Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
Click here to go there... Click here to go there...

Here you will find a few things you might want to investigate.

Support the Just Above Sunset websites...


Click here to go there...

« March 2004 »
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31
Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
Contact the Editor


"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

Site Meter
Technorati Profile

Thursday, 11 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Should elitist snobs like me feel guilty?

Here's an interesting contention. The French, and specifically Dominique de Villepin, their Minister of Foreign Affairs, convinced America to invade Iraq, overthrow its government and occupy its territory - really, honest.

I came across this item on elitism, and indeed, the author, at the end of it, actually does make that argument. And the route by which he arrives at that idea is not all that circuitous. Really.

First off, Tom Frank is the author of One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democracy (Doubleday, New York, 2000). Market populism? Frank explains the basic idea is that the free market is in essence a democracy. Since we all participate in markets - buying stock, choosing between brands of shaving cream, going to movie X instead of movie Y - markets are an expression of the vox populi. Markets give us what we want; markets overthrow the old regime; markets empower the little guy. Markets are good. A nice form of populism. Vox Populii, Vox Dei? It means the voice of the people is the voice of God.

"Vox populi, vox Dei. You are acquitted, Captain Croker," says Sherlock Holmes at the end of "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" to the man who has actually committed the crime. Heck, anyone with half a brain by the end of the tale knows Croker did the right thing, even if it was done in passion, and not exactly legal. Holmes lets him go. He doesn't turn him in.

Frank discusses populism as not exactly the voice of God, but as something that needs examining. What he wants to examine, however, is not the benevolent market populism from his book, but its evil doppelganger, backlash populism.

See The Elitism Myth
Tom Frank, Tom Paine, a Public Interest Journal, Published: Mar 08 2004

Some of you might recall that on Tuesday, January 6, 2004 here on this site I posted Truth in Advertising: Do NOT Drive a Volvo! about an anti-Dean television spot. It hammered hard on the eastern elites from a populist perspective.

Frank use that item to open his argument:
A commercial airs on Iowa television in which the then-front-runner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Howard Dean, was blasted for being the choice of the cultural elites: a "tax hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show" who had no business trying to talk to the plain folk of Iowa.

The commercial was sponsored by the Club for Growth, a Washington-based organization dedicated to hooking up pro-business rich people with pro-business politicians. The organization is made up of anti-government economists, prominent men of means and big thinkers of the late New Economy, celebrated geniuses of the sort that spent the past 10 years describing the low-tax, deregulated economy as though it were the second coming of Christ. In other words, the people who thought they saw Jesus in the ever-ascending NASDAQ, the pundits who worked themselves into a lather singing the praises of new billionaires, the economists who made a living by publicly insisting that privatization and deregulation were the mandates of history itself are now running television commercials denouncing the "elite."
Vox Populii, Vox Dei indeed!

In fact this is curious. Frank points out that thanks to the rightward political shift of the past thirty years, wealth is today concentrated in fewer hands than it has been since the twenties; workers have less power over the conditions under which they work ever before "in our lifetimes" - and the corporation has become the most powerful actor in our world. He is puzzled that this rightward shift - and he says its still going strong to this day - "sells itself as a war against elites, a righteous uprising of the little guy against an obnoxious upper class."

Yep, it doesn't make much sense. And he adds the final irony:
At the top of it all sits President George W. Bush, a former Texas oilman, a Yale graduate, the son of a U.S. president and a grandson of a U.S. senator - the beneficiary of every advantage that upper America is capable of showering on its sons - and a man who also declares that he has a populist streak because of all the disdain showered upon him and his Texas cronies by the high-hats of the East. Bush's populism is for real. His resentment of the East-coast snobs is objectively ridiculous, but it is honestly felt. The man undeniably has the common touch; his ability to speak to average people like one of their own is a matter of public record. And they, in return, seem genuinely to like the man. Bush shows every sign of being able to carry a substantial part of the white working-class vote this November, just as he did four years ago (although 90 percent of black Americans voted Democrat in 2000).
Yep, this is a pretty neat trick. Bush is a man of the people? Guess so....

Frank argues this is all a calculated public relations effort. It is the careful creation and cultivation of backlash populism:
... Republicans are still the party of corporate management, but they have also spent years honing their own populist approach, a melange of anti-intellectualism, promiscuous God-talk and sentimental evocations of middle America in all its humble averageness. Richard Nixon was the first Republican president to understand the power of this combination and every victorious Republican since his administration has also cast himself in a populist light. Bush is merely the latest and one of the most accomplished in a long line of pro-business politicians expressing themselves in the language of the downtrodden.

