I Love Eric Idle

And here is why:

The FCC Song

Opinion Poll

In this morning’s Le Monde, one of the reader’s comments to an article on the latest twists and turnings in the upcoming French presidential elections proposes the following as a reader’s poll:

Amongst the possible candidates to the presidentials, which ones would you most like to see disappear forever from the French political scene?

France’s Problem #114c

[tag]Johnny Hallyday[/tag], the french rocker and Gallic institution, the one with Elvis sideburns and shovelhead Hog, has rattled the political elite here by announcing that he is moving to Switzerland to escape the crushing french tax burden. He is the third in a recent spate of french ‘stars’ who have gone elsewhere in the hope of keeping a little more of what they earn.

Johnny is an old pal of Sarkozy, which has given the Left elite a made-for-primetime excuse to express its numbing existential shock at this stab-in-the-back perfidy.

François Hollande, head of the Socialist party and Ségolene Royal’s partner (some would say her ‘insignificant other’) declared, “Sarkozy should be careful of who he counts as his friends.” Wow. This is powerful stuff, worthy of the very best french political punditry.

Sarko’s people of the right elite are expressing all the usual hand-wringing regrets but are fond of pointing out that rocknroll is a left-wing cultural phenomenon which proves that their main man embraces all sides of the spectrum.

Jean-François Copé, the center-right press secretary, came up with “ah oui, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, until one discovers that it’s artificial grass”. Wow!. These guys are good!

The Budget minister remarked that “it is hard to compete with certain countries on tax matters”.

And the minister for Employment and Social Cohesion was very very sad. Johnny has been one of his favs for a long time.

Everyone else in France, especially those small businesspersonnes who give 70% of their revenue to the state and submit to regular tax audits to make sure they understand the dynamics and moral worthiness of the [tag]French economic model[/tag], are wondering how Johnny lasted this long before deciding to go to where the artificial turf is greener.

On Good Conversation, Diaspora, and Jobs

In this morning’s NY Times there is a cute little article entitled “Talking the Yanks Under the Table” which is about how much cleverer the British are perceived to be than we Americans when it comes to conversation. At least, that’s how us Americans tend to see it.

I for one, dutifully admit that conversation over dinner with a bunch of Brits or French is usually more fun than with Americans (happily, there are notable exceptions) because the conversation will almost certainly be more daring, the range of admissible ideas much broader, and hey, the food will be better than meat loaf or pizza with ‘everything on it’. The French have the art de vivre down pat while the Brits I know living in the south of France are usually foodies, so sitting down à table will usually be a treat.

But back to the NYT article. One American living in London who was interviewed says

People are more relaxed here and they’re not thinking, ‘I’ve got to get home because I’ve got to get up to work.’ It’s looser here; there isn’t that grind.

This quote was fascinating to me in light of an article I came across just yesterday on the BBC website that analyzes the current state of the British diaspora. (For conversationally-challenged Americans, a diaspora is the migratory spread of a people out from their homeland into what we Americans affectionately call the Rest of World). It is always astonishing to discover how many Brits feel that Life is probably better on the other end of an Easyjet flight.

Many British expats are interviewed by the BBC, and when asked why they left Britain, the responses are breathtaking:

I don’t miss the rushed pace of life and I definitely don’t miss the British government.

or

I lived in London for 12 years and spoke to my neighbours three times. Fed up with the stress of my job, long days and expensive cost of living, I left the UK to see the world.

A first conclusion is that dumbed-down Americans can reasonably look to Great Britain’s dinner parties for the intellectual stimulation that is missing from American life. And that alienated Brits can reasonably look to anywhere to the south to flee alienation, dysfunctional healthcare, and long periods of bad weather.

II.
In the BBC article, we learn that 2 million Brits are living permanently in Australia, 700,000 live in Spain, but only 200,000 have settled down in France.

(This last factoid is surprising. Here in southern France, it often seems that every third person is British. What can it be like in Spain? Is every third person Spanish?)

Just after reading the BBC article, I happened to speak with a knowledgeable English friend living down here and learned yet another astonishing fact: apparently, there are more Frenchpersonnes living in Britain than there are Brits in France!

