Thursday, 21 February 2013

The James McConnell Facebook funeral consolidates my faith in people

James McConnell
James McConnell was a former Royal Marine in the British army who died last month in a nursing home in Portsmouth England at the age of 70. He had no family or friends, so the staff were worried that he would be buried alone, with no mourners to accompany him and say goodbye.

Happily though, things changed after a Facebook page was created to ask people to come to his funeral. Over two hundred people took the trouble to attend as a result of the appeal, and there was also a motorcycle cavalcade, a group of British Legion standard bearers, and buglers From the Royal Marines Band playing the Last Post.

What a beautifully uplifting piece of news that is. 

The world can seem so cold sometimes, and Facebook often reflects that. And people want gore, sex, scandal and murder in their press too, which is why the press provides it.

The large majority of those present had never known James McConnell. It's heartening to know that there are some people out there on the Internet with warm hearts, a generous spirit, and compassion. 

Good news for a change...

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Gizzajob: *Facepalm*

Here is the news. Major American tyre company (ok, tire for yous Americans:) Titan, which already imports its own tyres into France, wanted to buy the struggling French Goodyear tyre production site. But Titan's Big Boss, Maurice M. Taylor, decided not to do the deal. So he wrote a letter to the French government to explain why.

He said that labour costs were much too high in France, that French workers spent too much time on coffee breaks and lunch, that their unions were suicidally intent on not changing current practices and that if they didn't become more productive and competitive the French tyre market would soon be dominated by Chinese and Indian imports.

The riposte wasn't long in coming. French Minister of Industrial Renewal Arnaud Montebourg wrote back to say that well, if that's how you feel, what we're going to do is to check your tyre imports with "redoubled zeal" to make sure they respect production and safety requirements and if they don't we'll refuse them.

In other words, a businessman tells a country its workers are shit, in response to which its government says that it's going to penalise the businessman's company.

That's it. The news.

Two ideologists waving their 'mine's bigger than yours' cocks around and confronting each other in a grotesque and strutting dance of combat at the very moment the world economy and its movers and shakers need not less, but more reconciliation and compromise in order to clean the current mess.

And these people get PAID for doing this chrissakes????!!!!



Tuesday, 19 February 2013

French 'Hypocrital Sick Jerk of the Month' award goes to Joey Starr

A Jerk
I had to rub my eyes and clean my glasses to be sure that I had understood this story correctly. French rap artist Joey Starr has filed a complaint against a woman who, he alleges, slapped him in the face in a supermarket. He claims that she was drunk. He was shopping in Paris' VIII Arrondissment when, a police source says, he was attacked by "a very drunk woman who slapped him."

Well, I don't know if I'd go so far as to file a complaint about it. After all, being slapped by a drunken woman in a shop, whilst being a disagreeable experience, is hardly going to put me in hospital now is it. Besides, I have much better things to do than take drunks to court.

On the other hand, some people would file a complaint, and that's fair enough. Violence is a crime after all.


For those who may not know, Starr has been in a Police Commissariat before. Here's why.

1999. 2 months in prison for violence against an air hostess.
1999. 6 months in prison for injuries he inflicted upon his former girlfriend.
2000. €1,000 fine for possession of a pitbull which attacked another dog.
2000. €12,000 fine for violence against a person in the street.
2001. 2001. Prison and a fine for possession of cannabis, a 6.35 automatic pistol and dealing in cocaine.
2002. Guilty of cruelty to an animal.
2003. 4 months for spitting on policemen.
2005. False driving documents.
2009. 3 months and a €2000 fine for domestic violence, against his girlfriend.
2009. 2 years prison (18 months suspended) for attacking a car with an axe. He was also placed under a committal order.

And this 'man' goes crying to the police because a woman slaps him in the face?

Joey Starr is a first-class jerk (crétin). Voila.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Omni Trium Perfectum?

Add caption
Those three words mean 'everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete'. That's the reasoning behind the 'rule of three'. Well, things may come in threes, but they aren't always perfect, as three ongoing French news stories attest. It has been a decidedly bad news week here. But never fear, there's some good news too, which I'll save until last.

The first of these ongoing stories concerns the state of the French economy. With the Mali war fading into the media background, François Hollande and his government no longer have anything with which to distract the public's attention from dire economic news, and the press has been full of articles reminding him of that fact since Monday. The OECD has, for the first time, singled out France's employment legislation, which, they say, keeps millions of young and unqualified people out of a job. They also come down hard on the reluctance of French authorities to reform its economy and its tendency to try to tax and borrow its way out of the crisis. Growth has been flatlined for a year, the government has admitted that it can't meet its debt repayment schedules, and major redundancy programmes are being implemented by several multinational companies. Glum glum glum...

