eurozone countries still laboring under bail-out packages should have many powerful interests in common. First and foremost, any softening of terms that an aggressive, daring national government might be able to grab/cajole from the “Troika” authorities (going all the way to outright debt cancellation) would naturally be something that fellow countries in the same situation should be able to claim for themselves as well. Such considerations clearly were at least in the back of the mind of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and other Eurogroup officials who took such a hard line against the new Syriza government’s proposals. For now, it seems this hard-line faction has managed to keep even other Eurozone countries still suffering under bail-out-mandated austerity firmly within the corral.

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This “Unity” Wears Him Out

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Who’s tired? Are you tired? Nicolas Sarkozy is tired:

Sarkozy
“François Hollande’s national union already fatigues Nicolas Sarkozy.” That much is clear, even in a rather spectacular manner. For on Monday evening there was a big ceremony held in Paris in honor of Agence France-Presse, the main French news-agency, supposedly to celebrate that organization’s 70th anniversary. President Hollande was there, and so was François Fillon, of the opposition and who had served under Sarkozy as Prime Minister. Just to show how non-political an event this was supposed to be, even far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen was there (and she had not been invited to the huge JAN 11 Paris march).

By the way, I write “supposedly” there in connection with AFP’s 70th anniversary because, according to my standard Wikipedia sources, the organization really got started back in August, 1944 as Paris was being liberated from the Nazis by the advancing Allied forces – that means 70 years is August, 2014. Perhaps the earliest that the French political elite could find a mutually agreeable free spot in their agendas was last Monday – Blue Monday, in fact, said to be the most depressing day of the year, in case that had anything to do with it. Or – more likely – perhaps the shocking attacks against freedom of expression in France of two weeks ago caused the country’s movers-and-shakers to decide that there needed to be some occasion, something celebrating freedom of the press, so that the AFP was enlisted for that.

Another “supposedly” is in order here, however, a far more bitter one, for by its actions after the Charlie Hebdo attacks the French government has betrayed its actual indifference to that “freedom of expression” which one could argue all those people – the non-politicians – were marching down Paris avenues on Sunday, January 11, to support. Or maybe not “indifference” but rather a stark partisanship: it’s OK to mock Islam and Muslims, but the same is not true when the target is Jews or, indeed, those who mock Islam and Muslims. The latter are allowed to dish it out; they must be shielded from actually having to take it. (more…)

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Lithuanian Survival By-The-Book

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Vladimir Putin’s apparent willingness to invade bits of land adjoining Mother Russia where he feels native Russian-speakers are feeling oppressed has understandably made many in the immediate neighborhood rather nervous. And while Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are all members of NATO, that still doesn’t necessarily allow them to sleep easily at night. The famed Article V of the NATO treaty does make an attack on any one member an attack on them all, which theoretically means that the Alliance’s nuclear powers – the US, foremost – would be willing to escalate all the way to Mutually Assured Destruction should Putin merely have his forces invade the Baltics and then refuse to back down. But how credible is that? For that matter, how effective were France and England in carrying out the guarantees of Poland’s territorial integrity that they issued just prior to the Second World War?

(By the way, the lesser-known Article IV provides for invoking consultation among Alliance members in the event of disquieting security developments. Lithuania and Latvia invoked that in March of last year in response to the Russian annexation of the Crimea.)

You can’t blame these nations for doing a little contingency planning based on a assumption of Putin’s worst behavior paired with maximum fecklessness on the part of their supposed allies. (Indeed, I hear there exists an NGO whose sole purpose is to steer the world’s surplus feck to NATO’s Brussels HQ.) Here’s what’s happening in Lithuania:

LitManual
Yes, that Baltic nation is shortly to publish a “survival manual” for all its citizens about what to do in case of a Russian invasion!

Now, I found out about this via the round-about path that you can see contained in that tweet. But it turns out that, within that Le HuffPost article, there was an additional link to a Reuters article, in English and datelined from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, that lays everything out pretty well.

So you don’t need me to explain further. Just allow me, as a sort of enticing sweetener, to reproduce here a couple of the most-juicy paragraphs:

“The manual, which the Defence Ministry will send to libraries next week and also distribute at army events, says Lithuanians should resist foreign occupation with demonstrations and strikes, “or at least doing your job worse than usual”.

“[W]orse than usual” – love that!

In the event of invasion, the manual says Lithuanians should organise themselves through Twitter and Facebook and attempt cyber attacks against the enemy.

