Friday, April 21, 2006

Correcting journalists

Comment to the European Tribune site:

Re: FT journalists

I'm the eurotribber who wrote to Simon Briscoe (Statistics Editor at the Financial Times), specifically I referred to the fact that in the Financial Times for 1th April, there were two articles and an editorial which all used the 22% figure (with minor variations) for French youth unemployment, with no qualifications.

The review of his book gave credit to an academic - often unsung heroes who give a lot of free help and advice to journalists and others (I'm an ex-academic):

"I followed up the reference given, and was kindly supplied with recent figures by the source quoted in the book, Monica Threlfall of Loughborough University [ m.threlfall at ].

Youth unemployment 2002

Participation in labour market: UK 62.5%, France 36.9%

Unemployed ratio/population: UK 6.8%, France 7.0%

Unemployed rate/labour force: UK 10.9%, France 18.9%

As Briscoe says, having so many young people in employment [higher education?] is arguably a policy success for France, and a success the UK government is anxious to emulate, with a target of getting 50% (up from the current 40%) of young people into third level education by 2009."

I also wrote to the BBC, the Guardian and to The Independent's correspondent in France, John Lichfield, about the uncritical use of the 22% figure. No response from the latter. But Ashley Seager, Guardian Economics Editor replied saying:

"I had in fact looked into the issue of French in further education and was informed by several experts that the ILO figures I was quoting adjust for those kinds of things. I also think that if French youth unemployment were genuinely as low as the Briscoe piece claims, the French government would have jumped on those figures long ago. "

I put the latter point to Briscoe, who commented:

"I suspect they either "blindly" took the standard data off the ILO or other website and looked no further or perhaps they needed to portray their situation as a crisis in order to hope to get through an unpopular policy?"

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes

Comment in the This French Life site:

"I am tired of listening to my smug French work colleagues talking about their wonderful social model and deploring "Anglo-Saxon liberalism" and its inequalities."

One can hardly blame them when the US/UK media and blogs are full of smug attacks on the French model.

"... now the new aristocrats of France are the unproductive and lazy state employees with their jobs for life and taxpayer funded pensions that allow retirement at a ridiculously young age."

State employees include teachers, doctors and nurses - are they all "lazy" and "unproductive" ? What is the sensible age to retire ? Aren't a lot of young business people in the UK aiming to make money fast and retire early (some appear on A Place in the Sun); sounds very sensible to me. In the UK, it looks as if people will not be able to retire till 68 - and, given the pensions crisis, some won't be able to retire, is that "ridiculous" or just more employee "flexibility"?

"The young people from immigrant backgrounds cannot get onto the employment ladder but the privileged and spoilt middle class French kids..."

What an objective approach again; are ALL the students and pupils who demonstrated are "privileged" ? and you of course know that they are all "spoilt". What a caricature. They rightly objected to allowing employers to sack people for no reason - would YOU accept that? - within TWO years. Any decent employer doesn't need that long, apart from any other considerations. What they also objected to was the arrogant way Villepin tried to push it through, with no discussion, widely seen as rather stupid.

"I have lived here for fifteen years now and I can tell you that the housing estates around most larger cities are shocking examples of inequality and deprivation much worse than anything in the unashamedly capitalist UK."

And how often did you come back to do your careful survey of British cities ? Did you note this:

"The riots in Oldham, Bradford, Burnley and other cities in Northern England have exposed the enormous amount of anger of Asian youth, in particular, against the oppressive conditions under which they live.

Race discrimination is now one of the most explosive social issues in Britain, for which New Labour has no solution.

In fact their policies have led to a further increase in segregation and isolation of blacks and Asians. In mostly black or Asian areas youth unemployment can be as high as 40%."

"Most of the kids there would gladly take any job, secure or not. The demagogues of the left have no solutions to propose for them."

Yes, desperation will make people accept almost anything, that doesn't make it OK. Of course the left is only made up of "demagogues" - in your prejudiced world - and when did you do your survey of the French Left's economic ideas ? In fact Villepin is now putting forward alternatives which many of the Left might have suggested, had he asked them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Paris: top city

"The City of Light is rated number one out of 200 world cities in [the] recent ... The Cities Book.

