At the Market

This morning was the farmer’s market in the Madeleine at Albi, which takes place just where the New Bridge intersects with the river Tarn. It’s one of the nicer spots in Old Albi. Here’s the view from between the charcuterie stand and the garlic merchant:

albi.jpg

I was on line to buy goat cheese behind an old man, maybe 90 years old. Given the quantity of cheeses he was loading into his basket, I’m sure that if asked, he would attribute his spry longevity to eating lots of goat products.

When he was loaded up, he turned to me and said, “you know, this is one courageous woman!”, pointing to the woman behind the cheese-laden table, who I know lives out in the country not far from here, milks her goats, makes her cheeses, and comes to sell them at the Madeleine every Saturday morning.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, she came all the way from Holland to live here. It’s so far away from her home!”

I agreed wholeheartedly, then couldn’t resist mentioning that he would probably find me courageous, too, since I came from New York City to live in Albi, and that is even further away.

He thought about that awhile, smiled, agreed that I must be very courageous, too. Then said, “You know, I’ve always been curious about something about America, so if you don’t mind questions from a nosy old man… My brother spent some time in Atlanta and told me disturbing stories when he came back.”

Uh-oh, I’m thinking, here it goes, I’ll have to say something about the Moron Elite and the Coup d’Etat in America. That yes, I believe in Darwin. That I had left 15 years ago and don’t understand either. Then reassure him that being American was not contagious and talking to one would probably not lead to renal failure.

“My brother was always surprised that the Negroes had to sit in the back of the buses, in their own section, not mingling with the white people.”

For a split second, I had the thought that W had turned back the clock of human civilization yet again, but then Condi & Co came to mind, and, well, na-a-a-h, not possible.

“But that was 50 years ago,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied. “My brother was in Atlanta in 1952.”

So with some relief, I was able to tell him that certain things in America had changed for the better. Long time I haven’t been able to say that.

Nenuphar Factoid

Dr. Albert Jacquard is a professor of mathematics and genetics somewhere in Paris and a French intellectual of some note. A few years back, I accidently read a small book of his that included the following wonderful metaphor which I repeat from memory (apologies if I got something wrong):

Imagine, he wrote, that a type of large pond-lily (really big nenuphars), say 1 m2 each, are capable of reproducing so rapidly that they double overnight.

One nenuphar is put in a large lake. The next day, obviously, there are 2 nenuphars. The day after that, 4 nenuphars, and so on. The lake is very, very large. When you’re standing on the shore, you can’t see the other side.

The moral of this tale is NOT that after 30 days this huge lake would be completely clogged by all the nenuphars, which by then number 230.

The moral of the story, boys and girls, is that no one would probably notice that the lake had a problem until the 27th or 28th day of the month, when the lake would be spotted, respectively, by a very inconspicuous 6.25% or 12.5% of invasive aquatic weeds. And by then, it’s too late to do anything. The lake, for all intensive porpoises, is dead.

After reading this parable the first time, I thought that Dr. Jacquard must be the coolest dude around. He enabled me to perceive clearly what the upcoming end-of-the-world might look like from my still comfortable seat in the 21st century. Wow!

But then, one day, Albert Jacquard came to speak in Albi, the town where I live. Disappointingly, he turned out to be an ideological old fart, spouting surreal nonsense to a rapt crowd that just gobbled it up. I did not leave the salle with an insatiable need to torch a few cars while chanting the “Internationale”. But many others did.

Wondering about Société Générale

I’ve been banking at SG for over 30 years and unlike many of the commentors I’ve been reading on various sites, I don’t have much to complain about. But then, I deal with my friendly, local branch where they offer me a café whenever I come in to talk serious business (which admittedly, is quite close to never. But it’s happened a few times.).

But like everybody else on the planet, I don’t really believe what we’re hearing about the Jérôme Kerviel/Société Générale affair. At a primary level, there is sufficient bullshit in the way the French conduct business normally, that suspicion is a reasonable response to anything. I realize that this sounds trite, that people everywhere are suspicious of everyone who operate in the Halls of Power, but, hey, France has elites like no other, and as any mother knows, elites will be elites. It will be fun to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks.