Against these maddeningly sissified tastes, backlash populism posits a true-blue heartland where real Americans eat red meat in big slabs, know all about farming, drink Budweiser, work hard with their hands and drive domestic cars. (In November 2000, the Democrats lost in the heartland but won in cosmopolitan California, New York and Massachusetts.) Why the focus on consumer goods? It switches the political polarity of class resentment: the items identified with the elite are also identified with people who have advanced degrees, a reliably liberal constituency. Liberals become the snobs, and Republicans become the plain people in their majestic millions. That right-wing oil millionaires in Houston or Wichita might also vacation in Europe, drink fancy coffee and drive Jaguars is simply not considered, as if contrary to nature.

The all-Americans despise the affected elites with their highfalutin ways, and that's why they vote for plainspoken men like George Bush, or his dad, or Ronald Reagan, or Richard Nixon, that ultimate victim of East Coast disdain. Each of whom, once elected, did his level best to shower the nation's elite with policy gifts of every description.
Yep, and folks lap it up. Martha Stewart becomes one of the oppressed. Bill O'Reilly pulls down sixty million a year and claims he's a regular guy (maybe he gets enough fiber in his diet). People are always picking on the humble, honest ah-shucks college dropouts who made their hundreds of million by pure hard work, like Ken Lay or Bernie Evers. Common folk. Well, if people want to think of themselves as just like these folks, that's democracy for you.

Frank does point out how there really is some reason for folks to buy this line of crap:
Certain kinds of leftists really do vacation in Europe and drive Volvos and drink lattes. (Hell, almost everyone drinks lattes now.) And there is a small but very vocal part of the Left that has nothing but contempt for the working class Should you ever attend a meeting of a local animal-rights organization, or wander through the campus of an elite university, you will notice that certain kinds of Left politics are indeed activities reserved for members of the educated upper-middle-class, for people who regard politics more as a personal therapeutic exercise than an effort to build a movement. For them, the Left is a form of mildly soothing spirituality, a way of getting in touch with the deep authenticity of the downtrodden and of showing you care. Buttons and stickers desperately announce the liberal's goodness to the world, as do his or her choice in consumer products. Leftist magazines treat protesting as a glamour activity, running photos of last month's demo the way society magazines print pictures from the charity ball. There is even a brand of cologne called Activist.

Then there is that species of leftist who believes that being on the Left is an inherited honor, a nobility of the blood. There is little point in trying to convert others to the cause, they will tell you, especially in benighted places like the deep midwest: you're either born to it or you aren't. This species of leftist will boast about the historical deeds of red-diaper babies or the excellent radical pedigree of so-and-so, son of such-and-such, utterly deaf to the repugnant similarities between what they are celebrating and simple aristocracy.
Hey? Anyone out there feeling guilty? No? Really?

Anyway, as I mentioned, Frank does get around to the war and that French fellow, De Villepin. He takes us back to the UN in the fun up to the war.
Here he was, a well-dressed and accomplished man, soundly refuting the arguments of the Americans, speaking several different languages, even receiving open applause from the UN representatives of much of the world as he berated the U.S. Secretary of State, who stoically endured the abuse of his social superior, for this obvious error or that.

What the brilliant De Villepin missed utterly was that American conservatives don't care when their arguments are refuted. The United States is the land of militant symbolism, the nation of images, and in the battle of imagery Bush played De Villepin for a sucker. For Bush the task at hand was obviously not winning over the UN, but rallying domestic support for the war, and in doing so Bush couldn't have asked for a more convincing populist drama. Saddam Hussein was a monster right out of central casting, and for opposing him the poor unassuming Americans were being castigated by this foppish, over-educated, hair-splitting, tendentious writer of poetry (De Villepin's dabbling in verse was much reported in the American media). And a Frenchman to boot! The French are always characterized in American popular culture as a nation of snobs: they drink wine, they eat cheese, they're polite. This man was the hated liberal elite in the flesh: all that was missing was the revelation that he wore perfume or carried a handbag.

In his erudite, principled opposition, De Villepin thus sold the war to Americans far more effectively than did Bush himself. Indeed, had the foreign secretary of any other nation led the fight against the United States, the war might not have happened. If Bush is really smart, he'll engineer a repeat confrontation with De Villepin just before the elections.
Now that IS an idea.

