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I promised (a long time ago) we’d talk about the other strong contender in the upcoming French presidential elections: Ségolène Royal, so here we go.

A couple years ago, when Angela Merkel was on the verge of becoming the first female Chancellor of Germany, I remember reading an article from a German magazine (der Spiegel I think it was) candidly asking if one could not consider voting for her specifically on account of her gender. The gist of their argument was that, electing a woman to such an office was in itself a considerable social advance, possibly overshadowing any measure either candidate could ever enact once elected.

It is a bit of a provocative argument, but still worth considering. Especially if you have your doubts about the effective influence of this election’s outcome on important matters of economic or international policies.

However, the comparison between both women ends there. They are from slightly opposite sides of the political board and, under their common gender, are perceived very differently by partisans and opponents alike. Angela Merkel, while I am not well-versed enough in German politics to give an extensive appraisal of her skills, is a very capable, respected politician. There is not the slightest suspicion that she may ever have relied on her gender as a prop to get by, quite the opposite: I remember reading people emphasizing her “butchy” manners (equally unnerving, as chauvinist clichés go, but at least not in the way you may expect).

The problem with the current French presidential race is that it has become extremely hard to tell whether one’s impression of a candidate is somehow attuned with reality and verifiable facts or just the result of widespread journalistic bias. Of course, this is a problem everywhere: Fox TV and other Murdoch-style news outlets do a much worse job at imitating journalistic integrity than most French media. In France, the bias is usually more subtle: few media (outside of those ostensibly labeled as following one party or the other) will directly slander their political opponents. It is more of a meticulous, careful selection of the news they report on and the tone they adopt, so as to finally envelop each politician in a caricatural persona that fits a specific political intent.

I do realize I just described the way politics and media work everywhere in the world, the thing is: the ratio of perceived versus actual personal and political traits here is simultaneously very high and rarely acknowledged by most people, it seems.

This is true of all candidates and works in either direction: I previously mentioned how Ms. Royal’s opponent, Mr. Sarkozy, is hyperbolically depicted by his opponents as some neo-fascistic brute, which is simply inaccurate: for all his sitting on the conservative right side of France’s political board, he objectively ranks left of both Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair on major issues and policies, yet any topical discussion with your average Frenchman will invariably veer into Godwin territories (unless your interlocutor is pro-Sarkozy, in which case he will hail the man as a savior of all things righteous and law-abiding in a society crumbling under the weight of rampant youth crime and illegal immigration). I dislike the man and his knack for populist securitarian rhetoric, as much as the next freedom-loving fool, but he is no Benito Mussolini, not even a Georges W. Bush.

But back to Ségolène.

What do I think of her?

When I hear Ms. Ségolène Royal talk of her projects, when I read her interviews, watch her answer questions or simply humor journalists with unsubstantial banter, all I see is one incredibly unseasoned, incompetent, borderline-stupid politician with the stuck-up delivery of a grade-school teacher and the mien that goes with (you really expect her to slap you on the wrist with a ruler at any moment). I see shameless use of her image as a maternal figure, I see a candidate who has suddenly emerged to the forefront 10 months ago and won her party’s primaries, not on a solid program, but because her pleasant looks, relative political freshness and high poll ratings, made her at the time the most serious contender to beat Nicolas Sarkozy.

In a word, I see practically every single misogynist stereotypes about women in politics made flesh.

Now you understand why I might be questioning my own perception through the French media. This is all depressing and ever so slightly suspicious. But unfortunately I still think this is not all made-up impressions and journalistic bias: she is that incompetent.

Sacre de Sarkozy

Guess what this year is?

Why, you’re right my friend, this year is French Presidential Election Year !

In May of this year, to be exact, the French will vote to elect a new Président de la République.

Under France’s current constitution, the president controls the executive branch and has power over foreign and domestic policies. Unlike the US, however, he can (and often did, over the past 20 years) end up with a government from the opposite party, as the National Assembly has the power to vote the Prime Minister (and his ministers) out. The President can decide at any moment to dissolve the Assembly and call for a new election (which he traditionally does as soon as he is elected, I think, unless such an election is already scheduled).

Thus you have a Janken-like circular structure of power, where the President still holds an advantage, being the only immovable piece of the game (5-year mandate and a pretty good immunity from prosecution, as Mr. Jacques Chirac will tell you). At all times, and regardless of the Assembly’s majority, it is customary for the President to keep his role of representation abroad, along with final say in matters of foreign policy (not unlike the POTUS). Domestic policies are his, only so long as his party holds the majority at the Assembly.

