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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"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"

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Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Topic: Photos

Last Word of August from Paris: Unauthorized Water!

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, says New Orleans and the hurricane is big news there too, and that he has received what he assumes to be the first letter of many, an angry American asking "why the French aren't rushing to help folks in Louisiana like America rushes in to help folks in.…"

Well, they sold us Louisiana and may fear we'll want our money back? Defective goods? Or they severely disapprove of what passes for French from Houma to New Orleans, that Cajun stuff even worse than the French spoken in Quebec? They are so picky about their language. And I drove those long flat miles from Houma to New Orleans a few years back one Sunday morning, listening to the Zydeco music on the radio, and to whatever language that was they were speaking. It wasn't French, even if it started out as French.

Of course the French also might remember that when Parisians were dying from a record-breaking heat wave one summer not too long ago, we were making fun of them with items like this editorial in the Washington Post from Thursday, August 14, 2003 -
To listen to the fuss Europeans are making about their weather, anyone would think that it was actually hot over there. In Paris, shops have experienced a run on electric fans. In Sweden, a male bus driver showed up for work in a skirt after his company informed him that he was not allowed to wear shorts. In Amsterdam, zookeepers are giving iced fruit to their chimpanzees to cool them off.

Okay, so maybe it's a bit warmer than usual. Temperatures across the continent have shot up into the 90s and once or twice have topped 100 degrees in London and Paris. But is this really hot - hot enough to close businesses, hot enough to cancel trains (the tracks might buckle), hot enough to wax nostalgic for the summer rain to which some Europeans, notably residents of the British Isles, are more accustomed?

Last time we checked, the weather here in Washington was in the upper 80s, which is average to low for this time of year. Temperatures in Houston and Dallas in the past couple of days have topped 100, as they usually do in summer. Yet somehow, no one's talking about extraordinary measures being taken by Texans or Washingtonians. On the contrary, President Bush, who qualifies as both, by some measures, is currently mocking the press corps by pretending to enjoy jogging in the Texas heat. Not all Europeans may want to go this far - but maybe they will now at least stop turning up their noses at those American summer inventions they've long loved to mock: The office window that doesn't open, the air conditioner that produces sub-arctic temperatures and the tall glass of water, served in a restaurant, filled to the brim with ice.
When the sick and elderly are dying, that was pretty nasty. But they are, after all, the French.

And now? As you see in the press, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sent messages of sympathy to President Bush. Ric says aid will follow. Will Bush refuse it because they thought our get-Saddam-before-he-kills-us-all war was a really stupid idea? Who knows?

But as August closes, note this from Ric:
When it's hot in town and there's no nearby beach - Paris-Plage closed too soon! - clever Parisians simply ignore signs (made of marble) saying they will get blown to smithereens by the 'cannons' and jump right in. Unauthorized water! Not suitable for swimming. Keep out. Foutez nous le paix! Bliss at 32 degrees - and more to come.

Ultra rare. September tomorrow.
The sign (made of marble) saying you will get blown to smithereens by the 'cannons' if you...

Civil Disobedience:

Posted by Alan at 17:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005 17:36 PDT home

Topic: World View

Our Man in Paris: Summer Ends
In the News in France

In another item in these pages - The President's Rentrée: When it rains, it pours… - you will find this comment:
Well, the president's vacation is so over. And it was so very French - five or six weeks off, bicycling with Lance through the fields of poppies. But as in France, it's time for the September rentrée - that time the French "reenter" the real world after their long summer vacations – as Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, puts it, "when the last French holiday-er is supposed to have returned and applied his or herself to the garlic grindstone."

As there, so here. The real world needs some attention.
Ric sends this along on the last day of August:
Paris, Wednesday, August 31 -

Was the president's vacation "so very French?" Bush has taken twenty-eight days - four whole weeks. This used to be normal for French holidays but they probably max at three weeks with two weeks being common these days. While the 35-hour week continues, many take the rest of their allotted time off in short breaks combined with national holidays and long weekends. It spreads the vacation around the calendar, and around the country.

But politicians were hacking away until late July or early August, and now they're back, showing off their suntanned faces. Champion tan goes to Dominique de Villepin, with Nicolas Sarkozy as runner-up. In France most political parties have conventions at the end of August. These are called 'Universite d'Ete,' but they are pure politics. In two weeks the Communists will have their big fête, called the 'Fête d'Humanité,' after the newspaper. Many on the left will take part in this party just outside Paris, for this is to be a hot rentrée. They are calling for the jumbo mother of demos - hoping to put a million on the streets to protest everything about the government.