Mark Zuckerberg as future insurgent hero – who knew?

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France: The Lock-Up Starts

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Take a look: is this really a face only a mother could love? (I mean the guy on the left.)

Dieudonne
He’s not getting much love in France right now. In fact, he’s under arrest. His name is Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala; his occupation depends on whom you ask. Avant-garde comic – or dangerous rabble-rouser. One thing for sure is that he is rather anti-Semitic in his views, and that has led in the past to cancellation of some of his shows. To name but another of his misdeeds, shortly after the beheading of James Foley by ISIL he posted a video making light of that event. (His controversial opinions also meant that he was denied entry into the UK outright – yes, which once provided exile to the likes of Karl Marx, back when it was known as the British Empire.)

But right now we’re still lingering in the Charlie Hebdo afterglow, and Dieudonné had to put his two cents’ worth in. I want to rely on this report from Rzeczpospolita in the first instance to get a little distance, a little impartiality: from this, it seems that all he did was use his Facebook account to make fun of the “Je Suis Charlie!” slogan, writing instead “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly,” using there the surname of the slain hostage-taker at the Jewish supermarket in Paris. (more…)

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Remaining Charlie Hebdo Trifles

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

I was leafing through Le Monde earlier (in a social-media type of way) and a couple more trifles concerning the Charlie Hebdo attacks last week and/or the massive marche républicaine on Sunday caught my eye.

CharlieHFirst, it’s good to see comment from such a good source on the parade of free-expression hypocrites that Sunday’s demonstration marche quickly became, in a nice piece entitled The embarrassing ones invited to the march. For one thing, the Le Monde staff (no byline) quotes from the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) communiqué about the march:

In the name of what did the representatives of regimes who are predators of freedom of the press come to parade in Paris in homage to a newspaper which always defended the highest conception of liberty of expression?

The piece goes on to list the RSF press-freedom rankings (180 = worst) of some of the leaders marching there: 98 (Gabon), 118 (UAE), 141 (Jordan), 148 (Russia) 154 (Turkey) and 159 (Egypt).

It all may make you want to ask . . .

VraiCharlie
“Who is a Real Charlie?” Well, it may be getting rather late for that . . . but anyway, this Le Monde piece is glad to adopt (at least for now) the solution Buzzfeed proposed, namely those newspapers willing to publish on their front pages (and/or at the top of their websites) the Mohammed cartoon that will be on the cover of the next edition of Charlie Hebdo (you see it at the top of this post) are the only true “Charlies.” (more…)

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Armored Hostage-Saving

Friday, January 9th, 2015

On this Friday mid-day the European press (and the French press in particular, as is understandable) is going crazy on social media about the stand-off with the Charlie Hebdo murderers at some industrial park to the north-east of Paris. Just now Le Figaro came up with the following:

tank
A tank! Note that this French paper had to give credit to the actual photo to the English, namely @Telegraph.

But wait! Following a few minutes afterwards:

Tanknotcert
“The nature of the vehicle is not certain. We will give you subsequent information as they are confirmed.”

Of course that is a tank! The first Twitter-commentator there, a certain François, suggests that it is an AMX-10 RC, but that can’t be right since what we see in the picture seems to be a tracked vehicle, whereas the AMX-10 RC is an armored car, a wheeled vehicle.

But these are mere details for the military enthusiast. More relevant is that all news reports agree that these fugitive militants have taken at least one hostage. What are the French authorities doing bringing in a tank to resolve a hostage situation?! That is more likely to worsen the situation than to make it better: the gunmen will be more ready to shoot their hostage when they contemplate being on the receiving-end of the massive cannon they see there on the vehicle.

Reports that some 88,000 police/soldiers had been mobilized to conduct the manhunt were bad enough. But now it seems the French police are starting to head along the same infamous path, brought out into the light with the Ferguson, MO disturbances of last August, of the over-militarization of the police that we see already in America.

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Charlie Hebdo: The Stark Viewpoint

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

For any sort of publication that puts “Euro” in its name, it would now seem that some sort of reaction to the massacre of the staff at the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo is expected, even required. I think I do have something to offer along those lines, boosted by the usual multi-lingual monitoring of the European press that I have been able to do since yesterday. As usual, I’ll try to shy away from any conventional wisdom; I apologize that that probably means that my slant is on the pessimistic side.