The second ongoing saga is that of the 'horsemeat for beef' scandal. It has been front page news for days, but I just read a thoroughly depressing story which explains how some of the companies involved plan to dispose of the massive amounts of fraudulent frozen, tinned and other products containing horsemeat that they have been forced to withdraw from supermarket shelves. The idea? Well, it appears that they want to give it to the poor and needy! Yes, you did just read that, they want to give it to the poor and needy. And this at the very moment when there is speculation that this kind of product may even contain donkey and/or mule meat.

What an utterly deplorable situation. Here we have food that is judged to be possibly unfit for supermarket shelves but which, we are told, is okay for the poor. Charitable organisations are considering the idea, and if they accept it we can expect the poor and homeless to be queuing up sometime soon in places like the 'Restaurants de Coeur', which serve cheap but hot meals to the homeless and poor. I cannot imagine a more cynical and shameful initiative. Many poor people feel humiliated enough as it is by the plight they find themselves in and this news isn't going to do anything to help their morale.

Lastly, France is seeing yet another spate of copycat suicide attempts. Three people have attempted to commit suicide by self-immolation in the last 48 hours, and another was stopped from doing so before he could set light to himself. The first person, an unemployed man whose right to benefit had expired,  poured petrol over himself and lit it outside a Job Centre in Nantes. He died from his injuries. The second, a "very lonely" unemployed man whose right to benefit had also expired, set himself alight this morning outside the apartment block in which he lived, but he was saved by passers-by and is now in hospital with severe burns. Also this morning a 16-year old boy set himself alight at school. He too was saved, by other children, and he suffered only minor burns. Finally, a fourth person threatened to set fire to himself outside a supermarket today but was prevented from doing so by emergency services.

So that, I'm afraid, is what's been front page news this week. But never mind, not all bad news comes in threes and, as promised, here is some positive news. This rule of three story is that I met an extremely charming lady recently and have spent three very happy evenings in her company in a week.

That news is not in the press however. After all - and as we know - good news doesn't sell. :)

And it is upon that upbeat note that I shall wish you, dear reader, a very happy weekend.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Findus 'horsemeat lasagne': to blame the food industry is to neglect the real scandal

So, let's see if we've got this straight. Horsemeat masquerading as beef has been sold in England and France by major retailers and supermarket chains. The products involved - frozen, refrigerated, vacuum-packed, tinned and other versions of dishes such as lasagne and ravioli - were produced and sold to retailers by French food assembly companies such as Findus, who bought their 'beef' from meat distributors such as French company Comigel, who, in turn, had bought their 'beef' from major French importers such as Spanghero, who, in their turn, had bought their 'beef' from slaughterhouses in Romania.
But now that the fraud has been discovered, and reputations are at stake, everyone in the chain is stabbing everyone else in the back in the hope of avoiding blame. The supermarkets are suing Findus, who say they are taking legal action against Comigel for product misrepresentation, Comigel is doing the same against Spanghero, who, of course, are blaming the Romanians for ripping them off.

Even more worryingly, the British imports came from Dutch and other suppliers which is why authorities now fear that that this kind of fraud exists not just in France, but in many other European countries too.

We needn't linger on the immediate and superficial question of why this fraud was perpetrated, or even where in the system it happened, because the direct reasons for it are very simple: horsemeat is three times cheaper than beef and hard to distinguish from it in dishes such as those incriminated, that which makes it a tempting option in the food industry's efforts to cut production costs to keep prices down, and sanitary, advertising and other controls within the industry are notoriously lax.

Heads shall undoubtedly roll as a result of this of course, be they those of executives from the supermarkets, food assembly companies, distributors, importers, abbatoir facilities, some mafia or other, or any combination of them. But although they are technically 'to blame' for this, they are just convenient fall guys really, because the real blame lies elsewhere.

The food industry is a cut-throat business in which retailers have been ruthlessly forcing down their suppliers' margins for years, particularly since the crisis began. But they are not doing this for the sadistic pleasure of seeing suppliers suffer, they are doing it because the public demands it of them.

Food bills are among the most onerous of all household bills, particularly for families, single parents, the unemployed, those on low wages and others who make up the many millions of the lower-income bracket. But unlike income, local and property taxes and others, all of which rise continually but can't be avoided, cash-strapped households do have an influence on food prices. Millions of people have been buying cheaper and cheaper food in order to help them to make ends meet, and the industry has been obliged to meet that demand. The fact is that cheap food has become a necessity for many people whose income has stagnated or worse.

And what are governments doing about it? Well, not much of course because they know that if there is one thing the voting public hates it's rising food prices, so they have no vested interest in pushing up food prices by introducing draconian and costly legislation to improve the quality of what is sold in supermarkets if they can avoid it. Besides, who would pay for the tens of thousands of inspectors who would be needed to enforce it? And, as Junior Minister for the Social Economy said today, "we can't put an inspector behind every side of beef."