One of the things I’m curious about is: if I understand correctly, JKerviel’s trading position was positive or close to it, up to the weekend before when things hit the fan.

The losses occurred subsequently, on the first 3 days of the week of january 21-5, when SG’s boss, Daniel Bouton panicked and unwound the position into (malheur!) the worst three market days of the last several years. It was this panic sale that concretized the huge losses.

I imagine this selling was motivated by the moral values (corporate responsibility, dread, shame, etcetc) of SGs top management. Because this is France, transparency was never an option. Resolution had to happen secretly. But did it have to happen under the sign of total panic?

Conversely, what would have happened if the markets were going up those three days instead of tanking? The shame would have been the same. The elitist secrecy also. So, would we have ever learned about the ‘scandal’ of a rogue trader being responsable for 20 billion euros of illicit gains by the SG? I guess we would have, the day that SG announced record earnings for a bank of over 20 billion.

False Friends and Other Liberals

There’s an expression in the French language, ‘faux amis’, that sounds much better than the english equivalent, ‘false friends’ or as the philologists like to say, ‘false cognates’.

It refers to words that mean one thing in French and something completely different in English. An example is ‘chair’, which you can sit on in English, but is flayed off your body by packs of rabid dogs in French, ie, ‘flesh’.

Another is ‘bras’, which is short for brassieres in English, but is a simple ‘arm’ in French. Interestingly, a bra in French is a ‘soutien-gorge’ (‘throat support’) and the word ‘brassiere’ which looks and sounds French, doesn’t even exist, although ‘brazier’ does exist and it means a BBQ pit. So go figure.

One of the most extraordinary faux amis, mainly because it is so archly, evilly faux, is the word ‘liberal’.

In America, a liberal is a creature who would like to help poor people, raise spending on infrastructure and healthcare, and sacrifice a little something personal to bring peace to the world and mitigate climate change. One American online dictionarary defines her as ‘favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.’ Although this might sound Christ-like, in truth, an American liberal is a leftie.

In Europe (which France is part of) and the Rest of World, a liberal is one who believes in free markets and trade, and thinks that there’s nothing wrong in making a decent (or better) living. A European liberal is a rightie.

In France, which is a very peculiar subset of Europe, the definition of a liberal has been enhanced to the point where a new name had to coined, ‘le néo-libérale’. A neo-liberal is someone who believes in free markets and trade, who thinks that there’s nothing wrong in making money (blahblah), but really only thinks about exploiting workers and children, eats babies for breakfast, and is most assuredly a member of a sinister, secret cabal hellbent on destroying French culture. There is something inherently Anglo-Saxon about neo-liberalism and that adds to the frenzy.

That is why François Fillon’s message to a major ruling party political conference yesterday, as reported by Le Monde, is so remarkable. M. Fillon, prime minister of President Sarkozy’s France came out and said:

N’AYEZ AUCUNE HONTE À ÊTRE LIBÉRAUX !

Do not be ashamed to be liberals!, he said to a roomful of cheering Frenchpersonnes. Go forth and work long hours! Take risks! Innovate!

I am expecting the Rush Limbaugh types of Old Europe, who in France are not neo-fascist jackboots but rather tired old elephants of the Old Left, to pull out their hair in protest, yell Scandal. This has never been seen in France.

Faux amis, indeed! Sometimes false friends are better then false enemies.

Happy 60th

Yes. Yesterday. Sixty. Happy birthday to me!

And instead of doing nothing about it, did quite a something and it worked out.

2 months ago, in one of those rare instances of thinking ahead, I had tried to reserve a table for my birthday meal at Michel Bras’ restaurant up in the hills of Aubrac 2 hours north of Albi. It’s a place renowned for its sumptuous (but paradoxically, contemporary) setting, sumptuous food rooted deeply in the notion of terroir, and its 3 Michelin stars. A place to go before you die.

At the time, I was told that they were full up for lunch. (Damn!) I was told that I could be on the waiting list. (Well, umm, OK). Last week, I received a call from the resto, telling me that a table was mine. (Youpee!)