Frank's advice to those who would like Bush replaced? He says that until the American left decides "to take a long, unprejudiced look at deepest America, at the kind of people who think voting for George Bush constitutes a blow against the elite, they are fated to continue their slide to oblivion."

He thinks the left ought to try to understand how things really stand. Bush and Kerry both went to Yale, they both have long pedigrees in wealth and influence, and neither is exactly living on the economic edge. But Bush is a man of the people, and Kerry is not.

Now Jack Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and FDR were, somehow or other, "men of the people" in our popular mythology, in spite of their family histories. One might consider how they pulled that off.

Bush become "a man of the people" just by appearing to be dumb, stubborn, more than bit mean and sneeringly anti-intellectual - and quite proud of each of those traits. Jack Kennedy appeared to be the opposite. Have the times changed? This is a puzzle. Kerry had better find the answer to it.


Oh, and by the way, this Frank essay first appeared in the February 2004 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique. I love irony.

Posted by Alan at 21:44 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

So, let's talk about George Soros. And how anti-Semitism goes mainstream with the approval of National Public Radio

Update: My friend in New York, the high-powered Wall Street Attorney, tells me that he read the Soros article below and my reaction. He says I'm overreacting, that this fellow in Slate only mentions in passing that Soros is Jewish, and what I think is implicit isn't. As he was on his cell phone speeding on his way to Temple for a board meeting, I'll grant him that goys shouldn't have the definitive word in such matters.


Sebastian Mallaby is a member of the Washington Post editorial page staff. And in September he has a book coming out - The World's Banker - which seems to be about the World Bank under James Wolfensohn. I don't suspect that will be a best seller. But one never knows.

In any event, today in Slate he has a few this to say about George Soros. I've sort of stopped reading Slate in spite of their new collaborative efforts with National Public Radio - they co-produce a mid-day news and commentary show called "Day to Day" - broadcast from out here in the new NPR Culver City studios down the hill from me. But I'm wondering what Slate is up to. They used to be middle-left liberal, but now, led by their key columnist Mickey Kaus, they are doing everything they can to ridicule and destroy John Kerry's campaign. Column after column is merciless. I'm not sure they're pro-Bush, kill-the-faggots, Mel-Gibson-is-God full right yet. But they're working on it.

Anyway, today's target is Soros.

See George Soros: Is the billionaire speculator the Democrats' most powerful weapon?
Sebastian Mallaby, SLATE.COM, Posted Wednesday, March 10, 2004, at 2:17 PM PT

A reminder of who this Soros fellow is....

Soros in the spring of last year sort of committed three million dollars over three years to an anti-Bush policy shop headed by ex-Clintonite John Podesta. He followed up with a ten million grant to launch America Coming Together, a get-out-the-vote effort to help the Democratic presidential campaign. Next he promised two and a half million to, for their anti-Bush spot television commercials in swing states. Those stared today.

He's an international financier. He deals in markets and speculation, particularly currency markets. His Quantum Fund averaged thirty-one percent returns for more than a decade and left him with a personal fortune of around seven billion dollars, give or take and odd ten million here or there. He pretty much destroyed the British Pound a bit back - earned a cool billion by betting against the British currency in the early nineties.

And he's a bit of a philanthropist. He coughed up almost five billion to get some sort of democracies going in ex-Communist Europe - stuff like helping with the reconstruction in Bosnia, and something to do with to exit polls in Georgia. Russia? He paid stipends to "tens of thousands" of scientists whose state jobs collapsed along with the Soviet order, and he tossed in some money to fight AIDS, he sponsored the new independent media outlets that irritate Putin, and he commissioned new history textbooks. That sort of thing.

And Soros is not happy with George Bush. Soros is a naturalized American citizen. Mallaby points out that Soros likes to talk about his early life as a Hungarian Jew living under Nazi and then Soviet rule. Soros likes to quote Bush's view: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Soros has a reaction. "This is not the America I chose as my home."

Maybe he should leave before Arnold Shwarzenegger become president, if Orin Hatch, the Republican senator from Utah, get his constitutional amendment allowing power-mad Austrian-born bodybuilders to run for that office.

Anyway, Mallaby zeros in on Soros as, implicitly, one more Shylock. You know, the plotting Jew from "The Merchant of Venice" -
Way, way back, when Howard Dean had neither risen nor fallen, George Soros began to plot the sort of speculative bet that has made him a hero and a villain. Contemplating a popular president preparing an invasion of Iraq, Soros was shocked but unwilling to be awed: He believed that this show of American supremacy was a bubble waiting to be pricked and that the president's popularity could be made to pop with it.

