Gérard Among The Crazies

Monday, January 7th, 2013

You might have heard about the recent kerfluffle involving the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated (for Cyrano de Bergerac) French actor Gérard Depardieu. French President François Hollande recently carried out his pledge to increase the top marginal income tax rate in his country to75%, and Depardieu has become the point-man for resistance to that among the French wealthy. He has written vituperative public letters to the president, for example; but he has also asked for and received Russian citizenship (where income taxes are at only 13%, for everyone). He’s apparently good friends with Vladimir Putin, according to the French weekly L’Express (and numerous other publications):

Quand Gérard Depardieu fait la com’ de Vladimir Poutine http://t.co/5rWqHj33

@LEXPRESS

LEXPRESS


Yes, good buddies they are, интимные приятели . . . if you click through there to the article you can see a nice photo of the two men embarking on a bear-hug. “Did you see my latest film?” Gérard asks Vladimir, “I sent it to you.” (Depardieu’s latest project was a franco-russian co-production on the life of Rasputin, in which he took up the title role.) And Brigitte Bardot is threatening to follow him to Russia, although over a dispute involving two sick elephants (I kid you not! Click thru!) rather than taxes.

But here’s the punchline to all this, beyond the patronized pachyderms, which I provide as a public service to those (very few) of you who have not already figured it out for yourselves. Russia may impose only a 13% tax-rate, but it’s really not a very nice place to go and live; Depardieu’s praise of the state of democracy there, which formed part of his open letters, only shows how ignorant he is, for Russia has no rule of law and the rich there stay that way only through Vladimir Putin’s good graces (as shown by the counter-example of former oil company CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky).

There’s yet another L’Express article of note here, entitled Russia: Depardieu among the crazies? For the spot in Russia Depardieu has picked out for himself – should he really want to spend time there – is said to be the southern Moscow suburb of Белые Столбы (“White Posts”). But as journalist Alla Chevelkina (note the name) points out, Depardieu apparently is unaware that Russia’s most famous mental institution – which in the bad old days also housed numerous Russian dissidents as part of the Soviet regime’s employment of psychiatry as a weapon against such “troublemakers” – is in the same neighborhood and shares the “White Posts” name. Or that Russians use the expression “gone to the White Posts” to denote someone who has been packed away to the crazy-house.

UPDATE: And now the newspaper Libération tells us that Depardieu was greeted as a hero upon his arrival in Russia, and offered a house and the post of Minister of Culture! The thing is, all of those have to do with the Russian Republic of Mordovia, some who’s-ever-heard-of-it place apparently located somewhere to the east of the former Stalingrad.

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If With Peace You Don’t Succeed . . .

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Subtly, but surely, an important milestone has been reached in the eight-month uprising in Syria, as Marie Simon writes in an interesting new article in the French newsmagazine L’Express:

Jour après jour, la Syrie semble glisser vers la guerre civile http://t.co/LoWegPXI via @

@Monde_LEXPRESS

Marie Simon


The lede:

Part of the opposition is resigned to letting the weapons talk to gain the fall of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, in the absence of any international intervention. The latest actions of the new “Free Syrian Army” trouble the international community.

(more…)

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Shocking New DSK Revelations

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Entranced by the Dallas-like soap-opera that the whole Rupert Murdoch/News Corp. affair is becoming? Well, don’t forget we still have the adventures of that old monetary rogue, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), to follow. But surely the New York City charges are about to be dropped? True, but on the other hand it looks like French authorities are now taking rather seriously the accusation by the journalist Tristane Banon that DSK tried to rape her back in February, 2003, on the occasion of an interview.

Now this affair’s soap-opera credentials have been considerably boosted by surprise testimony arising out of the six hours of interrogation Ms. Banon’s mother, Anne Mansouret, underwent last week. (This is now all over the French press, but all articles point to L’Express, which had the scoop: Affair Banon-DSK: The secrets of Anne Mansouret). Get this: Mme. Mansouret actually had had intimate relations with DSK herself, namely at the Paris offices of the OECD in 2000, when DSK was special counselor to the Secretary General.

She claims it only happened once – it was “consensual but clearly violent/beastly [brutale]” and she had no desire for any repeat – but it is relevant to the case because it is likely to have affected the advice she gave her daughter as to how to proceed when Tristane unexpectedly found herself alone with DSK three years later in a room whose door he had just locked from the inside.