So there we have it. We live in a Western world where people buy food which is so cheap that it cannot possibly be adequately nutritional or of good quality. Butter has given way to margarines, 'spreads' and worse, sausages may legally contain pigs' tongue, muzzle, anus and skin, fruit and vegetables are bland and antiseptic clones of what they used to be, dairy products are a joke, and it's becoming hard to find a real baguette or pastry, even in France. Prices - and quality - are being driven mechanically down by an economic logic which is way out of kilter.

The 'Findus horsemeat lasagne' story offers us not just a much-needed insight into the food industry's practices, it also comes as a stark reminder that our so-called 'advanced' society remains incapable of feeding its poorer members decently, even in 2013.

That's the real scandal....

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Hollande's dreadful week proves that 'a week is a long time in politics'

"Trust me Frankie..."  "Ummm, okay Angie, I believe you..:(
It's been a terrible week for François Hollande, although he began it rather well. Monday saw him meeting with American Vice President Joe Biden, who praised him for what he called his "decisive" decision to send troops to Mali. 

Ah, Mali. Those had been indeed halycyon days. Hollande's army had swept with brio through Mali and pushed the rebels back into tiny strongholds in the north of the country, and he received such a hero's welcome during his visit to Mali to meet Malian representatives that he called it "the most important day of my political life." Better still, the whole shebang had been so popular with voters that it almost made France forget its economic woes.

But that was all forgotten the next day. It was Tuesday, and the analysts and some politicians suddenly brought him back down to earth with a bump. 'It's all very well making terrorists run away' they said 'but they are still alive and the hard bit - the asymmetrical warfare bit where they use road bombs and suicide bombers - is not going to be anything like as easy. Ask Bush, whose 'lightning' war to topple Saddam lasted a decade.' Hollande did not respond to the reports, hoping as he surely must have been that the upcoming EU budget summit would restore his aura.

But things got off to an immediate and unauspicious start on Wednesday morning, when Germany rejected Hollande's claim that the euro is overvalued and added that interest rates should not be used to boost competitiveness. Also, rumours began to circulate that David Cameron was going to drive a very hard bargain at the EU summit later in the week and that he was gunning for Hollande. Still, Angela Merkel did come over to Paris to watch the France-Germany football match, so maybe he could woo her over to seeing his point of view? The answer is 'no, he couldn't' because a Merkel spokesperson described their pre-match meeting to discuss the summit as "short and intense." The Elysée was forced to deny any major disagreement between them, and as if that wasn't enough the Germans beat France 1-2. Deary me. But even worse news would come Hollande's way on Thursday morning.

That was when dastastardly David Cameron spoilt his lunch in Brussels as the start of the summit with a violently uncompromising declaration to journalists in which he bluntly warned the EU - and Hollande in particular - that he would not sign the EU budget bill unless it was cut, and not increased as Hollande wanted it to be. "When we were last here in November, the numbers that were put forward were much too high." said Cameron. "They need to come down. And if they don't come down, there won't be a deal." Great Britain had declared budgetary war on France and an angrily defiant Hollande said that he would not give in. Metaphorical cruise missiles were lobbed from one side of Brussels to the other all day long, far into the evening, and onwards into a chilly night in all senses of the word.

As usual, the negotiations were acrimonious and overshadowed by Europe's 'Big Five' - Germany, Italy, Great Britain, France and Spain. And as is often the case they split up into two opposing camps, with France, Spain and Italy fighting for a budget increase and Britain and Germany, with Merkel finally making it clear that she was backing Cameron, opposing them with plans for a decrease.

Things got so bad for Hollande that he crawled sulkily back into his room, from which he didn't move or say a word, even refusing to answer 2am phone calls from EU leaders who wanted him to attend a meeting with Cameron and Merkel. It all reminded me of Hitler's last few desperate days in the bunker.

Finally though, and after a night of the kind of high drama and petulant theatrics which we have resignedly come to expect at EU summit meetings, Europe's leaders managed to thrash out a budget agreement for the rest of the decade. 

It was all over. Cameron had obtained almost all of the cuts he wanted, and Hollande was handed down a crumb or two from the table in order that he may try and save face when he got home. But it was not to be, and by the time he got back to Paris the press, politicians and public alike had already been savagely mauling him for a couple of hours. He was weak, they said, he had caved in, he had let his country down, he was a loser.

'Hollande's Trafalgar?' 'Cameron and Merkel impose austerity on Hollande'. '"Tightfisted Europe" wins out over Hollande'. Those are just three of the top-of-the-homepage headlines which were to be read in the French press yesterday evening. Cruel reading they must have made for Hollande, but crueller still is that they were accurate.

François Hollande must be musing ruefully today about what could arguably be called 'the worst week of his political life'. With his ephemeral success in Mali behind him, and a terrible drubbing in Europe to cap his week off, he knows that he now has no major crusade left to fight in order to keep the public's mind off the awful state of the economy, an economy which he shall now be forced to confront.

