Difficult to Watch

In the Guardian, Terry Jones of Monty Python fame makes some interesting points about the barbarian practices being used by the Iranians towards the 15 captured British naval personnel that they are now holding.

Amongst the disgraces that no civilized anglo-saxon should tolerate:

  1. Instead of putting cloth sacks over their heads when shown in public, the one woman captive (Faye Turney) is forced to wear a headscarf. The men’s heads are all… naked!!!
  2. Instead of putting duct tape over their mouths (before putting the cloth sacks over the heads), the captives are allowed, when shown on TV… to speak.
  3. Instead of putting each captive in solitary confinement, they are allowed to write letters home.
  4. And finally, “What is so appalling is the underhand way in which the Iranians have got her (Faye Turney) “unhappy and stressed”. She shows no signs of electrocution or burn marks and there are no signs of beating on her face. This is unacceptable. If captives are to be put under duress, such as by forcing them into compromising sexual positions, or having electric shocks to their genitals, they should be photographed”

Will us civilized westerners be able to maintain our sang-froid in the face of such affronts to our deeply held beliefs about what constitutes dignified treatment of prisoners? This is going to be a difficult test.

Update (2 april):

Just received this from Meredith:

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On Being a Service Provider in the Land of No Service

or, why getting ADSL in France really sucks…

(follow up to 5 Days Without and my ISP FAQs)

The French media is abuzz today with news that customer complaints against French broadband providers are up over 50% year-on-year for the 2nd year in a row.

In a land where there are 400 different words for cheese but none for customer satisfaction it is not surprising that French customer service has the reputation of being the worst in this quadrant of the galaxy. And, if there is any one industry segment in France that has worse customer service than all the others, it is arguably the broadband supply sector.

So we are talking really really bad. Which looks like this:

The French consumer, who until recently lagged behind the rest of the so-called Modern World in terms of Internet uptake, has finally discovered the benefits of Internet, ADSL and illegal downloads, and is rushing to a) buy computers and b) hook them into the network. To spite the ex-telco monopoly, France Telecom, (“Serving France badly for over 200 years“), the French are using their new-found consumer empowerment to choose new broadband companies such as Free, Cegetel, Alice, etcetc. to supply high-speed internet. (That many of these new companies are ex-monopolies from other European countries or Old France is an unworthy detail.)

Once a frenchpersonne decides to go for it, there are 2 ways to approach getting an ADSL connection. According to where one lives, one can either choose to keep one’s good old FT line and piggy-back third-party ADSL onto it (called adsl non-dégroupé), or, heh heh, one can renounce FT altogether, and have the ADSL supplier furnish a techno-enchilada — voice services, TV, and broadband (called dégroupé).

Whichever ADSL is chosen, it is always an FT technician (FT still owns the copper wires) who takes the consumer’s phone wires at the central station and plugs them into either blackbox A for non-dégroupé customers or blackbox B for dégroupé customers. Afterwards, the technician certifies the information to the ADSL supplier, who immediately starts debiting the client’s bank account for 30€/month.

This is when the complaints generally start. A huge proportion of new ADSL subscriber lines simply don’t work from the get-go, even though the customer is told that they do. To add insult to injury, many of these unfortunate victims lose their voice line in the process (which was working perfectly up til then, thank you very much).

All one can do then, is call the provider’s support line. You use a friend’s phone of course, because you don’t have a phone line anymore. You should be prepared to beg, plead, and whimper. This costs you up to 1€/minute for the call. You are put on hold for 10 minutes. You are told that you should call back another time because all the support staff has gone home for the day. Or, if there is anyone left to talk to you, you are told that a) it’s all some dumb-technician-who-works-for-another-company’s fault and you need to call France Telecom. Or, you are told that your line checks out perfectly.

You are asked if there is anything else that you wanted to talk about. Numb, you answer “But, but, but..” but it’s into a dead phone line.

Since it’s your neighbor’s phone, you don’t bang it against the wall until it’s reduced to plastic shards. You owe your neighbor 12€ for the call. You are mortified. Apoplectic. You’ll have to do it all over again tomorrow.

Dante never saw Hell so darkly as this.

Explanations?

  1. Well, we are in a country where the very words ‘customer service’ generate severe migraines.
  2. Phone calls to tech support generate a sizeable proportion of a broadband provider’s revenue.
  3. Some people theorize that the FT technician mentioned earlier plugs a certain number of the new lines into a hitherto unidentified top secret device, call it Box C, which is really made of styrofoam painted to look like a hi-tech ADSL DSLAM and is connected to nowhere. FT and the third-party supplier, split the support line revenue.
  4. I don’t know.

My best advice

1. Don’t go with FT’s service, Orange. It is expensive and dull.

2. When choosing amongst the other contenders, never ever ever order ‘dégroupé’ (which means that you’re giving up your France Telecom phone line) straight away. Not because FT is good or warm or fuzzy (they’re not) but you’ll need the voice line to call tech support for the first few months while your ADSL doesn’t work.

3. As a corollary to ¶2, if you live in a part of rural France that has only just received ADSL service, you have probably been using RNIS or Numéris phone service (ISDN in english) for your internet. In your joy about finally having broadband possibility, DO NOT cancel your RNIS line at the same time that you order a new analog line to carry your ADSL. You will probably find yourself without telephone service for months or years.