Here’s what happened afterwards, after the fold, as L’Express extracted from Mme. Mansouret’s testimony: (more…)

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He(brew) Said/Shi(‘ite) Said

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

OK, we know that a serious border incident took place yesterday between the Israeli and Lebanese armies. It involved some sort of tree [sic], and four people died: two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist who was with them, and an Israeli lieutenant-colonel. It seems the UN Security Council has even gone into session today to ponder things. But enough of all that – c’mon guys, who started it? Who was to blame?

You’ll get no credible answer asking the parties directly involved: each was quick to blame the other and to warn of “consequences” should anything further of this sort occur. Israeli officials even spoke of their troops being caught in an “ambush.”

No, the best bet for establishing further facts would seem to be finding some report from an on-the-scene but neutral observer. And we have one, from the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, namely Ulrike Putz and her article Observers puzzle over the background of Mideast firefight. I mean, “Ulrike Putz” sounds like a name you can trust, right? She’s a female, and of course she’s German, and I think those two things combined amount to a mark of journalistic objectivity as good as any other.

Plus, you don’t have to scroll down too far in her article to find bullet-points that lay everything out as clear as it can presently be ascertained:

  • Where exactly was that infamous tree at the center of all this: on Israeli or on Lebanese territory? A UN spokesperson is willing to confirm that it was on the Israeli side.
  • So who opened fire first? We get UN testimony again on this: the Lebanese did. Then the Israelis naturally reacted, but by throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, e.g. artillery, combat helicopters. But I understand Israelis tend to do that in the face of a provocation.
  • OK then: Why did all this happen? Well, there are some clues. You’ll note that among the casualties was a Lebanese journalist – well, what was he doing there just at the right place and time to watch something interesting happen? Also, according to Israeli sources the Lebanese brigade commander responsible for that sector is a Shi’ite with rather extreme anti-Israeli attitudes. So the suggestion is that he had just been waiting for an excuse to open fire on the IDF, operating entirely under his own authority. (Yes, I realize that with this analysis Frau Putz seems to go over to the Israeli side. But assessing motivations is the hardest task of all, and that’s the only source where she can get her information.)

Interestingly, up to now it has not been the Lebanese Army that the Israelis have felt they needed to worry about, but rather Hezbollah fighters. After all, they’re the ones that have the missiles to fire into Israel, and that month-long war there back in the summer of 2006 was really with them. So after the incident was over and the bodies removed, the real concern was that Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, would be annoyed enough with the incident (although it did not directly involved any of his personnel) to start attacking Israel again. Indeed, Nasrallah made a long and aggressive speech last night, in effect telling the Israelis not to try anything like that again or they’ll be very sorry, but that was as far as he went – so far.

Similarly, Frau Putz reports that the Israelis also seriously considered reacting to the incident by unleashing a general bombing campaign against Lebanese Army positions, but then decided not to. But don’t sit back and relax yet: this piece in today’s L’Express (with a couple interesting pictures of deployed IDF equipment) reports that both sides (meaning Israeli and Lebanese) are moving more troops up to the border.

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Train Through Divided Country

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Did you know that Russia has its own high-speed railway? A recent tweet pointed this out:

Le TGV russe, symbole d'un pays à deux vitesses http://tinyurl.com/3ymelyk #sapsan
@Monde_LEXPRESS
Marie Simon

It links to this article in the French newsmagazine L’Express, with an accompanying photo-montage. So it’s true: the special train service is called the “Sapsan” (Сапсан), Russian for “peregrine falcon,” and has operated since last December on the classic Moscow-to-St. Petersburg route (and only there, so far; that particular route has been in service since 1851). Its Siemens-built trains, with top speeds of 250 km/hour, link Russia’s two premier cities in only three hours, forty minutes.

There are some notable things about the Sapsan, quite apart from its limited route. (It’s relatively new, after all.) As the reader realizes from the photo there at the top of the article, it operates on ordinary tracks, unlike some high-speed services in Europe (e.g. in France, the Netherlands) which use custom-built tracks which can be fenced off. Quite apart from technical considerations, in Russia such security measures are probably called for, given that country’s infamous plague of alcoholism; as things stand, the Sapsan amounts to yet another executioner (more deadly-efficient than other trains, due to its extraordinary speed) of the many drunks who wander onto the rails at the wrong time every year (almost 3,000 in 2009). (more…)

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Me & My Tractor Invade the Big City

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

It’s often claimed that French farmers are quick to take to the streets – in the best French Revolutionary tradition – whenever they feel their interests threatened. And that is true, and has been for decades. But it’s only recently that video technology has evolved to the point where the blog-reader can be taken along for the ride almost as if s/he is right there.

