France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

December 4, 2008

Everything but the News is on strike; Europeana, meet Qantara; Catherine Deneuve is in Lebanon; French News workers out of work

For the second consecutive week, France Culture was more or less on strike today. Last week, my morning began — because it starts for the last year with the 7-9 morning program hosted by Ali Badou with a stable of commentators, newscasters, and one or two special guests — with a program with just Badou and commentators but no news. So when the top or bottom of the hour arrived, we were mistreated to bad mix tapes. Or rather ‘tape,’ as the same one played throughout the day. This morning it was the reverse; just news, with Ali and allies AWOL. Why? BECAUSE THEY DON’T GET PAID ENOUGH. That’s right folks. Journalists being laid off all over the planet, independent pubs like our own Dance Insider feeling the knock-off effect, and these guys (because they’re mostly guys), WHO HAVE JOBS where their colleagues are losing or fear losing theirs, go on strike because they’re not getting paid enough. This week in my department of France, the entire 22-person staff of French News, a 21-year-old vigorous English-language monthly whose offices are based in Perigueux, find themselves without work as the publication is going under because of financial difficulties exacerbated by the crisis.  And their confreres are striking because it’s not enough to have secure jobs, they want to be paid more. Oh-lah-lah.

Not wanting to listen to the same old music — literally — again, I switched to France Entiere, and there got some useful cultural news that seems to have — you’ll divine why in a minute — eluded the U.S. cultural gatekeepers’ radar. Apparently Catherine Deneuve took a little trip to Lebanon in 2006, not long after the Israelis bombed large swathes of it to rubble, and rode around with a Lebanese actor and film crew encountering people and, well, bearing witness. The film, Deneuve  acknowledged on France Entiere today, is not expressly political nor engaged, but…how could it not not show Israel in a negative light, from the footage of devastation and from episodes like the one in which we hear aircraft suddenly flying low over-head, prompting the alarmed matinee idol to ask worriedly, “Qu’est que c’est?” When her interloper explains it’s Israeli planes taking photos, she let’s out an almost angry sigh… Hmm, wonder why we haven’t heard more about this film — called, btw, “Je veux voir” or “I want to see” — from the U..S. press? If you happen to be reading this in NY, you can see it at the Museum of Modern Art (whose website refers to the Israeli invasion by the more gentile nomenclature ‘incursion” ((‘Pardon me, Madame, if I incur you by bombing your homes and when you listen to our instructions and try to flee them, your cars with you in them.’)).) I also learned, in another segment, that while Brussels has been bogged down in a 2 million digitial Euro library that doesn’t work, a group of Mediterranean nations, including this one and Algeria, and the afore-devastated Lebanon, coordinated by the Paris-based Institut du Monde Arab, has launched the much simpler — and effective, it actually works! — ‘Qantara’ — whose goal is to demonstrate, through, among other things, images of artifacts you can actually find on its website, the traditions that have united these sometimes disparate-seeming cultures over 2,000 years.

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December 3, 2008

Reculade

This was the word chosen by the newscaster on France Culture this morning to encompass the government’s backing down on three major cause celebrés in recent days: 1)Facing opposition within its own center-right majority in Parliament, the government agreed to a compromise on whether to open stores on Sundays: Yes for the already open, in grand metropoles, and in zones touristique, no everywhere else, although there are exceptions to the exceptions; even though it qualifies as both a grand metropole and a zone touristique, the Lyonnaise area will rest closed on Sundays, apparently due to strong opposition from area deputies. 2) Facing the fact that the Socialist mayors who run most of the big cities were refusing to enforce it anyway, education minister Xavier Darcos said he would not take them to court for not guaranteeing ‘minimum service.’ This was a regime the government tried to set in place whereby in cases of teacher strikes, city hall was obligated to provide baby-sitting. 3) After blaming sabotage of the national train network (the rails, not the trains) on a cell of alleged anarcho-leftists, the government has been forced to release all but two of the alleged coupables. The only evidence remaining against the ‘cell leader’ appears to be a ladder and a book on anarchist phllosophy.