1) The attackers will achieve their objectives. Well, they already achieved their tactical objectives, in that it seems they managed to kill all of the skilled cartoonists (I believe there were four of them) there at the magazine. They managed this via the simple expedient of research to connect names and faces, combined with what appears to be some skilled use in wielding AK-47s to overcome security guards armed only with pistols.

By “objectives,” however, what I really mean is what we can presume were their more strategic objectives of deterring anyone who might want to insult the Prophet Mohamed in print in the future. (However, see also below.) Yes, I know that everyone is hammering on now about the need to protect free speech, in government pronouncements and in innumerable demonstrations around the world, most of them on some cold public square. But that is different from stepping up again to take up the flag of the “cause” of insulting Islam, one aspect of asserting one’s free speech. That sort of courage is rare; it’s the sort of courage that cannot reasonably be requested from anyone, including journalists or cartoonists who in most cases have not signed on to living every work-day with the dread of someone storming into their offices firing an automatic weapon. News reports from France today indicated that other big-name French newspapers (Le Monde, Libération, etc.) are ready to step in to provide funds and resources to get Charlie Hebdo back on its feet. That’s fine – but will they provide substitute writers and cartoonists to take up their places on the firing-line as well? I think not; I think those will be quite slow to come forward, if at all, since everyone will quite reasonably be intimidated – and so the attackers will win. (Indeed, at the personal level they may never even be caught.)

A related point: Let’s say that reasonably competent new writers and cartoonists with the right sort of attitude do come forward. What are the French authorities then supposed to do to protect them, and any other news publication which may want to indulge in offending fanatics? Post guards with sufficient firepower to have a chance against the next set of attackers to come along? No, we don’t want that as a society, we don’t want to be living perpetually in an armed camp. Nonetheless, something like that may happen anyway, and such incidents will inevitably provide further licence to government campaigns to further restrict civil liberties, to enlarge their surveillance over citizens (well, over everybody), and indeed possibly even to start torturing (or else to resume/broaden their torture activities – as in the USA, for example – if they have already been indulging). You can call this the “9/11 Effect”; people are scared again and, after all, you can’t exercise your civil liberties if you are dead. (more…)

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Same As The Old Boss?

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Let’s start this New Year out with a success-story: Tunisia. Famously, this is the land that, so far, has emerged in best shape from the Arab Spring. That is not to say that it is not making some peculiar-looking political choices.

Tunisia
The fellow you see in the picture there is Mohamed Beji Qaid Essebsi, sworn in just last December 31 as Tunisian President after having won a free and fair election for the post in November. He does have links to the regime of ousted dictator Ben Ali, but that was only as Tunisia’s ambassador to Germany, and then one year as as President of the country’s lower house of parliament.

Indeed, even before that Essebsi worked closely with Habib Bourguiba, considered the father of the modern Tunisian state as it emerged independent in 1957 from French colonial rule. This fact indirectly points to what is the main questionable thing about President Essebsi for the outside observer: he 88 years old. That has to be some kind of record for the age of a head of state freely chosen by a general election.

But OK, so the people of Tunisia chose a President who might soon turn out to need replacing, from sheer natural causes: the important thing is that they did choose him. The point of the tweet is not really about the new Tunisian President, Mr. Esebbsi, but rather the proposed new Prime Minister, and this official is not chosen directly by the people but rather by the party that forms the government, which presently is called Nidaa Tounès. The vice-president of that party just announced its choice, a certain Habib Essid, 65 years old. “What we have here is an independent personality,” the VP told the press, “with competences and experience,” particularly “his knowledge in the area of security.”

A Torturer’s Knowledge of Security?

Well I should say so: Mr. Essid was the number-two official in the Ministry of the Interior of ex-dictator Ben Ali at the time of his overthrow in 2011! Just as a reminder, that is the Ministry in charge of the police, and all that the police were allowed to do to people back during what was President Ben Ali’s repressive, authoritatian state.

Now, the fact that Ben Ali was overthrown – in fact, relatively quickly and easily, especially when you compare his situation with Bashar al-Assad’s in Syria – might indicate that Mr. Essid was not so effective in his job. Of course, this Le Monde piece also notes that he was also the first Minister of the Interior right after the Revolution succeeded, so he was obviously acceptable to the new regime for some reason – perhaps he played some double-role from his powerful position within the Ministry of the Interior to help it succeed.

