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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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Saturday, 5 November 2005

Topic: Announcements

No Comment Today

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this daily web log, will be posted shortly. Putting it together took most of the day, so what happened in the world?

You will find much fresh material in the new issue of the weekly, including new columns from London, extended columns from Paris, and columns from Bob Patterson as usual - and pages and pages of snazzy photos like this one. Click on the link and check it out, sometime after midnight, Pacific Time.

Posted by Alan at 21:16 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 4 November 2005
Who's Minding the Store While the Boss is in Argentina?
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Our Richelieu: Who's Minding the Store While the Boss is in Argentina?

If you follow national politics - who is doing what with policies, actions, appointments and all that sort of thing that eventually, and sometime immediately, changes our lives in some rather dramatic ways - the week just past was a series of tussles over who controlled the "big story."

Last weekend it was terrible polling numbers for the administration, and calls for apologies and resignations (Karl Rove would do). Monday the counter was to nominate a well-qualified by controversial fellow to the Supreme Court, followed Tuesday by a proposal to spend more than seven billion dollars we don't actually have at the moment to protect us all from the avian flu that may be coming to kill us all but may not get here any time soon. That was countered Tuesday afternoon by the Democrats in the senate shutting down the place, demanding some action on a promise to look into who was messing with us all with all that talk of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, hyping forged documents and ignoring the actually facts at the time, to get us into a war that might not have been necessary. And then Wednesday we learned our government runs a series of secret prisons where some people just disappear without a trace, there no record of anything, and where we practice "enhanced interrogation" - and we seem to be using the old soviet prisons to make the story even more bizarre. Add that the Office of the Vice President is working hard to make sure we don't have to follow any of that Geneva Conventions stuff.

Thursday the new polling was worse than ever, and that Libby fellow, former Chief of Staff to the Vice President, was arraigned on assorted felonies.

How bad is the new polling?

Washington Post (with ABC): Sixty percent disapprove of the president's performance, and fifty-five percent think the administration deliberately mislead country over Iraq. CBS: Fifty-seven percent disapprove of the president's performance, thirty-five percent approve (lowest ever), and only thirty-two percent think the administration is telling what they knew about the WMD facts. AP-Ipsos: Fifty-nine percent disapprove of the president's performance.

Read all about it here, here and here - or don't.

You get the idea.

What's a guy to do with all this bad news?

Leave town, fly down to Argentina for a summit to chat with other leaders. Yeah, Fidel Castro will be there, and Hugo Chavez from Venezuela, but you can look like a world leader. Castro is old and Chavez is nutty. This will play great on Fox News. Don't think about Nixon in Caracas in 1960 and his car getting stoned. This will look presidential.

Well, that didn't work out, as in Bush faces Latin fury as popularity sinks at home (Independent, UK) - your typical "you cannot run away from your problems" story - and as in Far from home, Bush can't escape political headaches (USA Today) - five questions from the press, and only one on the summit - and as in Summit protests turn violent in Argentina (AP) - pretty serious riots in the streets.

Scanning the media one sees this anti-Americanism in our own hemisphere (our "backyard" as James Monroe and his doctrine would have it) is seen with some pride on the right ("ungrateful wretches"), and some dismay on left ("we've made everyone hate us"), and general depression in the middle ("this is a mess"). One can find comment all over. Go to Technorati or Memeoradum and stomp around. You'll see.

Okay, things are not going well. And it only gets worse.

Remember Lawrence Wilkerson, the fellow who, on Wednesday, October 19, addressed the New America Foundation and said there was a cabal that was running this country - Cheney, Rumsfeld and so on - and implied the president was just out of the loop and generally clueless? (This was discussed last weekend in these pages here.) Okay, he is the former Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, so he's grumpy. His "faction" in the first term lost out to the war-now plans-are-for-sissies idealists. He has an axe to grind. And he's grinding it, making it real sharp.

He's at it again. Thursday, November 3rd he was at it again. And Friday people were realizing just what it was he had said the day before - he said he had uncovered a "visible audit trail" tracing the practice of prisoner abuse by US soldiers directly back to Vice President Cheney's office - you know, actual documents.

He said this in an interview on NPR with Steve Inskeep (the audio is here) and since there is no transcript yet, this has been hard to quote. No one sits and tapes news shows on National Public Radio and then carefully transcribes what was said - but someone at the Washington Post seems to be paid to do that. And Dan Froomkin offers some of what was said in Another Thunderbolt from Wilkerson, posted just after noon, Eastern Time, on Friday, November 4 -
INSKEEP: While in the government, he says he was assigned to gather documents. He traced just how Americans came to be accused of abusing prisoners. In 2002, a presidential memo had ordered that detainees be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions that forbid torture. Wilkerson says the vice president's office pushed for a more expansive policy.