The Lonely Planet publication features the most vibrant, diverse and hypnotic cities in the world, as rated by Lonely Planet staff, authors and readers. The standard is set by the City of Light, with other cities claiming reputation by association - beirut is described as the Paris of the Middle East, while Melbourne is billed as the Paris of the Southern Hemisphere."

A Place in the Sun - France, Issue 50

On the other hand:

Zurich named again best city in the world to live in. A report by Mercer Consulting

10 April 2006: The Swiss cities of Geneva and Zurich offer the best quality of life according to research published by Mercer Consulting in April 2006. Vancouver (Canada) is placed third, followed by Vienna (Austria), Auckland (New Zealand) and Düsseldorf (Germany). Baghdad, not surprisingly, is the lowest ranking city in the survey.

EIU names Vancouver, Melbourne and Vienna as 'best' cities in the world

The analysis is part of Mercer Consulting's annual 'World-wide Quality of Living Survey', covering more than 350 cities. Each city is based on an evaluation of 39 criteria, including political, social, economic and environmental factors, personal safety and health, education, transport, and other public services. Cities are ranked against New York as the base city, which has an index score of 100."

Paris comes a mere 33rd, but above London at 39, Barcelona at 43 and New York at 46.
Zurich and Geneva ? ! Evidently the "quality of life" doesn't involve much excitement.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Not the 1968 show ?

Comment at the This French Life site:

Chris: "Ah yes, the riots! I was here in 1968 when the student riots caused the fall of the then Republic. Then the protest was ideologically driven and for the "benefit" of the "workers" All of it very admirable and Marxist."

All of it ? Some of it was romantic utopianism, with such unmarxist slogans - in graffiti - as: "The beach is under the pavement". Marxists sometimes pick up paving stones in demos, but not in search of a beach.

"The current stuff is about a perceived threat to the status quo! Revolutionary France? Don't make me laugh, any British person that lives here in France knows that there is more spirit of '68 in any UK council estate."

Yes, we've heard this line endlessly from the right-wing press; as if they cared about really radical values.

In fact there were changes after 68 (trades unions were involved), but also before it, and these were often hard-won gains and formed what many are now decrying as unrealistically socialist in a world of capitalist globalization. So, no, the students don't want to see that heritage torn up, they fought to preserve the gains of earlier revolutions. That doesn't make them into reactionaries. We'll have to see whether these students and pupils remain as radical as they are in defense of a somewhat more socialist system than the UK, or whether they end up like some of the '68 bunch:

"As always, the media are looking for a photogenic young revolutionary leader, a modern replica of '68 pinups like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, "Danny the Red." But the teenager who more than anyone is pulling the strings of the schoolyard revolt isn't interested in fame. Karl Stoeckel, 19, could not be further from the romantic, preening revolutionaries of '68. He emerges from his tiny back office in a neat sweater, beige trousers and polished shoes, apologizing for the mess left by his comrades. "The '68 leaders were completely different people," he says. "Maybe they were more romantic. But I would not want to become what they have turned into now. It's a little tragic when you see some of them. They are the greatest capitalists in the world.",,1742624,00.html

Supporting Sartre against some French

A French friend writes: "Was Orwell right about Sartre ? I think so, if we're speaking of the same thing... I vomit Sartre, Orwell was true to hate him."

I replied:

Don't be silly and melodramatic - even if you are French. He certainly doesn't deserve hate.

FF: "I think, his communism was like a varnish on a revoltingly bourgeois code of conduct and general attitude in life. I admire Orwell a lot for his honesty and his truthfulness (is it a correct word to use there?) and his fantastic literary qualities. I would give all Sartre writings for one book by O."

Sartre was sincere in his fight for freedom for others, especially the oppressed; more so as he got older, rather than becoming more right-wing, as so often happens. In this he was quite similar to Orwell. Had he been living now he would have been supporting the students against the CPE and the general erosion of workeres' rights in the name of capitalist "flexibility" (it sounds so innocent - reminds one of ballet dancers).