And so he did what only billionaires with attitude can do. He prepared to back his hunch with millions of dollars in speculative wagers, the sort that triggered the collapse of the British pound in 1992 and made Soros a demon to Asian leaders during that region's financial crisis.
Get the drift? The whiff of a sneaky Jewish plot?

And how evil is this plot. Mallaby lets you know how these guys "really" work:
Currency speculation works by spotting fragile equilibriums. In Round 1, a government has pegged its currency at a level that everyone considers normal. In Round 2, a speculator notices that economic fundamentals won't support that level for all time and starts betting against it. In Round 3, lesser mortals realize that the speculator is right, and the ensuing stampede fulfils his prophecy. Something like this happened when Soros famously earned $1 billion by betting against the British currency 12 years ago. And something like this may be happening now, with Soros' bets against the Bush administration.

Each Soros bet was designed to shake other market participants awake--to set off the sort of stampede that makes a speculator's insight self-fulfilling.
How dastardly!

Well, you can click on the link and read all the details. Mallaby seems to find this all quite unseemly.

His conclusion?
Of course it's too early to say whether Soros' speculation will pay off; I'd bet on a Bush victory. But it's not too soon to note what's happened over the past year--a year in which Soros has been the Democrats' most generous financier. Starting in the shadow of the 2002 midterm elections, which seemed to show that Bush was invincible on foreign policy issues, Soros' money helped to energize Democrats, turning their resigned deference to Bush's positions into a feisty defiance. To be sure, others contributed to this transformation, most notably Howard Dean (for whom Soros raised money). But the secret of speculation is to start bandwagons that attract others as well, because the fundamentals make joining seem logical.
Mallaby of course has comments on Soros' books.

Mallaby discusses The Bubble of American Supremacy - and that is Soros' eighth and latest book. Mallaby summarizes that the book argues that Bush's foreign policy, far from being unassailable, is actually untenable; it confuses overwhelming military superiority with omnipotence.
Like other Democrats before him, Soros points out that you can't remold the world with tanks alone. Harvard's Joseph Nye, for example, has compared American power to a three-level chessboard. On the military level America has no rival; on the economic level it depends on partners to finance its twin deficits and buy its exports; and on the third level--the level of transnational threats like terrorism and AIDS and drugs--America can do little by itself. In this sense, American supremacy is illusory.

This, however, is not all Soros argues. His mind has a way of stretching a bit greedily for rich philosophical structures. [How Jewish of him!] One of his earlier books expounded on something called "reflexivity," essentially the idea that reality and the perception of reality affect one another, prompting the Economist to write that "Mr Soros gorged on chopped philosophy, mashed economics and facts and figures swimming in grease. It was too much. Before he knew what was happening, out rushed this book."

Soros' latest volume presents another digestive challenge. The concept of reflexivity is hauled out again, along with "the human uncertainty principle" and "the postulate of radical fallibility," and all point to the verdict that Bush is wrong on domestic issues too.
So, well, maybe he is wrong.

But Mallaby still defends Bush.
The idealism that animates Soros' philanthropy - the idealism that makes him a hero across Eastern Europe -is not unlike the idealism of George Bush, who wants to defeat terrorists who are indeed evil and to make Iraq into a democracy. Bush's idealism redeems his foreign policy, at least to some degree. Which is one reason why voters may not condemn him in November - and why the idealistic speculator who has hounded him this past year may ultimately be confounded.
Well, well. There you have it.

Bush's Christian idealism redeems his foreign policy and justifies the war and all the dead, and the sneaky Jew speculator and usurer funds the Democrats.

Yep, this Slate magazine is changing sides.

Posted by Alan at 18:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 11 March 2004 10:40 PST home

Tuesday, 9 March 2004

Topic: World View

Notes from France

Last week I commented on advertisers spraying rosemary scents in the Paris metros to encourage these urbanites to vacation in Arles or Aix or wherever. See the World View item from Wednesday, 3 March 2004 here.

Today we get this:

Anti-Advertising Group Takes Campaign to Paris Metro
Tuesday, March 09, 2004, Rebecca Harrison

The basics are this:
PARIS (Reuters) - With her eyes blackened and her mouth defaced, the leggy blonde pictured eating yogurt on the advertising poster was not looking so hot by the time Robert Johnson had finished with her.