L’Express writer Aurélien Chartendrault (Now, doesn’t that name convince you right there that we’re talking about things French? That’s a “he,” by the way.) hitched a ride yesterday on the tractor of farmer Nicolas Combes, one of 1,200 farm-vehicles invading Paris’ city streets in a protest-action of around 10,000 corn and grain farmers unhappy about the prices they’re getting for their produce. The resulting video is below; in it, M. Combes gets the only speaking part and uses it mainly to go on about how he feels he can barely make a living anymore, and apparently also about some pointy-headed officials who are trying to get him to farm without using pesticides.

But here it’s best to leave all that stuff aside – indeed, best if you can’t understand French, although his enunciation is perfectly fine and without accent – so you can just concentrate on the sensation of riding through the Parisian scenery in a tractor-convoy.


Mon tracteur à Paris
Uploaded by LEXPRESS. – the latest news content.

What comes next? Inevitably something like “Grand Theft Tractor,” in a Paris setting – soon available for PSP, Wii and the XBox 360!

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Reactions to Mark Sanford

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

You’ve surely heard about it, if you’re reading this from the other side (i.e. the Western) of the Big Pond, and word has spread over to us here on the European side as well: South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, missing for six days, turned out not to have gone hiking in those Appalachian Mountains that he loves so well, as his office staff claimed, but instead jetted down to Buenos Aires to meet with a local Latin lover there – supposedly employing all those five days (left after you subtract travel time) to put an end to the relationship. This the governor tearfully acknowledged to the world at a bizarre press-conference yesterday.

Who better to look to for a first take on all this than the French? (Other than the Argentinians, but this weblog is called EuroSavant). For that we can go to L’Express’ correspondent in the States, Philippe Coste, and his blog-entry The governor and his labrynth. You might recall – although it was more than ten years ago – that the French, in particular, were mystified by the whole to-do around the Monica Lewinsky affair and President Clinton’s impeachment; powerful French politicians, all the way up to past President François Mitterand (and for that matter – who knows? – even president-at-that-time Jacques Chirac), had routinely kept mistresses on the side, but these had always been kept decorously hushed-up, in keeping with the French electorate’s acceptance of and lack of interest in such things. (more…)

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France and China: BFF Once More

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

So today is the day: the G20 summit in London. I’m pleased to report delightfully sunny, warm, no-need-for-overcoats spring weather here in NW Europe to aid the assembled world leaders in their deliberations, even though we all realize that as a practical matter that will do little but boost the ranks of protestors out on London’s streets – for today, especially, the lives of a world leader and his/her staff are bounded by conference rooms and the climate-controlled cocoons of limousines.

Belgium’s La Libre Belgique has a good run-down (Re-start more, regulate better) of the task these leaders face. The lede:

The stakes of the “Twenty,” industrialized and developing countries, are at minimum double. Consolidate the chances of economic recovery and avoid new skidding from the financial markets. The G20 will have to convince in both registers.

As La Libre reporter Pierre-François Lovens notes, Barack Obama himself has gone on record as refusing to be satisfied with leaving London having achieved only “half measures.” Yet as Lovens also writes, “Four hours, maybe five . . . That’s the time – a priori derisory enough in view of the stakes – that the heads of state and of government of the G20 will devote on Thursday, in London, to the multiple dossiers” before them at the summit. Furthermore, the basic outlines of disagreement have not changed: the US wants greater spending on stimulus packages from other governments, especially those in Europe, while for their part the Europeans reject this idea while making it clear that they are after an expanded system of international financial regulation in which “no place, no financial product and no institution can exist anymore without supervision or transparency.” (more…)

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Search Not Over Yet for “Dr. Death”

Friday, February 6th, 2009

A recent headline-news story in the German press was the discovery that fugitive Nazi war-criminal Aribert Ferdinand Heim had been living under another name in Cairo, Egypt since shortly after fleeing Germany in 1962, and that he had died there back in the summer of 1992. Known as “Dr. Death” for the gruesome medical procedures and experiments he undertook while serving in the SS at a series of concentration camps, Heim had long been top-of-the-charts when it came to old Nazis that the German authorities – aided by among others the famous Simon Wiesenthal Center – believed to be still alive and were trying to locate to bring them back to Germany to face justice. In fact, the New York Times account reports that the current director of the Jerusalem branch of the Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, “had been about to raise the reward for information leading to his arrest to $1.3 million from $400,000,” adding that “Mr. Zuroff expressed surprise when informed of Dr. Heim’s apparent fate.”