I have no truck with anarchists. In reality, what this often means is not simpy a void — a passive non-belief in and non-allegiance to governed society — but concrete and rephrehensible violent action. Incredibly, the hosts of my favorite Lefty Yank radio program, Democracy Now, recently let stand a statement by the domestic terrorist — yes, terrorist — William Ayers that he bombed police stations in the ’60s because, well, those were different times, and anyway, they never hurt a single person. Anarchists, at least those who resort to violence, as well as so-called ‘revolutionaries’ like Ayers, like to say that in targeting government buildings they aren’t hurting anyone, they are going after power. Well guess what? Notwithstanding that it hasn’t always played out this way, police stations are, in theory — and often in practice — not symbols of ‘repression,’ but guarantors of security in the *good sense* of that word. So when a so-called anarchist or ‘revolutionary’ attacks a police station, their real goal is to make the rest of us feel *less secure* and *more vulnerable* and thus create nihilistic chaos. (And while we’re defending the police: Much has been made here the past few days — mostly by other journalists — of the supposedly excessive manner in which police picked up a former editor of the Left-leaning daily Liberation, whose only alleged infraction was alleged libel against an Internet company, Free. Okay, maybe they shouldn’t have handcuffed the guy. But maybe, also, more of the journalists should be reporting (as I’ve only heard two do so far) that the reason police had to go to the journalist’s house to get him was that he’d allegedly failed to appear three times at court dates.)

But returning to the alleged anarcho-leftist saboteurs. It looks like the government rushed to judgment too fast. Not to me to judge them but, easy as it is to identify single culpables for one or two derailing incidents, anyone who’s tried to travel between Paris and anywhere else, not to mention in the regions, knows that the SNCF train network has a real infrastructure problem, to say the least. (And don’t even try using its website; easier to walk 2 miles to a train station and ask the clerk.) That’s what’s got to be seriously acknowledged, looked at, and repaired.

While we’re on the subject of schools, and of alleged feats:

The much-vaunted European digital library, Europeana, continues to be down. (When I contacted a publicist for the institution to complain that I couldn’t even find the site’s supposed greatest virtue, its search engine, he said gleefully, “Well, we have a great video!!”) Unfortunately, this didn’t stop one of the library experts appearing on France Culture this morning from singing the praises of this 2 million Euro (annually) boondoggle. (Demi-traduction: Bidondoggle.) On the same program, one of the guests also pointed out that when he recently presented himself at a local police post to report a minor robbery, he had to rewrite the desk sergeant’s report, so full of ‘faults’ was it. Similarly, he claimed, the reason metro station agents often can’t help him find a given street is that they don’t know what letter it starts with. (Moi, ce n’etes pas les lettres de commencement qui me trouble, c’est ceux qui suive! Ou plutot leur son.)

There’s a connection here! Or rather a disconnect.

Europe is spending 2 million Euros per year on a boondoggle of a bibliotheque (hey, can I get sued and shackled for this?) that so far, DOES NOT WORK. (They claim it’s because there are too many of us that want to use it.) Meanwhile, this year the government eliminated 11,000 teacher positions, including — this is crucial — 3,000 of the 11,000 special education teachers, or RASE. Meanwhile — skipping to another connection here, I know — it’s considering a law which (if I understood correctly) would make it easier to send young people to prison.

In California, my home state, where school funding has suffered ever since, 30 years ago, the state voted to eliminated the property tax, teachers are now thinking of paying for supplies by placing ads on test papers.

Does France know what it’s in train of losing?

November 20, 2008

Brussels, Schmussels; or, is the new 2 million Euro Europeana Digital Library a Lemon?

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 3:13 pm
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Really, I have nothing against Brussels. Sure, foreign architecture classes have been known to take field trips there to see a classic example of what happens when a citiy has no architectural planning, but I kinda like the fact that it’s all over the map. I like the contradiction that even though it’s technically speaking in the Dutch part of the country, most people speak French. I like that it’s kind of a bordel, pre-gentrification Brooklyn to Paris’s post-Disney New York. I like and even love some of the dance companies — much more original and, well, dancey than their French counterparts.

But if you live in Europe, Brussels, the word, has left the city behind and has come to mean bureaucratic heaviness and impersonal regulation from heartless bureaucrats who are out of touch with the reality and exigencies of regular people in member states — particularly small business-people, farmers and fishermen.

In theory, the idea of a European Union — or, if you prefer, a United States of Europe — is great. But even when Brussels — read, EU management — does something that in theory should be wonderful, it seems their heads are so overloaded with technospeak that they forget practicality.

Take Europeana, the new European digital library which launched today with much bally-hoo, including a speech from the president of the European commission. Theoretically it’ll have material from libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions from all 27 member states.

I thought I’d check it out.

I just finally was able to access it — earlier in the afternoon, at about the same time the EU commission prez was announcing the launch — I think he said something about boasting top-tiere technology — the site was ‘unavailable.’ Now it’s available. And, according to itself, it’s ‘simple’ to use. “Just ask yourself who, what, where or when you are interested in and type these words into Europeana’s search box.”

Before we get to asking myself, I have a preliminary question:

Where’s the search box?

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