"Advertising makes you aggressive," scrawled 30-year-old Johnson across the poster in Paris's Republique metro station before glancing furtively over his shoulder, tucking his black marker into his pocket and jumping back on the train.

Johnson is not just a bored young delinquent. He and hundreds like him -- they all use the same pseudonym -- are at war with what they call the "tyranny of advertising" and they use paintbrushes, markers and spray cans as their weapons.

The Paris underground system is their main target.

Activists have defaced thousands of the poster ads that line its walls, angering authorities and provoking a one million euro ($1.22 million) lawsuit, in what they say is an unprecedented campaign against the invasion of public space by big business.

Inspired by the Canadian-born author Naomi Klein's "No Logo" -- the anti-globalization bible that adorns the bookshelves of generation X-ers from Seattle to Stockholm -- the metro warriors say they are tired of being force-fed advertising.

"We are not terrorists, we are not vandals, but there is no legal way of fighting back," said 34-year-old Alexandre Baret, one of 62 activists being sued for damages.

"I feel like I've been taken hostage by advertising, and this is the only way I can make my voice heard."
The whole item is long, with lots of detail.

The questions raised are discussed, and Metrobus, a unit of advertising major Publicis that manages the advertising space on Paris's public transport, and metro operator RATP, are determined to smash the movement and are suing the activists for one million euros in damages. The case goes to court March 10th.

Publicis claims that the advertising is in the public interest because it provides state-owned RATP with 65 million euros a year -- enough for 20 new metro carriages or 300 buses.

And about 270 people were arrested. Of those, 62 were charged.

Reuters also reports that philosopher and teacher Vincent Cespedes, who has written several books about the impact of advertising on young people, said an average Parisian is exposed to 2,500 ads a day, and that this feeds greed, alienation and depression.

He says that in France, unlike in other European countries such as Britain, there is no strict code for advertisers, only a watchdog that rarely intervenes.

In France, one quickly discovers, sex is used to sell almost anything from holidays to handbags, prompting campaigns by feminist groups that write graffiti over them there naked boobs and butts one sees on metro walls and street-side billboards all over the place. No wonder they didn't get the American outrage at Janet Jackson.

"Advertising, particularly in France, totally warps the image young people have of women," said Cespedes. "One of my pupils said the other day he reckoned white women were all whores because they'd sleep with you for a yogurt."

Obviously, I need to stock up on yogurt.


Over at the Washington Post I see this:

Le Pen Sees His Cause Catching On: French Far-Right Leader's Party Predicted to Fare Well in Regional Ballots
Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post Foreign Service, Monday, March 8, 2004; Page A12
PARIS -- Two years after he shocked the French political establishment with a second-place finish in the country's presidential election, the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is once again hoping to embarrass the elite and confound the pundits with a stronger-than-expected showing by his National Front party in regional elections later this month.

"The National Front is going to reach 20 percent nationally," a beaming Le Pen predicted, in the sitting room of his palatial home in the suburban hills of Saint-Cloud, west of Paris.

"Everybody is opposed to the National Front," he said. "Everybody is hostile. But despite that, we continue to grow."

Le Pen seems to be making the most of the two issues he sees as vote-winners: corruption among the ruling elite and immigration. He sees the latter as responsible for a host of ills, from rising crime to social tensions highlighted by last week's passage of a law banning Muslim girls' veils from public classrooms.

Le Pen, in the interview, said he opposed the law -- which bans all "ostensible" religious symbols -- because it fails to address what he calls the core problem. "It's not a problem of the veil," he said. "It's a problem of immigration."

"Immigration is out of control," Le Pen said. "We aren't managing the problem."

Well, he's seventy-five. And this former paratrooper says he regularly meets with Frenchmen of North African descent who tell him, "It's crazy to let in everybody."

Yep. We've got Pat Robertson and Lou Dobbs. They get Jean-Marie


Then I hop on the net to watch the French news on TF1 - as they stream the 13h00 and 20h00 broadcasts for me. And? "Quelque 900 personnes repr?sentant plus de 2.000 responsables de laboratoires ont sign? leur lettre de d?mission, ? l'issue d'une assembl?e g?n?rale ? l'H?tel de Ville de Paris ..."

Well, if you don't like watching the French television news in streaming video in French, here's the scoop -

See Thousands of French Scientists Revolt
Tuesday, March 09, 2004, Elaine Ganley, Associated Press Writer

Our friend Ric at MetropoleParis says there's always a demonstration of some kind.