“Surprise,” indeed; from a brief interview with Marie Simon of the French news-magazine L’Express, it seems that Zuroff is not ready to accept that Heim is dead yet. “I have serious doubts on this subject. . . . There is no body, no tomb, no DNA test possible.” He calls it a “curious thing” that Heim’s son has not tried to claim Heim’s inheritance, said to amount to some €2 million, and that, while he is now claiming his father died in Egypt in 1992, as of two months ago he also declared he had never seen him. (But, as the NYT reports, he now says he was with him when he died. Whether that is true – i.e. whether he ever was there, although travel and passport-control records could show that, and, more importantly, whether Heim actually died when claimed – is another matter.)

Zuroff indicates to his French interviewer his definite intention to travel to Cairo to examine the documents attesting to Heim’s death himself. But for now he believes (“according to our latest information”) that Heim may well still be alive, having absconded at some point to that more-traditional Nazi refuge, South America – although Zuroff also points out that Egypt actually was an even better place to hide after the war for Nazis on the run, one endorsed by Franz Stangl, commandant of the Treblinka death camp, who made that country his first stop on the run.

(Wikipedia note: Strangely, the Wikipedia entry on the Simon Wiesenthal Center records that “In November 2005, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem Director, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, located Aribert Heim, who had been hiding in Spain for 20 years. Aribert Heim died in 1992 in Cairo, Egypt a free man.”)

UPDATE: An article in Le Monde now adds some further relevant details, mainly that German police now intend to travel to Egypt shortly to positively confirm Heim’s death by finding actual evidence, like the remains of a body.

It also recounts how the Austrian authorities submitted in 1950 a detailed request to arrest Heim to the (then West-) German Ministry of Justice, even listing his exact location of residence within Germany. Heim was originally Austrian, you see, plus the outrages for which he was most infamous occurred at the Mauthausen concentration camp located within Austria. But that request was ignored by the West German authorities.

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Obama Becomes President, Steals Sarkozy’s Limelight

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Yes We Can! Barack Hussein Obama is now 44th president of the United States!

Time to assess reactions to that historical event from over on this side of the Atlantic. I’m tempted just to see what the Netherlands press has to say, particularly because of the great cover on today’s editions of the local quality free paper, De Pers: The black Jesus has landed! (Careful with that link: it will download for you the PDF of the entire issue.) “And now Barack Obama, since yesterday the new boss of the world, must really get to work,” the headline continues. “He is being looked to for carrying out wonders for every Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

I like that sort of irreverent, tongue-in-cheek attitude (at least I think that’s what the De Pers editors intended there), but let’s briefly survey instead coverage from the French press, to which it seems I traditionally turn first in the wake of some significant global event. (more…)

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Oooh-la-la! Lingerie!

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

This is a bit off of my normal beat – or not, if you count on me to point out the best of the European on-line press.

New tendencies in lingerie:

L’EXPRESS.fr Styles took its camera to the avant-première of the International Salon of Lingerie that will take place from 18 to 21 January at the porte de Versailles. How to wear the corset? Is the string dead? Responses to these crucial questions in pictures.

There then follows a two-minute video – no nudity, but definitely some beautiful women. (Foot-fetishists also get their moment of bliss.) And they often break out into some nice, feminine French!

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The Witch and the Wardrobe

Friday, October 24th, 2008

The latest presidential campaign kerfluffle – a sort of “Vice’s New Clothes” story, no doubt you’ve already taken the measure of it yourself – concerns the $150,000-or-so that reporters for the site Politico revealed a few days ago has been spent by the Republic National Committee for the clothing, shoeing, coiffing, and make-up-ing of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. While the New York Times in a front-page article speculated whether $150,000 Wardrobe for Palin May Alter Tailor-Made Image, this latest tidbit about the American style of politics found its way out to foreign lands, provoking much comment there.

Within Europe, I’d have to select coverage on the US-elections blog of the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant as among the best (Palin went shopping with GOP credit card), mainly because blogger Bas Benneker suggests that all Palin was doing was taking full advantage of an opportunity that had fallen into her lap (or the lap of her Versace custom-fitted skirt) to pursue the American (Female’s) Dream: (more…)

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McCain = Media Whipping-Boy? A French Report

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

The French weekly newsmagazine L’Express has taken up the new mini-dispute about whether the US press has abandoned its previous love for John McCain in favor of Barack Obama (John McCain, the Unloved One of the Media?).