There are people in France growing their own gasoline. Apparently it is not rocket science. The EU in Brussels has said it is okay to do this, but Paris' tax collectors say that French farmers who put plant gas in their cars are breaking the law. As others have pointed out the price of crude has reached a level where plant gas is cheaper to use. A professor said that sunflower power won't hurt modern motors. Meanwhile, José Bové's gang has been tearing down transgenetic corn again, and fighting with state goons trying to protect it. This is what some people do on their holidays - rip out corn and fight with the police.

Did I say meanwhile? In Paris crummy places where people are lodged while waiting to be assigned less-crummy places to live, are catching fire for mysterious reason. There was the hotel fire six months ago and now there have been two more, within a week. For the first of the two - with about 17 killed, mostly kids - the mayor could not speak. On camera, speechless. Then a few days later it happens again - another shabby temporary lodging breaks out in flames, more kids die. Sarkozy, of course, is on the spot. Says, 'all the crummy places gotta be counted.' Does not say the government is going to have a crash program, to house the 100,000 in Paris on waiting lists. The city has to do it, and is doing it with the means it has. Now the students are returning, all competing for lodgings. Sub-studio rents are hovering around 600 euros a month. A government plan to legalize living spaces the size of broom closets was rejected as inhumane.

All is not somber. On this last day of August the sky is nicely blue and the temperature is about 32 degrees, and there is a little breeze. Of course there's an ozone alert, but so what? It might be the last of the year.
As there, so here.



In English from AFP (l'Agence France-Presse):

Tuesday, August 30: Third Fatal Paris Fire Focuses Attention On Immigrants' Plight
Wednesday, August 31: Politicians Swap Accusations Over Paris Fire Disasters

And from Nicholas Long's Internet Press Review in English for Wednesday, August 31, over at RFI - Radio France Internationale:
The front page story in most of the French press is the aftermath of the fire that broke out in a Paris apartment on Monday night, killing seven people, all of African origin. This was the second fatal blaze in a Paris apartment building in four days; the last cost the lives of 27 people, also African, and fifteen others died in a fire in Paris five months ago.

We have a special report coming up in this programme in which Philip Turle talks to some survivors of the latest fire, and asks the question how soon all the unsafe buildings in Paris that need urgent work could be made safe. The papers throw some light on that question. According to LE FIGARO there are some 550 buildings in the capital that the city hall considers so badly degraded that it's set up a company to take them over and repair them by 2007. Half of these buildings are currently undergoing repairs and the building that caught fire on Monday was one of them. The town hall had decided to take it over last year, and had ordered a ban on people living there, and on the landlord collecting rent. The occupants were squatters and the landlord said he had not had access to the building since 1999; he had refused the city hall's offer of 330,000 euros to buy the building, claiming he had had other offers of up to a million euros. A court had ordered the evacuation of the building, but this order had not been carried out by the police.
And so on and so forth...

Trivia: RFI - Radio France Internationale - has its headquarters over in the 16th, on avenue du Président Kennedy, oddly enough.

Posted by Alan at 09:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005 09:30 PDT home

Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Topic: Bush

The President's Rentrée: When it rains, it pours…

This site, and the weekly parent site Just Above Sunset, seldom deal in breaking news. They have evolved from whatever they were when the weekly started in May of 2003, and the daily a month later, into places for commentary and analysis, with photography, and comment on music and books and sometimes science, not to mention weekly columns from "Our Man In Paris," and now "Or Man in London," and sporadically, "Our Man in Tel-Aviv" - not to mention the weekly columns from The World's Laziest Journalist and The Book Wrangler (both Bob Patterson), and photo-essays from Phillip Raines and fiction from our MD friend in the Boston area.

We don't do news, as such.

Thus there has not been much of anything on either site about this worst-of-all hurricane that slid across the bottom of Florida, grew strong in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, then slammed into the Gulf Coast, pretty much destroying Biloxi and leaving four-fifths New Orleans underwater, in some places twenty feet deep, and now under marshal law to stop the looting. What's to say? You can go elsewhere for the folks on the left spinning this as a told-you-so about global warming and the right saying baloney, or go to the business-minded folks fretting about what it means to have a quarter of our domestic oil supply offline and multiple refineries flooded and not operable (and what that means to the economy and interest rates and a possible recession and all that). You can find many commenting that a lot of the manpower that would help with recovery - and heavy equipment for the recovery - is now in Iraq. We sent the National Guard there, didn't we? There's also a lot out there on how FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been sort of disassembled since it was subsumed under the Department of Homeland Security and its funding cut left and right. Stopping terrorists was more important. Now?