This is today's:
PARIS - More than 2,000 French scientists resigned their administrative duties Tuesday to protest funding cuts they say hobble French research and risk pushing the brightest minds to countries where science is a prestige industry.

In solidarity, some 5,000 researchers wearing white lab coats marched through Paris after the scientists voted to resign, while thousands of others held protests in other French cities.

The unprecedented action culminated several months of protests by state-funded researchers over budget cuts, the freezing of funds and a recent decision by the conservative government to eliminate 550 full-time research posts.

"I think the government underestimated our discontent," said Thierry Letellier, of the recently formed group "Let's Save Research."
Demonstrators in white lab coats? Cool. Not much like May of 1968, is it?

Well, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Friday that the government was prepared to make available up to three percent of the gross domestic product for research by 2010. He pointed out that is at least $3.7 billion extra between now and the end of the current legislature's term in 2007. Didn't stop the protests. But he also said, "We won't do petty bargaining," in an interview published Tuesday in Lib?ration.


Four of France's leading scientists, including two Nobel prize winners, said in a document sent to Le Monde that the entire French research system, with underpaid and under-appreciated employees, needs a "profound revision."

And one Bertrand Monthubert, a researcher in mathematics with CNRS in Toulouse, said budget cuts have forced his unit to cancel some conferences, reviews and visits by colleagues from abroad. And he claimed young researchers change fields or go abroad -- adding that he knows "lots" of young researchers who have moved to other European countries or the United States.

Horrors! We don't want them! We hate the French because they didn't like our war.

Who cares? According to a poll published Tuesday in the daily La Croix, eighty-two percent of the French support the researchers' revolt.



Finally this:

Gloves come off in a very French row over defence of the language
Jon Henley in Paris, The Guardian (UK), Saturday March 6, 2004

Now here's one I like, but I used to teach literature and linguistics.
It is the kind of row the French adore, the kind of row, indeed, that could probably only happen in France: two distinguished defenders of the language of Moli?re slugging it out in the national press over the best way to stem its slow and seemingly inexorable decline.

In the red corner, Bernard Pivot, who for many years hosted France's main literary TV chat show and still presents its hugely popular annual dictation contest, Les Dicos d'Or; in the blue, Maurice Druon, venomous, arch-conservative octogenarian and former secretary general of the illustrious Acad?mie Fran?aise.

"His great misfortune," wrote Mr Pivot of Mr Druon in Le Figaro this week, "is that he would like the French language to be in his image: starched, outdated, reactionary, egotistical, haughty, sinister...Under his pen, French is like a Louis XIV chandelier. How could today's youth want illumination from such an antiquity?"

But Mr Pivot, fulminated Mr Druon, was merely "an organiser of literary circuses, a presumptuous showman, a parader of dancing bears" who had promoted himself "the nation's chief primary school teacher" and committed the unpardonable sin of "stuffing his most recent dictation with slang".
Wow! Good stuff!

Well, you can read everywhere about how English, the language, is really dominating the world. Will French survive?

Henley points out that 1986, according to EU figures, 58% of European commission documents were originally published in French, compared with just 30% last year. As for European council documents, only 28% were written in French last year, against 59% in English - whereas the two languages were level as recently as 1997, at about 42% each. The new mainly eastern European entrants joining this year, most of whose diplomats prefer English, will inevitably entail a further drastic reduction in the use French.

Note this:
"What's at stake is the survival of our culture. It's a matter of life or death," Jacques Viot of the Alliance Fran?aise, which promotes French abroad, warned recently. For H?l?ne Carr?re d'Encausse, Mr Druon's boss at the Acad?mie, "the defence of our language must be the major national cause of the new century".

For Mr Druon, a leading figure in the conservative camp, rigour and discipline are the answer. Blaming teachers, television, advertisers, the government, America and Mr Pivot for the decline, he wrote in a full-page article in Le Figaro last week that "a huge effort by the entire French nation" was required.

Politicians must make the protection of the language a plank of their electoral campaigns, Mr Druon wrote. Local and regional defence committees must be formed. Lax teaching methods must be overhauled, incompetent newspaper subeditors sacked, a television language watchdog formed, Anglicisms mercilessly rooted out and destroyed.