"A week is a long time in politics" said British Sixties PM Harold Wilson. Indeed it is, as François Hollande has just found out to his cost.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The spate of suicides at the Arena of Nîmes

The outer walls of the Arena of Nîmes
The municipal authorities of Nîmes, in the Languedoc-Rossillon region of Southern France, are used to dealing with the many thousands of tourists who flock there each year to admire the city's beautiful architecture and Roman remains, but they are now facing an altogether new and baffling challenge from another category of 'tourists'.

Perhaps the most-visited site in Nîmes is the Roman amphitheatre. More commonly known today as the Arena of Nîmes, it is now used mainly for bullfighting events, music concerts and, more recently.....suicide attempts.

Tall and famous monuments have always attracted suicide candidates, and the Arena of Nîmes is no exception, with two recorded suicides there over the ten years up to last November. It was then that events suddenly took a dramatic turn for the worse. 

There have been five suicide attempts at the Amphitheatre over the last four months, three of which succeeded, with the other two leading to very serious injuries. All those concerned were aged between 20 and 30 and they had all jumped off the arena's high outer walls.

In an attempt to prevent further suicides the city's authorities have issued a byelaw which bars entry to the amphitheatre to all visitors who come alone. They are also considering setting up a psychological trauma unit to deal with people who are in shock after witnessing someone throwing themselves off the walls and plunge down to the street. Children are particularly vulnerable to psychological trauma in these circumstances, the authorities say, and this has added added a further sense of urgency to efforts to find ways of preventing similar suicides in the future.

Various meetings and consultations have been taking place in order to try and understand the phenomenon, but no answers are as yet forthcoming, and the byelaw has no 'end-of' date and will thus remain in vigour for as long as authorities deem it to be appropriate.

There have been several instances in France over the last three years in which a specific community, or group of people with something in common, or group using the same method, has suddenly experienced a dramatic increase in suicide attempts. They include a spate of about a dozen suicides by France Télécom employees (although there is disagreement about just how much higher this rate is compared to that of the population as a whole), five attempts at self-immolation in under a year, three of which succeeded, five policemen in Paris who killed themselves with their service weapons in just one week, and a spate of people who died in their cars during the Christmas period and the first half of January this year after deliberately stopping them on high-speed railway level crossings in front of oncoming trains. This last example, incidentally, appears to repeat itself regularly at this time of the year.

News of these sudden spates of suicides involving common factors is to be seen regularly in the French media, and I have the impression that this isn't the case in Britain or America, whose media I follow assiduously. Why this may be I do not know, but I do know that France, as a Western country, has abnormally high suicide rates, particularly in comparison to those of Britain and America.

Meanwhile though, let's just hope that the mysterious series of suicide attempts which have occurred at the Arena of Nîmes ends just as quickly as it began.....

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Garlic-Eating Frogs vs Beer-Swilling Teutonics - live match report

A man with, euhhh, two balls. As they say.
France plays host to Germany this evening for a friendly international football match so seeing as I'll be watching it and all the papers are doing a live rolling report on it I thought I'd do the same, except that mine will be a parody. A spoof. As unserious and irreverent as it gets. Why? Just for the fun of it and in the hope that someone may find something amusing to read in it. I'll be updating it every 5 minutes or so. Enjoy!

This is the bit before the match kicks off where football commentators usually tell readers who they think will win, and why, and why the match is so "vitally important". But seeing as I have no idea who will win, or why, and because I couldn't care less anyway, I'll just skip this chore if nobody minds.

Team News
France - Lloris - Sagna, Koscielny, Sakho, Evra - Cabaye, Matuidi - Sissoko, Valbuena, Ribéry – Benzema.
Germany - Adler - Howedes, Hummels, Mertesacker, Lahm - Gundogan, Khedira - Müller, Özil, Podolski - Gomez.

Well, all I can say about that is that they have 11 players each it would appear, so no there's no cheating, at least just yet. The cheating part comes when the match starts.

The teams are about come out onto the pitch!!
Football commentators often say this so I'll say it too, although I personally think that Hitchcock was a better master of keeping up expectative suspense and rising tension.

Peeeep! And we're off!

2 mins. I see 22 people running round a field after a sort of ball-thingy. The French are dressed in their familiar blue shirts, and the Germans are in their usual in white. If this was a fashion show the Germans would win 10-0. Blue is sooooo passé dahlink...

4mins and nothing much is happening. So little in fact, that I have enough time to notice a man in a rather spiffing and fetching yellow shirt on the field. It appears that he is what is called the 'referee'. Whatever floats his boat. I happen not to be gay though so I'll leave him to the ladies.

12 mins. It's still 0-0 and I'm wondering if there's any such thing as 'catatonic boredom'. Oh sod this, I'm off to watch a Youtube video. Their singer died recently. They were a great band and those were the days. Back in a few.