With 3 friends, Robin, Meredith, and Ann, we trundled up to Aubrac, heart of the Aveyron profonde. A tiny sign, easily missed, points to the path that leads up to the hilltop restaurant. The place is an interesting glass, stone and slate complex that looks out over the valley. Everything, including the valley itself, is lush and austere. It’s a combination that works.

We were greeted cordially then seated in a circular salon d’apéro where we were meant to settle down, have a drink, get happy, look at the menus, look out the glass wall that made up 100% of the large room, make serious decisions about what we were going to eat. Certain of the menus (called ‘carte fixe’ in frenglish, I believe) could only be ordered if everyone at the table ordered that particular menu. We all ordered the “Découverte & Nature” menu.

We were then ushered into the dining room, which was lush and modern. Comfortable. Muted. Another window wall, more fields of grass and valleys. It felt to me like no effort had been spared to swaddle the senses, put them, put oneself, into a sublime state of aisance, a necessary preamble to the meal we were about to have.

Then did the wonders commence. I didn’t take notes (hahaha! Does anyone take notes at a meal like this?) and my memory capacity is that of a 60 year-old, but here’s what I remember:

  • an amuse-gueule of an egg and chanterelle soup served in a perfectly cut eggshell accompanied by a multigrain biscuit and onion tarte tatin. (We asked, they have a machine to cut eggs)

egg.jpg garg.jpg

  • The signature gargouillou, a plate of many, many vegetables, mostly cooked (lightly), arranged as a salad.
  • a foie gras poelé, served with a few poached cherries and various sauces. I loved this, because I had “invented” the same dish last year, and got to compare my cooking to Michel Bras. (Ok, I have a lot to learn. But I also have a small staff.)
  • the best piece of turbot that I have ever tasted.
  • the second best slice of lamb that I’ve ever tasted, composed with little vegetables and edible wildflowers.
  • a cebe, another signature dish, a braised sweet onion powdered with black Aubrac truffle.
  • The largest cheese plateau I’ve ever seen, only local cheeses. But no disappointment there, aside from the fact that we were all feeling very well fed by now.
  • A series of wonderful desserts, like angelica ice cream on a warm raspberry-filled sablé, and a few other sweets.

dess.jpg dess2.jpg
Service was perfect and unstuffy/friendly/helpful. Not at all what I would expect to expect from a reputed French restaurant. More happiness.
view.jpg entry.jpg
We were all up for a walk after this meal and lo! and behold, the hilltop around Michel Bras’ is scattered with marked walking trails through the beautiful countryside. It was the perfect way to wind down. At this point, I should mention negatives, make some critique of what they got wrong. But, darn, there was nothing to criticize here. A perfect 3-star experience on a memorable birthday with wonderful friends.

PS: Robin and Meredith gave me a birthday card that said, “A friend is someone who likes you even though they know you”. Which proves, at the very least, that they know me.

>

Will the French be Coming Back?

France is on a roll. Elections promise much-needed movement, then there’s this, seen in the Times Online:

French exiles unhappy with NHS

They like the way the economy is run in Britain, believe there are more professional opportunities here and that there is a better spirit of enterprise, but French citizens living in Britain believe that the French health system, the quality of life there and their schools are better than over here.

Those are the findings of a GfK NOP study of more than 1,000 French people living in Britain who voted in the second round of the presidential election on Sunday.

A total of 79 per cent of all respondents had a preference for the British way of running the economy. But there was a thumbs-down for the NHS. Eighty-nine per cent thought the French system was preferable to Britain’s, and 67 per cent thought that the quality of life was better in France. French schools were favoured by 62 per cent, but the British university system came out on top, 43 per cent to 40 per cent.

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Two Views of the French Presidential Elections

elections2.jpg

election1.jpg

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.

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?

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.

The French in One Easy Lesson

Just tripped across a long screen of social hints and tips for people (especially business types) who must interact with the French in France and not put their foot in it.

Some of the tips made me smile, some made me laugh out loud, some sounded like so-o-o 19th century (to be fair, much social interaction in France is so-o-o 19th century) but on the whole, for those who need to become a little more elegant while dealing in the Hexagon, this is a good starting point.