(Bizarrely, the publication information at the article’s head indicates it was put on-line on Monday, which was before many of the developments that it discusses – such as the McCain campaign’s release of the mocking “Obama Love” videos – actually occurred!)

As the lede leads: “The Republican candidate for the presidential election, whose opinion piece about Iraq was ‘censored’ by the New York Times, is feeling unloved . . . Or at least less loved than his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, by the American media. In his latest campaign [film] clips he turns on some star journalists with derision.” (more…)

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The “Other” Poll: Across the Water

Sunday, September 26th, 2004

As the American presidential campaign winds down to the last six weeks, with the first in the series of debates scheduled for next week, much attention and speculation surrounds the results of various polls seeking to track the horse-race. Then there is the other poll, that of the non-voters’ opinions, namely of those living on the European continent. Jean-Michel Demetz gives the run-down in the French news-magazine L’Express of results from the latest poll on trans-Atlantic attitudes commissioned by the German Marshall Fund of the United States together with Compagnia di San Paolo of Turin (Italy), and conducted in June, 2004. (Europeans Against American Leadership. Actually, Americans also figured under this poll’s sample of 11,000 respondents from 11 countries, which as we’ll see below makes for some interesting comparative results.) (more…)

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Moore’s Fahrenheit Catches Fire in France

Saturday, July 10th, 2004

For whatever reason, Michael Moore’s blockbuster documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 was first exposed outside the US to French-speaking audiences, opening on 7 July in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. And, as you’d probably expect, it had a Smashing Début, as stated in the title of an article in the Nouvel Observateur. It was seen by 100,000 in France on its first day of showing alone (of which 30,000 in Paris), the best opening of all time for a documentary. Still, the (unnamed) writer does give Moore’s previous work, Bowling for Columbine, greater credit for being fully researched and documented. (more…)

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Zut Alors! No Contracts?

Thursday, December 11th, 2003

Did you catch the latest news about the Pentagon shutting out from eligibility for those big rebuilding contracts in Iraq all those countries that didn’t support the war, like France, Germany, and Russia? (For the protection of the essential security interests of the United States, natch!) Hoo-hah! Suckaaaz! Did those jackal-states really expect that they could step back and let the American troops and their various allied homies go in and put their rears on the line to lay down some hurt, and then just show up afterwards to earn some big green cleaning up the mess?

(Of course, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to hit them with this tough new reality just before the Prez was scheduled to give them a call asking them to forgive the Iraqi debt they hold. Josh Marshall feels that there really should be some official in place to coordinate things between Washington’s various diplomatic and security agencies so that embarrassing things like this don’t happen – something perhaps like a “National Security Advisor”?)

Ah, but remember that you are now in EuroSavant territory, my friend, which means that you get to hear from the other side. Are the French gnashing their unhygienic teeth in frustration? Are the Germans crying into their beer? I’ve got time to check out the one (France); stay tuned to this site to see if I also squeeze in the other. (more…)

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Europe vs. America: An Opinion Poll

Monday, September 8th, 2003

Foreign reactions to President Bush’s speech to the nation of yesterday evening, requesting $87 billion more from Congress for Iraq and Afghanistan, are trickling in. Sure, they all report the speech, and it’s true that the subtle ins and outs of what they report, and how they report it, can be interesting and valuable in deciphering the trans-Atlantic point-of-view, but I prefer the “Analysis” or “Commentary” articles, and those aren’t there yet. I’ll check again tomorrow whether there is enough such material to report and comment on, from a major country (i.e. France or Germany – or the UK, if the commentary there is interesting enough to make it worth ducking the cat-calls and flying objects coming my way for “copping-out” with the English-language press).

Today, though, we prep that issue with some background, namely a recent survey on European attitudes towards the US, reported in L’Express in an article entitled Les Européens jugent l’Amérique (which of course means “(The) Europeans Judge America). (more…)

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For the EU, the Future Is Now

Friday, June 27th, 2003

Returning to Die Zeit – truly an excellent commentary newspaper, and very generous with what it’s willing to post on-line! – the article in its latest (on-line) issue (Der letzte Gipfel – “The Last Summit”) shows that the future which the EU has feared for so long has now arrived – whether it’s ready for it or not. (more…)

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“Hands off my draft constitution!” says Giscard

Monday, June 23rd, 2003

With the presentation last Friday to the EU summit in Thessaloniki of the draft EU Constitution, the work of the European Convention headed by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing came to an end. Now the text is in the hands of the national governments of EU member-states, which will formally begin negotiations over changes to that draft at the EU Intergovernmental Conference to begin in the middle of next October. (more…)

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