18 mins. 0-0. No, football is a really exciting game. Really it is. Believe me. *sigh* :(

24 mins. French striker Benzema carves the German attack apart with more ruthless efficiency than a butcher's knife slicing through milk. It would have been easier to score but he decided to make things difficult for himself by shooting straight at the goalkeeper.

29 mins. The match has suddenly come to life, like the Zombies in the film. End-to-end stuff it is and it's quite attractive to watch. Either side could have scored in the last 5 minutes. A goal soon please!!!

35 mins. Ribery is all over the place, like white on rice. And he's dangerous too. If he doesn't score tonight I'll sell my grandmother be very surprised.

40 mins, and the French have the upper hand. They seem in a hurry to score before half-time. But the Germans are displaying their usual discipline and are managing to cope in the hope of holding out.

44 mins and France 1 Germany 0! This was inevitable and it was thnks to Valbuena, who has worked hard since the kick-off. More power to him.

46 mins. Half-Time.

Half-time entertainment

France arguably deserves to be a goal up, although I'm sure that the Germans will come out all guns blazing in the second half. But that won't work unless they manage to capitalise on their patient attacking build-ups by creating more chances. Oh, and talking about advertisements, anyone for a beer?

45 mins. Off we go again and the French get a corner within 20 seconds. As usual, it leads to nothing. In fact despite the fact that they are supposed to be an advantage to the attacking side corner kicks result in so few goals that I'm thinking of campaigning for their abolition. Yours, Angry From Suburbia.

51 mins et oh la la! France 1 Germany 1! A terrible pass from Capoue is intercepted and relayed to Muller, who duly slams it into the net and sends chocolates and thank you tweets to the French defence to thank them for their generosity.

60 mins. This match is up for grabs and I'd rather take a cold shower than bet on the result.

65 mins. Valbuena, then Ribery, the French seem to be taking it in turns to put shots just wide of the posts. They've been bribed by the Albanian mafia to lose the match I tell thee!

74 mins France 1 Germany 2. What a sumptous sliderule pass from Odil to Khedira! It was the kind of pass that's so clever that it solves complex crosswords in a millisecond. Khedira responded in kind with cool nerve and a fine finish.

80 mins. Just 10 minutes to go and the French introduce an attacking substitute in an attempt to create an equaliser. It's followed by another, similar, substitution. Desperate times indeed, but hope springs eternal as they say.

85 mins, and the Germans are holding on to the ball. If the French are going to score they'll have to regain posession, and that's easier said than done against a team which knows how to pull down the shutters and kill the game.

89 mins and France equalises! 2-2 with one minute to go!! Nah, only joking. Giroud was offside and the goal is disallowed. Merde alors! There'll be three minutes of added time.

93 mins. Peeeeep, and it's all over. France 1 Germany 2 and all this goes to prove that drinking beer is better for footballers than eating garlic. Or something. Thanks for reading and have a good evening..

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The courage of France's Muslim visitors to Drancy deserves praise

The Drancy internment camp
It didn't grab banner headlines in the French press today, relegated as it was to a mid-page position, but the news of yesterday's visit to the Drancy Memorial for Jewish victims of the Shoah by 30 Imams and a significant number of representatives from various Muslim cultural associations is both significant and timely.

The internment camp of Drancy, near Paris, was a holding zone from which over 67,000 Jews, including 6000 children, were deported to Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War by both French and German authorities.Thousands of others died within the camp before deportation.

The Imams and others went there to lay wreaths of flowers in memory of the victims and Hassen Chalghoumi, the Imam for Drancy, whose calls for religious reconciliation in France have led to him being attacked by radical Muslims who have mounted a hate and threats campaign against him and is under police protection as a result, said the following during a short speech.
"At a time of growing racism and fear of Islam in France, we are saying ‘no, it is possible for us all to live together’. [...] "Today, we are demonstrating that Islam in France is not necessarily subject to foreign influence or interference. Most French Muslims aren’t fanatics. We represent an Islam that values human life; that rejects fundamentalism, racism and barbarity.”
His speech was praised by the site's director, the Jewish writer who had helped to organise the visit, and Interior minister Manuel Valls, who is implementing a policy to deport Imams and others who preach religious violence in France.

This is a significant event because it is the first ever of its kind in France. More importantly however, it comes just at a time when tensions between France's Jewish and Muslim communities have been running exceptionally high since the Merah massacre, with regular reports of religious sites being attacked and, although less common, reports of physical assaults by members of one community against those of the other.

And it also comes hard on the heels of much-commented polls results which show that three-quarters of French citizens consider that the Muslim faith is not compatible with the values of the French Republic.

But contrary to what French public opinion believes, the Muslim religion is not incompatible with France.

That is because Chalghoumi's words reflect the truth. As he says, the vast majority of France's Muslim community is not under foreign influence, they are not fanatics, and they "reject fundamentalism, racism and barbarity."