Link to list

French Kiss

Email sent this morning, after the results of the American elections were known, from a friend of a friend to a friend (both French):

Since yesterday, I love Americans…

So You Want to Be an ISP in the South of France? (Part 2)

(first published on the web, 20 Oct, 1996)
Part 2: Oh-la-la, an Entrepreneur!

Back in 1789, the French overthrew their monarchy and aristocrats and became the first country in Europe to implement democratic government.

Vive le peuple!

Two centuries later, it appears they have had second thoughts, albeit subliminally. Without going so far as to ask the Bourbons to come back to royal power, they have done the next best thing, creating and carefully feeding the concept of “l’Administration”, which is now plump and juicy, but unfortunately for France and frenchpersonnes everywhere, completely inedible. (Continued)

So You Want to Be an ISP in the South of France?

Back in August, 1996, I started publishing on the web my adventures and thoughts about the the company I had created a few months earlier in Albi called I-Link, ‘Internet en Pays de Cocagne’.

I had thought, at the time, that starting a business in France, a tech business, and the very first Internet service/access provider in my part of France at that, was worth a chronicle. It was like a blog, but at the time, people wrote FAQs when they wanted to say something that hoped to be useful. So I called my articles the ISP-in-France FAQ.

I just reread it and thought, well, it had aged OK… considering that it’s ten years now and a LOT of stuff has happened in the meanwhile. And amazingly, it is so On Subject.

So for those of you who missed it the first time around, here it is, in appropriately placed installments, in Blogosphere 2006.

Part 1: Business à la Sauce Française

France is a kind, gentle country where people spend a lot of time thinking about what the right thing to do is. I know this sounds good, but it leads to at least two terrifying realities:

  • crossing the street, which most of us mastered as five-year olds, remains a perilous activity for children of all ages (thoughtful drivers dissecting thorny social-political dilemmas from behind the wheel do not “see” pedestrians).
  • if you’d rather be an entrepreneur than a municipal employee or letter carrier you are presumed guilty of the sins of usurpation, manipulation, and greed. For the good of all, you must be de-clawed.

Crossing the Street?
Easy: always cross at a marked intersection. Look both ways. When you think you can make it across, run like hell. Wear body armor.

De-clawed?
This is the complex reflection of a venerable, sophisticated culture that has witnessed its own transformation into an important modern industrial society but has never really accepted the fact.

What do you mean, a venerable, sophisticated culture?

  • In France profonde, Authenticity is an important concept. You cannot buy a McCamembert (yet). When something goes out the doors it will be “just so”, but it will be carefully wrapped (vive la France!) in multiple layers of Chaos.
  • Even when it doesn’t work, it’s lovely. No styrofoam peanuts allowed.
  • French is the language of Love, Diplomacy, and Dining.

What do you mean, an important modern industrial society?
The french economy is the world’s fourth fifth largest, behind the United States, Japan, and Germany and England; ahead of Italy, England, and Canada. Its balance of trade is consistently positive.

Violent crime is low. Literacy (and unemployment and taxes) is high. Despite the fact that frenchpersonnes smoke, drink, and eat a lot of cholesterol, they have a greater life expectancy than just about any western people. This is called the “French Paradox”.

But why don’t they accept the fact?
This is more difficult. It was explained to me thusly, one evening over a second bottle of Domaine de Mazou, 1991:

“Your american capitalism is the jungle; the denizens must become strong and sleek to stay alive, it is each man for himself. You create a class of fabulously rich and another of fabulously poor. You enshrine freedom. But not equality.

“Here it is closer to the zoo. Everybody has their box, properly laid out; the predators are separated from their prey. We do not accept that people slip through the cracks simply because they have never wanted to learn how to read a balance sheet, or are too poor to hire a lawyer. We have chosen collectively to curtail [your type of] freedom as a way of maintaining equality.”

So in the end, the entrepreneur is perceived as the creature trying to break out of the zoo in order to find his way back to the jungle. In a well-designed zoo, this can only occur by allowing rules to be broken.

Yes, like I was saying, in France, even when it doesn’t work, it’s lovely.

The Official French Business Calender

Newcomers to France, thinking how nice it would be to set up a business here in the shade of the old olive tree, do not often realize how the French economy works. After living and working here as a freelancer and entrepreneur for 25-odd years, I confess that I don’t either. Hell, most days I don’t see how it manages to function at all.