Anyway, enough with the boring talk about French political institutions. On to the only thing we may care about: Who will it be?

The answer, with a fairly high rate of certainty: either Nicolas Sarkozy (“Sarko” to his fans and enemies alike) or Ségolène Royal (“Ségo”, to same).

A landslide in the House and – be still my heart – some good chance of a Senate win (despite Mr. George “macaca” Allen’s partisans best efforts to “guide” voters to the correct polling location)…

As the Democrats now prepare to regain control of the Legislative branch, let’s wish for a mutually beneficial cooperation across party lines, an era of prosperous bipartisanship with the best interest of all constituents at heart, where the winners can look past petty disagreements and work along with the losers and… and… mwahahahaHAHAHA… Right.

Bury them. Tear their electoral balls off. Declaw, spay and neuter the lots of them. Let congressional hearings rain. Open a can of Check’n’Balance whoopass on their collective thieving ass. Time to scrub the place clean.

And when it’s all over, don’t forget to unplug Cheney’s cryogenic night-preservation chamber on the way out.

I probably haven’t actually blogged on this blog in a good few months. Semi-witty three-liners and pointless factoids aside, content has been sparse lately. Here is at last one good reason for all you two readers still checking this page to bitterly regret that blessèd old time.

Today we are gonna rant. And we ain’t gonna rant on any topic either. We are gonna rant on US Politics. Can I get a hell yay, brethren?

Considering how long I have kept shut on that particular topic (not for lack of things to say, mind you), you better grab an umbrella, because I have a good year’s worth of rant spittle ready to come out. For similar reasons, I have opted to ditch my usual pointless attempts at structures and grand outlines and will just lay a few random thoughts as they come.

Let me start with a small story. A memory. My own belated September 11th, 2001’s “Where were you on that day?” recount.

As the cliché now goes, I remember perfectly what I was doing that day when it happened. I was sleeping. When my girlfriend’s phone woke us up: her best friend, attending Columbia university a couple blocks down from the WTC, was absolutely breaking down, trying to tell us what had just happened. We got up, went to the living room TV and saw on CNN as the first, then the second, towers went down live, amidst the usual empty buzzing of clueless newscasters. By then my two roommates were also up and watching.

But my strongest impression of this event, wasn’t this very morning. Sure it was tragic beyond words, yet I could not help but think all along, that 5,000 people dying an unfair and horrible death somewhere in the world is not such an exceptional event…

Exactly thirty years ago today, a large gathering of students took place in the South Western Townships of Johannesburg: then and still now, one of the most miserable place you could ever set a sight on. On that day, a few thousands black students were protesting yet another humiliating law passed by the pro-apartheid government, when armed policemen started firing real bullets at the crowd.

The resulting mayhem and deaths of many children had for indirect consequence to force the world into reconsidering its fairly lenient take on the Afrikaners’ quasi-aryan policies. The international community slowly but surely issued official condemnations and accompanying trade cutbacks. Although it should be noted that, until 1986, any UN attempt at imposing worldwide economic sanctions against South Africa was promptly vetoed by both US and UK.

Indeed, neither Maggie nor Ronnie ever deemed it necessary to have any lower an opinion of their South African (white) friends over such trifling details. I’ll let you guess which of the two, in 1987, labeled the ANC a “terrorist organization” and equalled the chances of it ever gaining power to “living in cloud cuckoo land”… though I must say the flowery language is kinda giving it away.

Worry not yourself, you may have done your part to help teenage-shooting, citizen-torturing, white-supremacist pro-Apartheid government of South Africa survive through most of the 20th century: all you had to do was getting engaged more than a dozen years ago.

Eventually, beside internal Black resistance and increasingly disadvantaging demographics, the fall of the apartheid system would seem to hang more on South Africa’s loss of credit on the financial market and ensuing economic turmoils, than any concerted efforts from so-called civilized nations to put significant pressure on its leaders. As it was, these countries were in no rush to lose their privileged trade relations with the ever courteous and oh-so-exquisitely well-mannered good old fair-skinned boys leading South Africa at the time. You know, the same countries who will jump on the first occasion to bomb moustachioed dictators back to the stone-age, out of their deeper concern for the well-being of the people and the advancement of freedom and democracy throughout the world.

Happy Soweto Riots Day.