Yes, there are a few dozen Salafists, yes, there are some who seek to join terrorist groups, and yes there are those who refuse to obey the law on religious grounds, but the fact remains that the they represent a tiny minority of the Muslim community here, which is overwhelmingly composed of those 95% or more Muslims we meet every day. They are shopkeepers, businessmen, waiters in cafes, friends, associates and work colleagues who go about their daily business just as French people do. They harbour no hate for others, and if they do have a particular grief it is not against the Jews but against government policies and the kind of casual racism which is endemic here, which hinders their attempts to fulfil their ambitions and which has led to disproportionately high unemployment within their communities.

The Imams' visit to Drancy and Chalghoumi's speech reflect the real convictions and sentiments of almost all French Muslims, and their outspoken courage deserves praise and support.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Let them eat cake

Here is a summary of what both the French government and opposition have been doing since last week to tackle urgent national issues such as rocketing unemployment and the disastrous state of the economy, issues which are at the top of the electorate's list of priorities. It shall be a short summary, very short indeed, because what they have been doing is.... nothing. Absolutely nothing whatsoever. Worse, nothing shall be done for at least another two weeks either.

Not that the country's politicians have been lying around on Californian beaches drinking Pina Coladas of course. On the contrary, the French parliament has been working flat out for three days now. In fact it has quite literally been working almost 24 hours a day, and this infernal rhythm shall continue for two more weeks. Impressive? Let's see.

The government has been, as the constitution demands of it, wading through and systematically rejecting over 5000 proposed amendments to the gay marriage bill which were submitted by the opposition in a futile effort to slow down and disrupt the the ongoing debate and vote on it. Here are a few of those amendments, chosen (almost) at random.

One seeks to introduce a clause to the gay marriage law which would legalise polygamy. Another proposes that it be made possible for three, four, or even more people to get married to each other. There's one which suggests that brothers and sisters should be allowed to marry, and another which would permit uncles to marry their nieces and aunts to marry their nephews. And let's not forget the amendment which would grant children the right to marry each other, nor the idea of giving the go-ahead to marriage between adults and underaged children - in other words, legalising pedophilia. And just in case the reader may think that Fripouille has gone insane and made it all up, here's a link to an article which lists these proposals and more.

This, ladies and gents, is what parliament shall spend weeks doing. This is what taxpayers here are paying for. But is it what French voters wanted for their money? Let's check out the polls and see.

All polls and research into the desires of French voters clearly demonstrate that they want this government and parliament to prioritise the fight against unemployment, the protection of the poor and vulnerable, the fight against crime, the protection of social services and - in a more general sense - getting the country's disastrous economy back on track.

Not that the politicians seem to care. The government has allowed unemployment figures to soar to their highest levels in 20 years whilst simultaneously scaring foreign investment away via abusive state intervention in industrial conflicts which includes threats to (re)nationalise them. They are also robbing Peter to pay Paul and vice-versa in the form of taxes which are being used to borrow more money and increase debt without tackling any of the root causes which put the country in the dire situation in which it finds itself. Upcoming legislation includes a bill which would ban the word 'race' from the Constitution, as if the government doesn't have anything better to do. This is why the morale of French citizens is lower than I have ever seen it in the 25 years I have lived here.

The opposition? The only things the opposition has "contributed" to getting the country back on its feet are a fratricidal leadership spat which has left the main opposition party, the UMP directionless, and the list of 5000 spurious amendments I mentioned above to drag out opposition to a bill which has nothing to do with the economy or the general-well being of the population.

As for the president, he has been busy congratulating himself during a two-day visit to Mali after the French military had reached its objectives in its war against Islamic terrorist groups there without for as much eliminating the threat it went there to eliminate. He said 'this is the most important day of my political life'. But he wasn't elected to preen and play peacocks, he was elected to address the serious problems which are facing his country and its people.

Hollande, like his government and the opposition, have done almost nothing to address these problems, the problems they were elected by the people to deal with, so busy are they wasting precious time with their ineffective legislative tinkering, frontal opposition tactics and other irrelevant shenanigans. Their shamefully dismissive attitude towards the aspirations of their people is probably best summed up by the words;

'Let them eat cake'.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

'We Must Do Something'

How can one not be profoundly affected by the bravery, defiance and determination of Gabrielle Giffords' recent speech before the members of the American Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently addressing gun safety. She showed more guts and conviction during the 1m 17secs it took her to deliver her powerful message on gun control than any American government has ever been able to muster in a hundred years.

Gabrielle Giffords is a credit to her country and the tenacious fighting spirit she has showed in her fight to ovecome her injuries and confront the Gun Lobby proves, if ever proof were needed, that when the going get tough, Americans and America get going and confront challenges head on.

This speech has thrown down the gauntlet before American society and the Obama administration, but do they have the kind of courage personified by Giffords which will enable them to pick it up?