"The French no longer respect their language," said Mr Druon, "because they are no longer proud of themselves or of their country. They no longer love themselves, and, no longer loving themselves, they no longer love what was the instrument of their glory - their language."
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Yeah, and on the other side you have Pivot saying, "a language must continually evolve, open itself up, enrich itself." That's the way it is. His idea? Don't worry Anglicisms, neologisms and slang. Go with the flow and "encourage newcomers, welcome daring inventions."

Otherwise? Rejecting and despising them will only mean that French comes to resemble this Druon fellow - "immobile, muffled, mothballed and sclerotic."


I love a good fight. I think I need to go back and read Samuel Johnson on why English doesn't need any "academy" to keep things pure.

Posted by Alan at 18:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Law

International Women's Day, HIPPA, and guns...

Yesterday was International Women's Day -- marked by women's groups around the world. It was, of course, commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday. Not here.

Patt Morrison writing in the Los Angeles Times gives us a hint why.

See Ashcroft Gunning for Peek at Private Medical Records
Patt Morrison, The Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2004

Morrison simply notes a difference in how we handle gun laws, where the buyer's privacy is of critical importance, and how we handle one of the other big moral issues. Here's her opening.
Wrap your mind around this one.

It's the law now: If you buy a gun on, say, Monday morning, then by the time you've had breakfast on Tuesday, the record of that sale will be in the shredder -- gone.

Don't thank me -- thank John Ashcroft, your attorney general.

The man is an absolute guard dog when it comes to sticking up for the privacy of gun owners. He wouldn't even let his FBI agents use the agency's own database to find out whether any of the 1,200 people it detained after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had bought any guns lately. They might be arrested, they might be jailed until the crack of doom without seeing a lawyer or a loved one -- but we'll never know whether they bought a gun.

Now Ashcroft, the man who won't let the sun go down on gun-buying records, has sent out process servers to go knocking on the doors of six of the nation's Planned Parenthood offices -- one of them in Los Angeles and another in San Diego -- with subpoenas demanding those most private of records: medical data on thousands of patients, because he's being sued over a new law making so-called partial birth abortion a federal crime.
Yeah, well, as someone who has been involved in hospital systems work, I can tell you we were told we had to take HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) really seriously. The patient owns the records. No one can be given the possibility of accessing them without the patient's permission, ever.

I guess that excludes the government.

Morrison does point out that women go to Planned Parenthood clinics for lots of reasons: for birth control, for prenatal checkups, for treating sexually transmitted diseases -- which she claims is ninety percent of the visits -- and for abortions.

And when Morrison went to Planned Parenthood's offices Monday, International Women's Day, she found that these subpoenas not only demand records of late-term abortions -- which Planned Parenthood doesn't perform anyway -- but "the language is so vague and broad that it could sweep up files on virtually any abortion of a pregnancy of more than fourteen weeks"

Of course the Justice Department says they will black out any patient identifiers. But Morrison points out that what's not blacked out would be the doctors' names.

I suppose that makes them better targets for the anti-abortion guys with rifles attempting to bring justice to the world. Mass murder must be stopped? Yeah, some of them have that idea, and some doctors are dead. The usual defense is that the shooter was making a necessary intervention to stop a capital crime, or multiple capital crimes. And to be fair, not court has let any of the shooters off based on that logic.

But Ashcroft's inquiry is having the effect on suspects he really intended - it is scaring women away from clinics. Morrison reports that at Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, patients have already called asking, "Should I use a false name?" In San Diego, patients have wondered whether they should take their records home.

It goes like this:
Diane Delille is San Diego's director of clinic training, and she took one call herself. The woman was scheduling an abortion and said, "I'm hearing things on the news [about confidentiality]; I'm reading things in the paper. I'm really terrified about coming to Planned Parenthood."

None of the Planned Parenthood offices even considered handing over any records. Last week, a San Francisco federal judge backed them up, saying flatly that the subpoenas violate patients' privacy, full stop.

The way San Diego's Planned Parenthood director Mark Salo sees it, "There's a variety of opinion about abortion, but not a variety of opinion about whether medical records should be private. This should be alarming to Americans who take the right to privacy seriously, whatever their views on abortion."
Well, buyers of guns get privacy. Women? That's different.

Morrison does refer to White House press release dated April 14, 2001. In it George Bush says that HIPAA protects "the right of every American to have confidence that his or her personal medical records will remain private.... Improving our healthcare system while protecting the confidentiality of patient records will continue to be an important goal of my administration."