However. I do know that fluctuations in seasonal economic activity play an important role in France, maybe more so than elsewhere. Over the years, as an aid to myself in my various projects, I’ve compiled a calendar to help predict business activity in France. It is based solely on personal observation of socio-temporal flux. While I claim that it tracks French economic activity fairly reliably (and is therefore useful), I am the first to admit that it really doesn’t shed light on one of the world’s more puzzling economic mysteries: how does France stay on as a First World country?

Note: the French business year starts in August, a month that arguably sets the tone for the rest of the year.

August: (Les Grandes Vacances)
80% of France is on the beach or in the mountains or sitting in traffic jams, attempting to get to the beach or the mountains. Unless you’re writing a book or repainting the kid’s bedroom you shouldn’t think about working.
Skeletal health services, ice cream vendors, and some paint stores remain open.
Productivity Index: 0

September: La Rentrée
France is back from the beach, but is immersed in a) recovering from vacation stress and b) preparing the children for the start of the school year, two endeavors that are inherently incompatible. However, productive work is envisagable after the 21st.
Productivity Index: 3

October:
A full month without bank holidays. Much to do, so little time. Many deals are born in October.
Productivity Index: 8

November:
Work holiday every week, evenly spaced. If the holidays falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, there are lots of 4-day weekends. If they fall on Wednesday people feel cheated. If they fall on a weekend, the President declares a national day of mourning. No real work is done in November.
Productivity Index: 3

December: (Les Fêtes)
The last ten days of December (and first few days of January), frenchpersonnes are on holiday. Traditionally, this time is spent with extended family, many of whom do not see each other for the rest of the year. There are many sumptuous meals prepared during this period and 63% of the world’s total of both good and bad cholesterol is consumed in just 2 weeks. Early December is for planning dinner menus and gift shopping. Not much work gets done.
Productivity Index: 2

January: (L’Indigestion Nationale)
Hangovers, detox and post-prandial guilt consume the first three weeks of January. Serious production can start again around the 21st.
Productivity Index: 2

February: (Vacances Scolaires)
School holidays. Frenchpersonnes are on the ski slopes with their kids for 10 days.
Productivity Index: 3

March:
No holidays! Work!
Productivity Index: 8

April: (Paques)
Two week Easter holidays. Much needed relief after a month of March where every weekday is a workday.
Productivity Index: 1

May:
Bank holiday every week (although the day off on Pentecote has theoretically been downgraded). Similar business climate to November, aggravated by the fact that the first summery days gets people thinking about how close August is.
Productivity Index: 2

June:
No holidays! But it’s summer. Who wants to work during summer?
Productivity Index: 6

July:
20% of frenchpersonnes are on holiday. This reduces August’s traffic jams considerably. The remaining 80% of the people are working frenetically to clear up there desks before les Grandes Vacances.
Productivity Index: 7

Great Excuse Not to Blog

It is August in France. Frenchpersonnes everywhere are on vacation. Those who live elsewhere have come to France to holiday. It is not a time to blog. Blogging is probably frowned upon, since it resembles productive activity. So I am dutifully signing off for a few days.

Maybe I’ll go to the beach. Maybe I’ll weed the garden. Maybe I’ll quietly think about things to blog about come September (thinking about doing things and talking about doing things are OK and are officially encouraged as long as they don’t actually lead to doing things).

Saturday Quotes

If the search is for examples that contradict the predictions of standard economic models, a good rule of thumb is to start in France

Robert H. Frank, economist

• •

Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you’ll have to ram it down people’s throats.

Howard Aiken, computer scientist (1900-1973)

••

If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.

Thomas Watson

••

We are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes.

French embassy spokespersonne back in 2003, during the ramp up to the US-led Iraqi invasion, when asked what the French government thought of the US Congress’ decision to rename french fries to freedom fries on their cafeteria menu.

••

From my most admired human…

Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.


(Published 26/11/1938 in Harijan, Mohandas K. Gandhi’s magazine. It can be found most readily on page 108 in Martin Buber’s book, A Land of Two Peoples (editor Paul R. Mendes-Flohr) A Galaxy Book (GB756), Oxford University Press, New York ISBN 0-19-503426-0.