All this may be important, but it seems ghoulish. And it seems, well, just a little wrong to hitch one's political views to all this misery and death. Let the others do it, if they must. But you could send some money to the Red Cross instead. People need help, not polemics.

"When it rains, it pours" actually refers to some odd things in the news on Tuesday, August 30 - political things.

New polling shows a clear majority now supports that woman in Texas, Cindy Sheehan - a clear majority supports protest in that they believe she deserves to ask Bush directly about "the noble cause for which her son died." In contrast, a clear majority disapproves of the way Bush is handling his presidency and objects to the way he's dealt with the war. It breaks down to fifty-three percent supporting Sheehan's efforts to question the war, while fifty-eight percent disapprove of George Bush's efforts to manage the war. All this is discussed in Bush v Sheehan - only one has majority support, which provides links to all the polling data.

Something is changing. The message has been, from the right side (in the political, not logical sense), that she represents a small minority of disturbed people who perhaps ought to be pitied for their personal loss, but certainly ought to be silenced before they give any more "aid and comfort to our enemies," as the statute on treason reads. But the details of the polling? Fifty-two percent of the public says Bush should talk to Sheehan while forty-six percent said he should not. So much for the "small minority." Of course, this is not saying these folks are arguing Bush should agree with her and do what she says, which seems to be to stop the war cold. It reads more like more that half the folks are saying he should just have the common decency to meet with her.

But common decency isn't the man's strong suit.

Of course, to a get a sense of his strong suit it probably would have been a good idea to hop in the car Tuesday and drive out to the San Bernardino area where the president was giving a major address on the sixtieth anniversary of V-J Day. (We actually won that one.)

But it was in the nineties here in Hollywood and out there well over one hundred, and the Just Above Sunset staff car was built in England (Oxford) from a German design and those folks just don't understand what kind of air-conditioning cars need out here. That ninety-minute drive seemed like a really bad idea - and the audiences are screened anyway. A fellow from Hollywood with his artsy, left-leaning web sites wouldn't get in the door.

What the heck, Fox News carried the whole thing, every word. Saw a bit of it. It was more of the same.

But maybe there is a bit of common decency in the fact the White House announced Tuesday afternoon that the president will cut short his vacation so that he can oversee the government's response to this worst-of-all hurricane and what it's done to the lower right quadrant of the country. As the Washington Post explains it, his advisors are "sensitive to the image of a president vacationing amid the hurricane crisis."

Yeah, that looks kind of bad. End the long vacation. Wrong image. The in-your-face now-watch-this-drive sneering isn't polling well. Folks really used to like that - a strong a decisive leader telling the rest of the world to go pound sand. That's now getting old.

But Tim Greive over at Salon has some other questions -
... isn't it also fair to ask, what about Iraq? By our count, 71 Americans have been killed in Iraq since Bush arrived in Crawford on Aug. 2. The president didn't return to Washington on Aug. 3, when 14 Marines were killed near Haditha. He didn't return on Aug. 9, when five National Guardsmen and a soldier were killed in separate incidents. He didn't return when Iraqi negotiators failed to meet a deadline, then failed to meet a deadline, then failed to meet a deadline, then failed to meet a deadline and then failed to reach agreement on a draft constitution.

Instead, the president stayed in Crawford, bicycling with Lance Armstrong and avoiding Cindy Sheehan while making the occasional side trip to Utah, to Idaho, to an RV park in Arizona and finally to an Air Force Base in California. That's where the president was this morning, commemorating the 60th anniversary of V-J Day and talking about the "sacrifice" - he used the word seven times - that Americans have always been willing to make in times of war.

And now the president will make his own sacrifice, albeit for Katrina, not Iraq. The president will squeeze in one more night at Crawford tonight, then he'll fly back to Washington Wednesday.

He'll have spent 28 full days away from the White House, two short of the 30 he had planned.
Well, maybe it's not just the hurricane. Something is changing. He may not know it. His aides seem to.

Even the acerbic and extremely conservative Jack Cafferty over at CNN got into this exchange with Wolf Blitzer on the mid-afternoon news show "Situation Room." -
Cafferty: Where's President Bush? Is he still on vacation?

Blitzer: He's cut short his vacation he's coming back to Washington tomorrow.

Cafferty: Oh, that would be a good idea. He was out in San Diego I think at a Naval air station giving a speech on Japan and the war in Iraq today. Based on his approval rating, based on the latest polls, my guess is getting back to work might not be a terrible idea.
Geez, when you've lost Jack Cafferty...