Yeah, and in defense of the subpoenas for the records of any woman who has had an abortion at these clinics Ashcroft's Justice Department argued - that "federal common law does not recognize a physician-patient privilege," and, in another matter, "individuals no longer possess a reasonable expectation that their histories will remain completely confidential."

Well, the Ninth Circuit Court out here didn't agree with the administration. No wonder Bush and Ashcroft hate the courts so very much.

But here's a thought...

If the Justice Department thought this all along, what were my systems analysts doing working on firewalls and data scrubbing algorithms and data transfer protocols? Someone should have told us no one had a reasonable expectation, any longer, that personal medical records could be kept private, really. We all could have gone out and had a beer.

Posted by Alan at 16:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 March 2004 16:09 PST home

Monday, 8 March 2004

Topic: Science

DEEP THOUGHTS: God in the Spreadsheet

Kevin Drum over at led me to this.

Odds on that God exists, says scientist
Stewart Maclean, Catherine Bolsover and Polly Curtis, The Guardian (UK), Monday March 8, 2004

Yeah, on this site I linked to a lot of things and made fun of Mel Gibson's movie quite a bit. But now it seems the odds are I will roast in hell for it. Mel gets to heaven, probably, and I don't. Why?
A scientist has calculated that there is a 67% chance that God exists.

Dr Stephen Unwin has used a 200-year-old formula to calculate the probability of the existence of an omnipotent being. Bayes' Theory is usually used to work out the likelihood of events, such as nuclear power failure, by balancing the various factors that could affect a situation.

The Manchester University graduate, who now works as a risk assessor in Ohio, said the theory starts from the assumption that God has a 50/50 chance of existing, and then factors in the evidence both for and against the notion of a higher being.
Ohio? Really?

And what does this Brit in Ohio use to work out his assessment?
Factors that were considered included recognition of goodness, which Dr Unwin said makes the existence of God more likely, countered by things like the existence of natural evil - including earthquakes and cancer.
Wait a minute, Steve! "Goodness" makes the existence of God more likely?

Let's think about that. Remember the Crusades? Remember the Inquisition? Remember the Thirty Years War? Yeah, well, looking at it the other way, smiting the godless, torturing people and mass slaughters may be a form of goodness to some. I suppose that depends on your perspective. Making sure "bad folks" die in excrutiating pain has, as a very good thing, many adherents.

Goodness is, though, a slippery term. Ask Martha "It's a good thing" Stewart. Hell, some people (like me) think anchovies are "good."

I remember when first encountering Dickens or Shakespeare my English students would whine, "But that's boring." And I would then patiently explain that they were bored, which wasn't at all the same thing as Macbeth or Great Expectations being intrinsically and inherently boring, or not. No written work was boring as such. There was no such inherent quality. But there was one's reaction - "This bores me" - that is quite valid. Of course.

I suspect this Unwin fellow is confusing reaction to something with its inherent qualities. Perhaps he should read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" where Robert Pirsig chats about such things, bringing in the Pheadrus dialogs of Plato.

That seems unlikely. This fellow would have us use Excel spreadsheets.
The unusual workings - which even take into account the existence of miracles - are set out in his new book, which includes a spreadsheet of the data used so that anyone can make the calculation themselves should they doubt its validity. The book, The Probability of God: A simple calculation that proves the ultimate truth, will be published later this month.
Why am I reminded of Douglas Adams and the question at the core of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where, of course, the answer the meaning of everything turns out to be... forty-two?

Unwin says he's interested in bridging the gap between science and religion. And he argues that rather than being a theological issue, the question of God's existence is simply a matter of statistics.
"On arriving in America I was exposed to certain religious outlooks that were somewhat of an assault upon my sensibilities - outlooks in which religion actually competes with science as an explanation of the world," he said.

"While I could not be sure, having slept through most of the cathedral services I had attended during secondary school, this did not seem like the version of faith I had remembered. In many ways, this project was for me a journey home - a reconciliation of my faith and education."
Yeah, well, Unwin, we all have our issues.

So the probability that God exists is sixty-six percent, and Unwin maintains that he is personally around ninety-five percent certain that God exists. Good for him.

Two in three chances God is out there. For this guy a nineteen in twenty chance.

Fine. Suppose we grant this, even without downloading the spreadsheet Unwin has devised.

Does this not then beg the question, if there is a God, probably, what is God doing these days? What is this business with war and death and all the rest? God's messing with us? He, or she, or it has an odd sense of humor or Mel Gibson understands fully? Perhaps so.

Posted by Alan at 16:01 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Newer | Latest | Older