Oh boy. What did I get myself into…
Gotta stop taking on huge epics that bore even myself to tears, halfway through realisation.
Not only am I no longer finding the motivation to write the (otherwise entirely planned out) remaining paragraphs of this post, but it will be poisoning my every thought and inspiration until I get done with it.
Here goes: the second of three parts in our increasingly-inaccurately-named diptych on French society, laws and politics:

Freedom of Expression in France (cont.)

As seen previously, you are free to express yourself in France, as long as you are neither a holocaust-denier nor advocating antisemitism, racial hatred or homophobic positions. Incidentally, a separate text also restricts your right to openly question recreational drugs laws (“presenting drugs under a positive light”). These are a lot of restrictions on what some think should be the unfettered right of people to freely express their views. The more 1st amendment-conscious US readers among you might even be appalled by the practice. Although you better make sure beforehand that you do not live in a country where many have once dubbed it “unpatriotic”, “treacherous” and therefore a crime, not to stand behind their leader… Dissent in times of “war” is just as much a part of freedom of speech as the right to express your twisted hatred for one group of people or another.

While blogging the most mundane details of my daily existence, there has been a plethora of more serious topics I have been wanting to discuss for many weeks now. Just never found the time or the motivation to dig up all the data and roll it into something coherent and mildly interesting. At long last, and in no small part thanks to the wonders of modern urban warfare on academic grounds, I am about to fill up my quota for heady controversial postings on France, for the whole year at once.

Hang on to your baguette and pop a few aspirins, because today we are not going to focus on recent anti-government demonstrations, nor on the ongoing work-law reform that prompted them, or the already fading debate over France’s antisemitism, its suspected racism, the fuss over the Danish cartoons or the ever recurrent theme of freedom of speech and limits thereof in the birth country of Mr. Arouet.

No. Instead, we are going to talk about all these issues at once, and even attempt to weave some sort of grand theory throughout.

We are about to set some new record for lengthy pomposity on this blog and you will soon be longing for my endless digressions on weather and French flu medication, but you must realize I currently live in France: over here, it is uncouth not to have a strong opinion on every matter political and shout it as loud as your understanding of the material is thin. Besides, I see no reason to leave the business of spouting inane drivel on foreign countries, solely to the local pros.

So let’s begin:

1. Anti-semitism and racism in France

The French blogging community is currently abuzz following announcement that a high school principal, whose blog had reached a fair amount of popularity in its time, had been officially revoked due solely to his blogging activities.

Now, a few of you are probably incensed at such blatant disrespect for civil liberties, all the while wondering how you say “first amendment” in French, while others will object that employers are free to do what they want and getting dooced nowadays is hardly newsworthy stuff.

Here is where both would be wrong and what makes this situation very particular:

First off, being a school principal in France means being directly employed by the government as a civil servant (the infamous fonctionnaires). This work status implies an incredible number of particularities, both advantages and constraints. For instance, such employment cannot be terminated for any reasons other than gross misconduct on the part of the employee who is otherwise guaranteed a job for life. On the other hand, working for the State and being, in essence, representatives of the State, employees are held to what the French call “devoir de réserve“: an obligation to remain loyal to the State’s institutions and not harm its standing by one’s declarations or actions in public. Doing so being the one major ground for losing your job and status.

Ironically, this ground for termination, commonly used in countries where average work contracts do not require anything more than a notice anyway, would land any private company foolish enough to use it here in very hot water (ever heard of French labor laws? They make US HR execs wake up in a puddle of cold sweat in the middle of the night). If you are the government, though: it’s ok.

Not long after I arrived in Japan, I was introduced to an older gentleman, who shared a keen interests in some European authors and was altogether a pleasure to converse with. That man spoke extremely little English, but was practically fluent in both German and French, while I was, on my end, doing my best to start conveying meaningful sentences through the 15 words of Japanese I had mastered at the time.

I have been in the past ironically referring to “my Japanese lawyer“, and people naturally always assumed I was joking… Well, he is a lawyer. While he should probably have hit retirement a few years ago now, he seems well intent on pleading cases until the very last day. He has, on rare occasions, given me some pro bono advices, repaid in old whiskey and binded european books, which, I suppose, makes him my Japanese lawyer after all.

We once had a conversation about his youth: growing up in Japan during and immediately after the war. The bombing over Tokyo, where his parents lived, got extremely intensive during the last two years. Most of his childhood neighbourhood burnt down before the end of the war. He and his older sister had therefore been sent to some relatives’ house in the country, near a smaller city that had been so far spared from most of the bombings.