He may have made mistakes, we all do, but fundamentally he was right about capitalism and western imperialism and had few illusions about the Soviet Union. He just felt the Right could be relied on to constantly criticise it, there was no need for the Left to focus on the SU, which it was often supporting liberation struggles abroad. I used to show students a video of an ex CIA man who'd done propaganda for the CIA in Africa, till he couldn't stand the lying any more. He said: "If you wanted to get rid of a dictator you couldn't come to us [they were US clients and supporters], you COULD go to the Soviets". They could also go to the Cubans, who sent lots of fighters to Angola, where he was working. He wrote propaganda smearing the Cubans, e.g. claiming that they had raped nuns. But he said that it was a lie, though many Western journalists used it; in fact the Cubans were acting very well and he respected them.

It's not even true Sartre was a bad writer, cf.:

"What is not remembered about Sartre is that he was one of the great polemicists of our time and wrote best when he was personally angry."

(The following is from the same source) "Quotes from Sartre and Camus:"

'I offer below a few enjoyable quotes from Sartre's "Reply to Camus", which in French reads with the voyeuristic thrill of observing a distant intimacy, like hearing your best friends breaking up in the next room. Sartre constantly addresses Camus as "you, you, you,..." as if it were his version of "J'Accuse." These quotes are "fun" and the reader will get a good flavor of Sartre's side of the argument.

Sartre's "Reply to Albert Camus" is a polemic worth reading if only for its rhetoric of energizing invective.

Sartre tells us that Camus is claiming to be tired of the fight. Sartre replies:

"[I]f I were tired it seems to me that I would feel some shame in saying so There are so many who are wearier. If we are tired, Camus, then let us rest, since we have the means to do so. But let us not hope to shake the world by having it examine our fatigue."

"[T]he only way of helping the enslaved out there is to take sides with those who are here."

Sartre speaks of Camus' relation to history and to Camus secondary relation to his own personality "outside of history", as if Sartre could perform an existential psychoanalysis on Camus, in a way he would later write about Baudelaire, Jean Genet, and Flaubert.

"Your personality, alive and authentic as long as it was nourished by the event, became a mirage. In 1944, it was the future. In 1952, it is the past, and what seems to you the most intolerable injustice, is that all this is inflicted upon you from the outside, and without your having changed. ... Only memories are left for you, and a language which grows more and more abstract. Only half of you lives among us, and you are tempted to withdraw from us altogether, to retreat into some solitude where you can again find the drama which should have been that of man, and which is not even your own any more...."

Sartre continues:

"Just like the little girl who tries the water with her toe, while asking, "Is it hot?" you view history with distrust, you dabble a toe which you pull out very quickly and you ask, "Has it a meaning?" ... And I suppose that if I believed, with you, that History is a pool of filth and blood, I would do as you and look twice before diving in. But suppose that I am in it already, suppose that, from my point of view, even your sulking is proof of your historicity. Suppose one were to reply to you, like Marx,: "History does nothing... It is real and living man who does everything. History is only the activity of man pursuing his own ends.... It is only within historical action that the understanding of history is given. Does history have a meaning? Has it an objective? For me, these are questions which have no meaning. Because History, apart from the man who makes it, is only an abstract and static concept, of which it can neither be said that it has an objective, nor that it has not. And the problem is not to know its objective but to give it one."

With this invective, Sartre could carry the reader with him. What is not remembered about Sartre is that he was one of the great polemicists of our time and wrote best when he was personally angry. Thus the young intellectuals of the time were more likely to read Sartre's side of this argument rather than Camus' side. It was only later, when reacting against Sartre's supposed "communism," his commitment to fighting for the oppressed even if the oppressed used violence, that Camus' clear eyed anti-Stalinism was used as a bludgeon against Sartre's wrestle with the French Communist Party. Sartre could be naive. He could cheer any and all anti-colonial movements on the one hand and cheer Israel as an exemplar of overcoming oppression on the other. But simple ignorance of the history of the time usually prevents most people from understanding the "argument" between Sartre and Camus.

In the end, when Camus died, Sartre showed his grudging, and admiring respect for Camus. The following is a quote from the obituary Sartre wrote for Camus:

"He [Camus] represented in this century, and against History, the present heir of that long line of moralists whose works perhaps constitute what is most original in French letters. His stubborn humanism, narrow and pure, austere and sensual, waged a dubious battle against events of these times. But inversely, through the obstinacy of his refusals, he reaffirmed the existence of moral fact within the heart of our era and against the Machiavellians, against the golden calf of realism." '