Order the analog line with ADSL, then when it all works fine, cancel the RNIS.

4. I have recommended Free for many years, and it is true that their service, when it’s up and running, is the most technologically correct. But over the last year, I have noticed that new lines ordered through Free rarely work for the first few months. You spend 50, 100€ on tech support phone calls and all the while, they’re debiting you 29.99€/month. It can’t be allowed anymore. Choose someone else.

The Lines Are Drawn

It was the comments that blew me away in a recent Charles Bremer blog post.

One says:

France is a great place to live if you are white and have a job. Non white and jobless, it’s probably as enlightened and as much fun as Alabama in the 1950s.

or

Today France is synonymous with an aging polity embedded in a very bureaucratic culture and structure. Its economy is stagnant and France has fallen behind in those areas where it used to lead the world – Wines, haute cuisine, haute couture, car design, and luxury goods generally.

In its foreign policy France is synonymous with a very narrow and self-interested approach to the development of the EU and even its “principled” stance on Iraq can be explained in terms of its economic interests in the region.

French people may like to think that they still lead the world and that others aspire to be like it. They may actually believe what they were taught in school (“Children learn at school that France is regarded by the world as “the home of human rights” and model for civilisation”) but no one I know outside France actually thinks of France in that way. It is seen as a very pleasant tourist destination and perhaps a good place to retire to, but no longer a leader in World terms.

Another replies:

In xenophobic France, one in four has a grandparent of foreign origin.
Racist France welcomes and gives citizenship to people of every race on earth.
Islamophobic France has the largest muslim community in Europe.
Anti-semitic France has the second largest jewish community in the world and has been governed by several jewish PM during the last century.
And so on…
But as usual War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.

In my humble opinion, there is truth in all of these affirmations. But where does one hang one’s hat??? If you don’t mind what happens to your hat, try here.

Could This Possibly Work?

A friend just told me that she has heard on the news that immediately after GW Bush left Nicaragua on his current tour of South and Central America, local Mayan leaders performed a “cleansing ceremony” to rid their country of those nasty Bush vibes. I did a little searching and came up with this:

That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture,”
Juan Tiney, director of a Mayan nongovernmental organization with close ties to Mayan religious and political leaders.

I’m thinking that if this is an effective tool, people of all races and cultures would probably want to learn how to perform such a cleansing ceremony if there was the slightest chance that it could somehow lighten the horrible blight that the US President has unleashed on our world.

Climaticide

I have just learned a new word.

It rhymes with genocide, homicide, insecticide, fratricide, infanticide, matricide, regicide, or suicide.

I discovered this new word in a French newspaper article describing French carmakers Peugeot and Renault’s belated entry into the lucrative SUV gas-guzzler market. The word is how several environmental groups describe the inevitable effects of the carmakers’ initiative. Given the way Frenchpersonnes drive, other words ending in ‘icide’ might also apply.

But back to climaticide. It is an interesting word.

Now, who can tell me what it means?

Estonia Revisited: Voting on the Internet

Back in June in this blog, I extased about my visit to Tallinn, capitol of Estonia. A beautiful medival city in a tiny Baltic state that was joyously grasping Life after liberation from the greyness of Russian occupancy.

Since that visit, I have learned that Estonia is considered the ‘Hong Kong of Europe’ for its forward-looking, distinctly non-European approach to facilitating entrepreneurship and encouraging innovation with acts, not words.

Today, I have just learned that Estonia will become the first country in the world to ever have a national parlamentary election completely held over the internet.

More here and here (in french)

Toulouse, We have a Problem

Airbus, the flower of pan-European industrial cooperation and, importantly, nearby Toulouse’s largest employer, is in major disarray. The results are pretty sad, definitely shocking: Airbus has gone from world #1 aircraft builder to industrial basket case in an amazingly short time. Layoff of 12000 workers in France, Germany, England and Spain is announced. Some heads are rolling, others are making the usual silly noises.

The problems, it seems, boil down to an innovative type of mismanagement over the years, whereby Airbus’ major players, European countries working together in apparent and noteworthy harmony, have actually been working together in petty old-European (read French vs. German) rivalries and these have kept Airbus from honestly and frankly confronting the challenges that any major global business confronts on a daily basis. (Disclaimer: I am not a major global business, but I’m pretty sure that they face challenges on a daily basis.)

Segolène Royal, socialist candidate for president, who did not mention ‘Industry’ or ‘Economic Development’ once in her 100-point platform for modernising France, has called for a moratorium (ie, cancellation) of the French layoffs.

It is Martin Malvy, though, President of our local Regional Council here in Midi-Pyrénées, and pure non-reconstructed socialist (and incidently, brother of my late companion’s first husband), who takes the prize for political silliness. He has just proposed that the various French regions should each take a stake in the capital of Airbus.

Putting this in perspective, the French central government (aka, the Republic) has long held the title for worst/sleaziest business management in the known universe. Bull, Credit Lyonnais, Air France, France Telecom, Total were, during their state-owned stints, but a few breathtaking examples of how badly a company can be run.

What Martin Malvy is grandly suggesting is, given the dire straits that Airbus is in, and the dismal private sector management record of the Republic, why not give the bickering, conflictual regional governing bodies, who have no experience managing an enterprise of this weight, a shot?

Embarrassing.