For now, we don’t know: there’s no further background here on just what was Essid’s role in the Revolution. All we are left with – for now – is a new Tunisian state getting off the ground democratically while having to rely so much on pre-revolutionary governing expertise that its two most powerful positions are likely to be filled by, on the one hand, an 88-year-old, and, on the other, a former high-ranking policeman in the service of the deposed dictator.

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Brazen North Korean Cheek

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Verily, it’s an unpleasant sight in general, that of Kim Jong-Un laughing it up with his lackey Army generals.

KimJongUnlaugh
It’s all the more disagreeable considering what the North Korean dictator and his hacker army have recently accomplished. You’re surely aware of what happened with SONY Picture’s upcoming movie “The Interview,” but have you seen this as well?

DNKDisclaimer
But wait: there’s more to drive Kim Jong-Un and his minions into absolute hysterics! The North Korean government has now begun to deny its involvement in the SONY Pictures hack – before, it had been deliberately vague on the subject – but has not stopped there. Here’s the statement released today by some government minister, as reported by the French 20 Minutes newssite:

Since the United States is spreading allegations without foundation and defaming us, we want to propose a joint inquiry. Without going so far as to resort to torture, as the American CIA has done, we have the means to prove that we had nothing to do with the incident.

That allusion to CIA torture was sly, no?, but the American government has simply brought that upon itself – and no, not by releasing that executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Torture Report, but by committing the torture in the first place.  “Contrary to American values” and all that . . .

Apart from this, though – it’s the OJ Defense once again! “What, me, guilty? Perish the thought! In fact, I am so innocent that I am dying to assist you in an investigation to find the true culprit!”

Now add to that some additional reporting from Le Monde of the North Korean government coupling this with threats of “grave consequences” for the US should it continue insinuating Pyongyang’s guilt. Le Monde:

[North Korea] promised Saturday to boost its nuclear capabilities in response to Washington’s hostile policy, arguing that it had become clear that the US has as its goal an invasion of North Korea under the pretext of non-respect of human rights.

That is some Grade-A chutzpah, there.

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Cuba ♥ Americans!

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Surprise and delight prevailed in Havana following yesterday’s simultaneous announcement by both governments of the resumption of full diplomatic relations. Our man/woman (no by-line) from Le Figaro was there, as reported by the French newssite L’actualité.com.

Vague_LaHavane
Well, OK: half-surprise. It seems people there in Havana, at least, had been aware for weeks that some sort of breakthrough in US relations was coming. There is no explanation how they knew.

Further, those in the US now raging against Obama’s move are at least right in one respect: Raúl Castro’s government really wanted this:

The Revolution moves no one to dreams anymore on the Communist island. Even if the regime of Raúl Castro is not in danger, or even hard-pressed (contrary to the repeated proclamations from the Cubans in Miami), the Cuban president had been preparing for this opening to the US for a long time.

Actually, the American authorities might have been pursuing exactly the wrong strategy for all these decades:

As an old Cuban Communist Party cadre, Mirta, confided recently: “How could the American authorities have followed such a stupid policy for fifty years? If they had raised the embargo, normalized relations with Cuba, the regime would have crumbled all by itself.”

Note well that, in fact, the embargo is not raised: that’s something only Congress can do. In any case, according to this piece American culture has long ruled on Havana’s streets anyway, with “caps, glasses [meaning sun- ?] and gadgets” bearing some variation of the Stars & Stripes representing highest style. One has to wonder, though, exactly what sort of “gadgets” the Figaro reporter witnessed there, considering Cuba’s well-known reputation for being a virtual open-air museum of lovingly cared-for fifties-vintage American cars. PalmPilots, maybe? Transistor radios?

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Wishing You Many Hot Returns

Monday, December 15th, 2014

On a weekend when high EU representatives were decrying the violation of “European values” through the mass-arrests of journalists in the European continent’s southeastern corner, in Turkey, as we can read from Mathieu de Taillac in Le Figaro the very same sort of thing was happening in its southwestern corner – that is, in Spain, and therefore in what is already a member-state.

SpainAsylum
“Spain, the only land frontier between Europe and Africa, feels abandoned by an EU which is quick to give lessons.” Yes, that “land frontier” does exist, namely at Ceuta and Melilla, which are two small enclaves of Spanish sovereignty on the northern coast of the African mainland that have managed to survive there over the centuries. They are both marked off from surrounding territory by no less than three lines of barriers with surveillance cameras (as well as, if we are to believe the account in this article, “razor blades” – de lames de rasoir).