Well, getting back to work might not be a terrible idea with stuff like this popping up in the Washington Post -
The nation's poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population last year, the fourth consecutive annual increase, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The percentage of people without health insurance did not change... Charles Nelson, an assistant division chief at the Census Bureau, said the percentage of uninsured remained steady because of an "increase in government coverage, notably Medicaid and the state children's health insurance program, that offset a decline in employment-based coverage."

... The median household income, meanwhile, stood at $44,389, unchanged from 2003.
Let that sink in.

Question 1: what's the point of a strong economy if it produces higher poverty rates, declining private sector healthcare coverage, and stagnant incomes?

Question 2: Whenever there are any nuggets of good employment news, the explanation from various quarters is either (a) tax cuts or (b) welfare reform. Do these two things also get the credit when there's bad news?
Ah, when it rains it pours. One more thing for the administration to explain. Back to work. (Explanation to expect: Tax cuts for the wealthy WILL cause the economy to boom one day, and that will trickle down somehow if you damned peasants will just be patient and accept stagnant wages and higher prices and cuts to welfare and services - and besides, corporate profits are soaring, CEO's are earning more than ever, and THAT is economic health - so quit bellyaching!)

Other issues? Tuesday, August 30, down on Sunset, the price of gasoline for the staff car - 3.20 per gallon and rising fast. With the oil platforms off the Louisiana coast out for a bit and the refineries there underwater, that's just going to get higher - much higher.

That'll need some spin. And spinning that one will be hard work.

Here's an idea:

Why high oil prices are a force for good
Eberhard Rhein, The International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, August 31, 2005

That ends with this:
Politicians should be preparing citizens worldwide for a future in which energy prices will remain high, and policy makers should be ready to keep the oil price near the present level by raising the level of excise taxation when necessary. Unfortunately, most politicians are still too myopic or timid to deliver such a message. This needs to change.

The high oil price is a bonanza for advocates of the Kyoto Protocol, who will probably claim for the protocol what the market has achieved: the decline of carbon dioxide emissions.

If oil prices can be maintained at or above today's high levels, there is less urgency for the extension of the protocol beyond 2012. The market is doing the job - and it embraces all types of energy consumption, which the Kyoto Protocol does not. It becomes therefore almost immaterial whether or not China and the United States will one day join.
Yep, high oil prices may save the plant, but one cannot imagine the president spinning it just that way.

Well, the president's vacation is so over. And it was so very French - five or six weeks off, bicycling with Lance through the fields of poppies. But as in France, it's time for the September rentrée - that time the French "reenter" the real world after their long summer vacations - as Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, puts it, "when the last French holiday-er is supposed to have returned and applied his or herself to the garlic grindstone."

As there, so here. The real world needs some attention.

Posted by Alan at 19:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005 08:36 PDT home

Topic: Photos

A Photo-Note from Paris

From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis:
Tuesday, August 30, 2005, Paris:

Today Paris had weather worthy of a fine summer day in July, two days after the last French holidayer was supposed to have returned and applied his or herself to the garlic grindstone. As usual the usual hordes who never appear to work were holding their positions on the sunlit terraces, the pharmacy thermometre was signaling 31 degrees (a fine score in Anglograds) and the clochards were holding up the side wall of the Monoprix. Motto: "All the Fortified Beer You Can Take Out and Drink Right Outside the Door."
The Local Monoprix:

Cheesy Locals:

The 'Hood:

At the end of last weekend's The SUV Debate - Rearranging the Deckchairs in Just Above Sunset you would find this link noted: Friday, August 26, 2005 - For those who don't have their car confused with their dick, this is the car for you." It was a Citroën "Deux Chevaux."

Ric's comment:
I did look at the URL you sent for the 2CV. I wondered, what's special about this 2CV? Nothing I could see, but the comments of those who had never seen one were amusing. 'How fast does it go with only 2 horsepower?' Well, we both know it does not have automatic transmission. There is a hole in the front for a crank if you need starting help. Nothing special about the one in the photo I'm sending - except that it's an exclusive for Just Above Sunset. Tell Bob Patterson that Just Above Sunset does get exclusives. Like the new photos you'll be showing us soon.

Tomorrow - another brilliant summer day here.