However, it is a sad reality that explains this fact. The French who go to England do so because they can’t find work in France. They are generally young, dynamic, and definitely not part of the 75% of French youth recently polled by Le Monde whose priority is finding a job for life in the civil service with a solid pension at 60. The French in Britain are generally involved in the finance and IT sectors, parts of the modern economy that are not joyously recognized in France. They are part of what is called the fuite de cerveaux (‘Brain Drain’) that is a common subject of conversation at french dinner parties.

The Brits in France on the other hand, are generally pensioners, coming down here to live the good Life. Few attempt to become part of French economic activity, because the difficulties of doing so are starting to be well-known. I suppose that those wanting to continue working account for the larger expat populations of Spain or Australia, places where work is not frowned upon..

The Reddit Effect

Every morning, over coffee and computer, taking care not to spill one on the other, I read the Guardian, the IHT, Le Monde and then I turn to Reddit.com, aka, “What’s new online?”. At Reddit, the ‘community’ posts web pages that they like and other visitors vote on these articles if they are interesting or well-received. With enough votes, a website can make it to the very first page of Reddit, which lists the most popular 25 URLs (out of I don’t know how many candidates. Hundreds? Thousands?).

The first page of Reddit is presumably the best of the best and getting your content on it is supposed to be what Web 2.0 marketing is all about.

I was meditating on all this on day before yesterday, Friday afternoon, when I had a wonderful idea. For laughs, I would post one of my own blog entries to Reddit, see what happens. I mean, I get 20-30 visits a day, mostly from curious (and/or loyal) friends, but wouldn’t it be better for the world if more people read my bons mots? What if Reddit really works???

I chose The Official French Business Calender, which I had written in August, to nominate. As the holiday seasons approaches, I had had the thought that the Calendar was On Topic again for a few weeks. If you read it, I think you’ll understand. (And anyway. I didn’t have anything totally up to date to propose :-) )

Anyhow, I post the Calendar at around 15h Central European Time and an hour and a half later my son, who manages the server where this blog lives, calls me to ask me “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”. He says it with a twinkle in his voice, laughing even, but the undertone of server administrator panic was there too. Turns out my article had made it to the first page of Reddit with extreme rapidity, and the result was that the MySQL database that this blog uses was getting 150 requests a second, which is about 400 million times more than it had ever received before.

150 requests a second is not a lot for MySQL, but there must have been something wrong with the way I had installed WordPress, because, for the first time ever, the Reddit rush brought our web server to its knees.

At 17h, we were obliged to a) take my blog offline and b) take off my posting on Reddit, which fortunately is possible. About 1 hour later, the rush slowed down, (3200 visits were logged in that first hour) but we kept my blog offline overnight, just in case. We all had better things to do on a Friday night than sit up with a sick web server.

Saturday morning, I looked around the web and found the excellent WordPress Cache plugin, which I promptly installed. WP-cache creates static versions of popular blog entries, bypassing MySQL, so that it doesn’t overheat when the Reddit Effect hits. It seems to have solved the problem.

Today is Sunday, all is well, and I find myself wondering if I should repost the Calendar to Reddit. Nah, I think I’ll wait.

Autumn Fondue

According to an article in this morning’s Le Monde, autumn 2006 (defined as September, October, November) has been the warmest fall in 500 years throughout Europe.

The average temperature over and above the daily average during the period was 2.9° C. in France, which beats the former warmest autumn record of 1.4° daily (which was in 2005, for those of you who love surprising factoids). Similar conclusions can be drawn from examining British and Scandanavian climate records.

Climatologists Elena Xoplaki and Juerg Luterbacher of the University of Berne (Switzerland) have created an historical climate model for Europe going back to the year 1500, using diverse historical references such as harvest dates, flowering periods, etc. which I suppose is how monks spent their time recording back then.

They point out that

Autumn 2006 was warmer even than 1772 and 1938, 2 particularly warm autumns, historically.

I for one am very excited about living in such momentous times, so full of world records.

Can’t Wait

In his latest column in the NY Times, concerning the mounting number of indicators pointing to an upcoming economic recession, Paul Krugman finishes off:

Luckily, we’ve got good leadership for the coming economic storm: the White House is occupied by a man who’s ideologically flexible, listens to a wide variety of views, and understands that policy has to be based on careful analysis, not gut instincts. Oh, wait.

Wait, indeed.