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Today's anti-gay marriage demo in Lyon shows that the movement is beginning to lose the battle

The anti-gay marriage lobby took to the streets of Lyon today for the second time in three months to demonstrate against government plans to legalise same-sex marriage, so I walked downtown to take a few photos.

It was a static demonstration, in front of City Hall, and the area directly in front of the building was full of the movement's characteristic blue, pink and white flags.

The atmosphere was rather 'bon enfant', and there were many families present. Here's one baby demonstrator, at the outer edge of the crowd. There were a number of other baby buggys too, most of which had babies in them, although a few others contained teddy bears or baby dolls.

Also on the sidelines were older people who obviously preferred the view from nearby steps to being caught in the crush below.

But these enterprising young ladies managed to get a good view as well as being close to the centre of the crowd. They are clinging to the railings of City Hall. Their first 'Bastille Moment'?

These people are signing an anti-gay marriage petition. As soon as I had taken this picture I was shouted at by a couple of very angry women who claimed that I was breaking anti-privacy laws. They demanded that I delete the photo, which I politely declined to do. After all, if people don't want other people to to take photos of people's bums people signing a petition in a public place then they should close off the table to public view, *harrumph snort*

Here's a photo of people using their constitutional right to stand in front of City Hall and make a lot of noise. The building's walls remained mute and unbending however, that which quite aptly and symbolically illustrates the government's refusal to bow to pressure from the street.

This view is dominated by the proudly imposing façade of Lyon's Opera House. Note the arches.

Behind the arches, and in the Opera's outer foyer, the teenagers who use this space daily as a place to work their Hip-Hop moves to the music of their ghetto blasters chose to totally ignore what was happening on the other side of the arches and carry on with business as usual. Top marks to them! These kids are a part of Opera life and the Opera's staff appreciate their respect for passers by as well as the efforts they make to keep the volume at a reasonable level. They are a credit to this city.

This demonstration was attended by 1800 people according to police figures in local press reports this evening, and the participants were certainly enthusiastic, but their efforts could not hide the fact that the event had a rather forlorn 'last ditch effort' feel about it. After all, the last anti-gay marriage demonstration here, on November 17 last year, attracted well over 20,000 marchers. (this is my photo-illustrated record of it for anyone interested.)

But the fire and high emotions of that day will not be seen again, because the gay-mariage law proposal is now being formally debated in parliament, and the general consensus is that the law is almost certain to be voted as it stands, without any major amendments. And that possibility took yet another step towards becoming reality this morning when parliament approved the law's first - and by far the most important, as it enshrines the right to gay marriage - article by a crushing majority of 249 votes to 97.

The anti-gay marriage lobby's cause is now all but lost, and I doubt I'll need to go to any more of their demonstrations. Their will is still strong despite the rapidly dwindling numbers of demonstators, but the facts are even stronger.

Still, not to worry, this being France there's bound to be another demonstration in Lyon soon, on another issue, and I'll be there to cover it and post the results here.

Have an excellent weekend everyone.

Friday, 1 February 2013

What's in a word? A lot, that's what, be it in English or French

We are used to seeing new words and expressions crop up in English, and those with an image to protect or project - governments, businesses and the press are a few examples - can be very inventive indeed when it comes to dressing a wolf in sheep's clothing, or, come to think of it, dressing a sheep in wolf's clothing.

One well-known example  is 'collateral damage', a military term which tries - and fails of course - to sanitise and render anodyne the brutal reality of 'civilian casualties'. Another is the business world's 'reorganisation', or its alternative, 'restructuring', to describe the cruel act of throwing thousands of people out of a job and into unemployment queues. Those two examples are, of course, indicative of a desire to hide bad news, but others can have the opposite intention - that of exacerbating the truth.

This is a favourite press tactic which is often used by journalists who wish to render their articles more sensationalist or slanted (or both). That's why newspapers which offer partisan opinion articles on a given conflict use either 'terrorist' or 'resistant/rebel' to describe people who kill other people, depending which side of the fence they are on. Then there's 'genocide', or 'genocidal act'. This one takes cynical advantage of the fact that there is no single definition of it, and that is why it is slowly being watered down from its original connotation for most people, which is the deaths of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people in an attempt to eradicate a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The result is that I have seen it used recently to describe the deaths of as few as 2 people, particularly when it comes to conflicts in the Middle East and on the African continent. 'War crimes' and 'crimes against humanity' have also become popular to describe the same phenomenon, but when few victims are involved, I would venture to say that 'unlawful killing of prisoners or civilians' is more accurate. After all, we can't realistically take every soldier/guerilla fighter who kills two people to the International Criminal Court - the international court which deals with these and similar crimes - to be tried, however awful their actions may be. 