The thing is, these enclaves’ presence also means that if illegal immigrants somehow manage to get past all those barriers – and around 28,000 have accomplished that over the past ten years – then in effect they have successfully made it into Europe. According to current Spanish legislation, they have the right to request asylum and get free legal help to help the pursue that. In the meantime, they of course get to stay in “Europe” because their asylum case is being decided – it can take a long time – and who knows?, maybe they’ll ultimate get it. (more…)

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Asterix to French History

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Anyone else out there into the Asterix & Obelix cartoons? It’s true that these cartoon tales of plucky Celtic warriors beating back the Romans in ancient Gaul were originally French, but they soon went international, with the requisite translations, and now seem to rival even Peanuts as an ongoing commercial vehicle for all sorts of lucrative tie-ins.

Astrix & Obelix originally meant Goscinny & Uderzo, the story-writer and cartoonist, respectively, but all that commercial money has been smoothing the retirement only of Albert Uderzo (now 87) for the longest time, as Goscinny died back in 1977. (The latter’s Wikipedia entry states he died “during a routine stress test at his doctor’s office” – whoops!) Uderzo recently re-emerged in public for an interview on the French radio station Europe 1.

Uderzo
The highlight of that interview was when he was asked “Which politician could incarnate Asterix?” His answer:

Maybe Asterix resembles the President of the Republic. He’s a person who doesn’t attach any great importance to what people say about him and who just goes on his merry way.

Curious! Could the Europe 1 producers have succeeded in enticing to their studio a representative of the 5% or so of the French electorate which stills supports François Hollande? It’s clear that, among the vast majority of the rest, President Hollande evokes rather less flattering images, most notably those of the tabloid-photo variety of someone riding a motorscooter with a silly helmet on his head, having slipped out the Elysée palace to go meet his mistress in the neighborhood, as it apparently was his wont to do roughly a year ago.

Still, it’s possible that Uderzo is indeed a Hollande fan, as he also displayed in the interview his rather low view of his countrymen. “The French don’t like success,” he declared on-air. “They envy success. They always find something so they can say that it’s no good.” And as evidence Uderzo mentioned the latest Asterix album he brought out (now on his own), Asterix Among the Picts, which in the end sold quite well in the face of mostly negative reviews.

As for drawing, he admitted “I don’t feel so much like it anymore. I have done so many [drawings]!” As I said, he’s 87 years old: he deserved to be done with all that long ago.

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Bosses’ Ras-Le-Bol

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Truly, it is the Autumn of Discontent in Europe. That’s why that phrase up in the headline might be a handy one to learn. It’s French of course: ras-le-bol, or “enough” as in “I/We’ve had enough!” People are unhappy with their governments and are taking to the streets. Just yesterday marchers representing Belgian unions flooded through downtown Brussels, while a minority topped off the day by setting fire to cars and skirmishing with the police. Such demonstrations are set to continue there today, while the Antwerp dockworkers and their local labor brethren are set to do the same there on November 24th.

Now that we’re talking about protesting crowds flooding the streets, the French surely cannot be far behind. Things are not going very well there economically either, and sure enough:

RasLeBol
Even if you don’t know French, you can make out the word décembre there: they’re going to hold their fire until December. But wait: the next words after that are le patronat, and that means “bosses,” not “workers.” (And indeed, that fat-cat in the suit there does not look very proletarian.)

But things are going bad for these guys, too, at least according to the vice-president of one large (French) employers’ organization (Medef), Geoffroy Roux:

One SME boss kills himself every two days, the treasuries are bone-dry, business bankruptcies are up and the government adds practically every day a little tax here, a measure increasing complexity there, so there is really a sense of “Enough!” [ras-le-bol!].

The plan is for things to truly go down on 1 December, when most of the various French employers’ associations are calling upon small business-owners to “hit the streets,” both in Paris and in Toulouse. But really: can it be true that French bosses will display their anger with the same sort of mass demonstrations (with occasional violence) that working-class organizations use?

That M. Roux I previously quoted declared in a TV interview that, yes, “some will perhaps hit the streets” on 1 December, but that there will also be meetings and témoignages, which literally translates as “testimonials.”

There’s another way these business organizations will mobilize to get what they want, too. M. Roux does not include it in his list, but the Le Monde writer (uncredited) does give it a mention: stepping up their institutional lobbying.

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