This was taken from a comment to Timothy Garton Ash’s article inthe Guardian.

PS: I am a Jew and peace loving. It isn’t easy to know what is right with any degree of intellectual or moral confidence. What a mess!)

But I Feel So Safe Here!

From Thailand’s The Nation, the following heads up:

Thais warned to avoid or cancelling trip to France

A Foreign Ministry dispatch reads:

“In the past month, at least four robberies occurred to embassy cars and we would like to warn Thais who plan to travel to France to increase their safety measures or consider postponing or canceling travel to France in the summer which would be crowded with tourists and possibly criminals.”

The statement warned Thais traveling to France to take special care of their property, including not putting valuables near car windows and not wearing jewelry.

The ministry has earlier suggested that Thais avoid traveling alone, stay clear of isolated places and pay particular attention to passing motorbikes – the vehicle of choice for French thieves.

To full article.

Thinking about Zidane

Ok, Zidane screwed up, Materazzi must have said something truly awful to him. But he has never promoted himself as a New Age pussycat. And on the sportsmanship scale, World Cup football had never been up there with polo or lawn bowling, so the shock value is approximately equal to the number of witnesses, ie, a couple of billion.

But the following words by John Vinocur in today’s International Herald Tribune ring truer to me then the shameful blatherings of Europe’s least shameless politician, Jacques Chirac, on the same subject.

“Deservedly thrown out of the last game of his career Sunday night for a dumb head butt, it’s a guess to say a soccer career provided a safety valve for the inarticulated rage inhabiting a saint from the La Castellane housing projects.”

Rage? What rage?

My claim to authority here is meager, but I have eyes and ears. For all its talk about equality, about being a “terre d’accueil” France is a place for white people, and more precisely, white men. France likes to think of itself as different and in many ways, it is. French racism, for instance, is very French, and unfortunately, very pervasive.

The unspoken pact that France has had with its immigrés for decades has been “You come here, we’ll greet you warmly, we’ll give you free housing in beautiful suburban developments built just for you, you’ll get some spending money every month, free health care, a monthly allowance for every child you bear. You, in turn, will sweep our floors and dig our trenches. BUT DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT GETTING A REAL JOB!”

Just sigh on the dotted line. L’immigration qui vient du coeur.

Palpable signs of this franco-french version of gilded racism are everywhere, have seamlessly blended into the fabric of French society to a point where they have taken on a cloak of respectable invisibility.

It is an unfortunate fact that Zidane would not be allowed into our local discotheque on a saturday night here in SW France if the guy at the door thought he was simply a random North African and not The French national football hero. The 6 other non-white starters on the French team would meet the same rejection.

He would be blamed by 30% of the adult population for everything that seems to be wrong in this country, unless whatever it was could be blamed on the omnipresence of the wicked European Union bureaucrats.

And like so much that has gone wrong with France, examining the subject truthfully is a big taboo. Long ago, France legislated its race problems into invisibility.

The suburban race riots last winter showed the folly of this approach. Will Zidane’s shame and subsequent contrition help open the breach a little wider? Will France finally get it about race, about racism?

Make Wine, Not War

In his impassioned defense of the French wine industry, Eric Asimov, in today’s NY Times, makes some strong points that are worth toasting. He responds intelligently to the generalized international gloating (mainly American –surprise! surprise!–) about France’s troubles in keeping it’s wine culture “modern”.

Nonetheless, no country comes close to matching France, either in setting demanding standards for its wine industry or in producing such a variety of consistently excellent wine.

It’s harder to imagine New World countries like the United States and Australia reaching the same pinnacle. Their leading wines, whether made of cabernet, chardonnay, shiraz or pinot noir, will always be measured against the French, and regardless of the blind tasting here or there, few people really take seriously the notion that the New World wines will surpass the French reference points on a large scale.”

This is so true. For now, and the foreseeable future, at least.

But the French, who are so habile in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and who are feeling particularly suicidal (from a socio-political point of view) these days, might just prove us wrong in the end.

The article is here.