Not that the Anglophone world is alone in deploying the fine art of inventing touchy-feely ways to describe negative images of course. The French are no novices at this game either, and just like Anglophones, they know how to sugar the pill. Better-known examples include 'zones sensibles' - 'sensitive zones/areas' - a would-be benign way of describing 'ghettos', which, in France, is a highly negative and crime-inferencing expression uniquely reserved for descriptions of similarly disadvantaged areas of cities not in France, but in other countries, and most notably America. Then there's my all-time favourite, 'Les Evénements' - 'The Events' - to describe what the rest of the world has always called 'the Algerian War'. That said, the latter term is finally becoming acceptable here, but hey, a war described as an 'event'? The tradition continues today, and that's why Hollande and his government have literally banned the use of 'austerity measures' to describe what in reality are spending cuts, higher taxes and other belt-tightening fiscal measures. The buzzwords now are 'fair redistribution', 'economic rationalisation', 'economic mesures' and 'a national effort'.

I mention all this because coincidence has it that I have read a few news stories this week in the French press which all discuss the the meanings and implications of terms used to describe phenomenon or events. But although I imagine that most people would agree that the examples I cited above are no more than overtly biased attempts to give unpalatable hard facts a soft landing, those I have found this week are more likely to provoke diverse opinions.

The first one concerns the efforts of French Socialist députée Sandrine Mazetier, who would like to see the French term 'école maternelle' replaced by an alternative because, she argues, the word 'maternal' intrinsically implies that kindergardens, pre-schools and nursery schools, (according to local use in different Anglophone countries) are uniquely the affair of mothers and the female sex and, as such, is sexist. She suggests alternatives such as 'small child schools' or 'first/primary schools', which she says are more gender-inclusive. Does she have a point? Or, as her critics are asking, "doesn't the government have anything better to do in times of a financial crisis than to play around with semantics?" Hmmm.....

Next up are a couple of articles which address expressions which are being hotly contested during the ongoing debate on gay marriage, and the first one is very interesting. Those who oppose gay marriage say that the word 'marriage' can only be applied to a marriage between a man and a woman, and that another term should be found to define same-sex unions. Yet at the same time proponents of 'gay marriage' also disagree with that term on the grounds that it differenciates between 'marriage' and 'gay marriage', so they think that the terms 'gay' or 'homosexual' marriage should be banned, and that 'marriage' alone is more in line with the idea of equal rights and considerations. Is one side or the other being too pernickety for pernickety's sake? If so, which one? What new term should be used instead?

Another bone of contention in the gay marriage debate is that of the terminology 'parent 1 and parent 2'. Opponents say that these terms reduce people to numbers and "why not have 'parents 3 and 4' too while we're about it, to include the lover and the bigamist's partner?" Notwithstanding, the French national rail company SNCF has apparently decided that the gay marriage bill will be voted into law, so it has already taken steps to replace the terms 'mother' and 'father' in the documents it asks employees to fill in which include marital and personal status with 'parent 1' and 'parent 2'. The government denies that either term will be used once the law comes into force and says that the two categories of  'husband' and 'wife' will be replaced by the more inclusive 'husband and wife', and that 'mother' and 'father' will become the equally egalitarian 'parents'. Phew! I'm getting dizzy with all these alternatives! Is all this a storm in a terminological PC teacup or does the future of humanity depend upon making the right choice?

Lastly - and perhaps most importantly - François Hollande's election promise to eliminate the word 'race' from Article 1 of the French Constitution is to be put to parliament before this summer. But this is not an example of changing nomenclature to hide realities, on the contrary. It's about purely and simply removing a term, and the phenomenon it defines, from use with a strikethrough stroke of a pen and without replacing it. And it is likely to cause a real ruckus because the consequences of eliminating the word 'race' from the Constitution could have far-reaching implications for freedom of information in France. Paragraph 1 of the French Constitution states that;

'France is an indivisible, laïque [i.e. secular], democratic and social Republic. It guarantees equality before the law of all citizens without distinctions of origin, race or religion. It respects all beliefs. Its [organisational structure] is decentralised.'

Hollande explained his reasoning at the time by saying that "there is no place in the Republic for [the notion of] race."

Unlike almost every other modern democracy, France has always been notoriously loath to publish official statistics on racial discrimination (and indeed societal statistics in general) because it fears that doing so would be tantamount to officially acknowledging the widespread existence in France of racial discrimination in areas such as housing, employment, political representation, the jail population, crime statistics and the holding of high office for all to see. And it has systematically used Article 1 to justify this refusal.

Removing the word 'race' from Article 1 would thus theoretically remove any obstacle to the compiling of statistics relative to racial discrimination. But is that Hollande's objective? Or is he merely trying to reinforce France's eternal and cynical refrain that 'there is no racial discrimination in France because we are French first and foremost and our origins are not taken into account'? This is not an easy call....

Anyway, those are my 'what's in a wordical' musings of the day and any opinions you may have on them would be welcome.