From Ric:

Text, Photos and Cartoon, Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

These new Just Above Sunset photos Ric mentions? Last Friday Bob Patterson and I did a photo shoot up at the Getty Center, the big billion-dollar museum complex that opened a few years ago, high above Sunset. Richard Meier and Michael Palladino are the architects, and I despise Meier's work - and this is sort of Le Corbusier meets Frank Lloyd Wright meets Mies van der Rohe in a monumentally Stalinist monstrosity. I've been doing lots of research in architectural journals and editing the photos down to forty good ones for next Sunday's Just Above Sunset. Stay tuned.

Posted by Alan at 16:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005 16:44 PDT home

Monday, 29 August 2005

Topic: The Culture

Values: Assessing the Pre-Ridiculous

One of my friends, a doctor of some repute, an internist, has parents who retired to Las Vegas, Nevada. The place has always fascinated me, from my first trip there with a Chinese-Vietnamese woman I was dating, and her family, and her brother who was participating in the Women's Wear Daily trade show with his line of silk t-shirts. Ah, Vietnamese fish-ball soup in an obscure casino restaurant, chatting with the grandmother, in broken English, about Buddhism, while the slot-machines rattled away in the distance. Not to be missed. And the trade show was a trip.

Later, a software convention or two, drinking scotch in the jazz bar at Paris Las Vegas, chatting with the bartender from Minneapolis. The half-size Eiffel Tower - welded aluminum, not riveted cast iron - had one of its feet near the small stage, where the fifth-rate jazz combo was launching into "Fly Me to the Moon." Frank Sinatra has been dead for years.

All a mere five-hour drive from the world headquarters of Just Above Sunset

Note this:

Why the loaded go to Vegas to lose
Lionel Shriver, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday August 30, 2005

Part of a long and amusing item - a Brit visits Las Vegas -
Las Vegas is impervious to jokes, because it already is one. Vegas is mockery-proof. The strip is so over the top, so jubilantly, unashamedly fake (even the rocks are artificial), so ebulliently and confessedly crass, so contented with or even proud of its own trashiness that you can't make fun of the place. How can you deride a wooden Trojan horse two storeys high that doubles as an FAO Schwarz toy store? It is pre-ridiculous. This frustrates the likes of myself no end, because pejoratives like "tacky", "tasteless", and "garish" ping off a giant gold-painted sphinx like pennies off a curb. Because one cannot parody parody and I do not gamble, I had nothing to do.

So it was inevitable that on a second swing through I'd no longer be able to find Las Vegas a zany, kooky, harmless American one-off, but would disparage it as a ghastly monument to American vapidity. Folks in the richest country in the world do not know what to do with their money in their leisure time save try to scrounge more of it, and do not truly embrace their own supposed work ethic.

Indeed, given that many of my countrymen's concept of entertainment is heading for a line of casinos whose decor is so loud it makes your eyes hurt, whose patterned carpet and even air freshener has been carefully researched as encouraging you to lose your shirt, I am not convinced that most of the gamblers I spied on last week would have any idea on what to spend their winnings even if they improbably hit the jackpot.

All money is not created equal. It means something different depending on what you did to get it. Surely earning money - earning it - is an underrated joy. I find being paid for my labours ceaselessly gratifying, and the harder I've worked for any given cheque, the more sumptuous the texture of the paper. By contrast, how satisfying is dosh that you came by not because you were smart or talented or diligent, but lucky?

If this seems hopelessly humourless about a town that intends to be a laugh, the amount of cash involved is serious. The bar at Wynne's, the newest and most lavish casino on the block, boasts of a $75 martini, and you sense its designers grew frustrated at running out of nooks into which to cram polished Italian marble. My father-in-law tells me that when his car got dusty last week he came upon a woman playing a slot machine who was going through $400 a minute. That was $24,000 an hour, at a car wash.

I do admire the nerve and devil-may-care required to put thousands on the stumble of a roulette ball. I concede that if you're canny enough to follow a few simple rules in blackjack - always double aces and eights, always double-down on an 11, don't take a hit if you're holding 12 or more and the dealer is showing a five or six - you can walk away with a few bills left in your wallet. But a quick look round a casino and you start to wonder, who pays all these croupiers and cleaners, who ultimately finances the orchids in every room? Losers. More losers than winners by a yard, and that rational calculation, aside from sheer wimpiness, explains why I don't gamble.
Lionel Shriver understands America.

By the way, the Frenchwoman who lives a few blocks away, just below Sunset Plaza west of here, loves Las Vegas, and the faux Paris. She became an American citizen a few years ago. And every chance I get, I fly back to Paris to walk in the rain smoking my pipe.

Go figure.

Not Las Vegas, December 2001

Posted by Alan at 22:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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