Mr. WILKERSON: What happened was that the secretary of Defense, under the cover of the vice president's office, began to create an environment -- and this started from the very beginning when David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, was a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions. Regardless of the president having put out this memo, they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to, in my view, what we've seen.

INSKEEP: We have to get more detail about that because the military will say, the Pentagon will say they've investigated this repeatedly and that all the investigations have found that the abuses were committed by a relatively small number of people at relatively low levels. What hard evidence takes those abuses up the chain of command and lands them in the vice president's office, which is where you're placing it?

Mr. WILKERSON: I'm privy to the paperwork, both classified and unclassified, that the secretary of State asked me to assemble on how this all got started, what the audit trail was, and when I began to assemble this paperwork, which I no longer have access to, it was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of Defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms - I'll give you that - that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We're not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here's some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war.

You just - if you're a military man, you know that you just don't do these sorts of things because once you give just the slightest bit of leeway, there are those in the armed forces who will take advantage of that. There are those in the leadership who will feel so pressured that they have to produce intelligence that it doesn't matter whether it's actionable or not as long as they can get the volume in. They have to do what they have to do to get it, and so you've just given in essence, though you may not know it, carte blanche for a lot of problems to occur.
Is this a big deal? The Secretary of Defense under cover of the Vice President's office, "regardless of the President having put out this memo," began to authorize procedures that were undoubtedly illegal and created a mess for us around the world, one it will take generations to clean up, if it can be cleaned up. These directives flat-out contradicted the 2002 order from the president for the military to abide by the Geneva Conventions against torture. Or so the man says.

Who is running the country?

So far only AFP (l'Agence France-Presse has run with the story (here). The Post item was in a general media round up, not a feature.

AFP adds this detail:
Wilkerson also called David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, "a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander-in-chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions."

On Monday, Cheney promoted Addington to his chief of staff to replace I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, who has been indicted over the unmasking of a CIA agent.

Wilkerson also told National Public Radio that Cheney's office ran an "alternate national security staff" that spied on and undermined the president's formal National Security Council.

He said National Security Council staff stopped sending emails when they found out Cheney's staffers were reading their messages.

He said he believed that Cheney's staff prevented Bush from seeing a National Security Council memo arguing strongly that the US needed far more troops for the March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Yes, the amusing parts are in bold.

It seems Uncle Dick has taken things into his own hands, sensing the president doesn't have the brains or the balls, or the experience, or even much interest in running the country.

Someone has to get things done.

Did he suggest the trip to Argentina to give the hopeless kid something to do, so the frat-boy could feel important, or pretend to be?

This is serious stuff. The word "coup" comes to mind. The former Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell first says the war was devised and executed by a select group bypassing this rather worthless president, and now he has documents that the same group promulgated an illegal torture policy contradicting what the president said should be done, then implemented that policy behind his back. And there's a paper trail?

Holy cow!

Many on the left aren't surprised. They never saw the president as the sharpest knife in the drawer. And they've said this sort of thing all the time - the fellow was never up to the job and something else is going on here.

But now a former State Department bigwig says this, not Michael Moore?

And Friday night, November 4, the PBS "News Hour" broadcast is quoting the guy? And there's a panel discussion? The Bush defender is saying this is no big deal - saying everyone was frustrated with the State Department and CIA and all they rest, so they set up their own equivalents, to just work around the overly cautious, negative-thinking dinosaurs that didn't think boldly about what the nation had to do, these dreadful pessimists who wanted details and worried about things that might go wrong. The fellow is not addressing whether they also had to work around the inattentive and slow-on-the-uptake president.

Well, Richelieu ran France well enough. So why not? As mentioned in these pages April 11, 2004, in Richelieu in the White House, Sidney Blumenthal was already seeing this clearly -
The story of the Middle East debacle, like that of the pre-9/11 terrorism fiasco, reveals the inner workings of Bush's White House: the president -aggressive and manipulated, ignorant of his own policies and their consequences, negligent; the secretary of state - proud, instinctively subordinate, constantly in retreat; the vice-president - as Richelieu, conniving, at the head of a neoconservative cabal, the power behind the throne; the national security adviser - seemingly open, even vulnerable, posing as the honest broker, but deceitful and derelict, an underhanded lightweight.
Ah, this then is not news, really. This is not the first time the word "cabal" has been used.

This is just when the perception moves from the world of left-side-loonies into the general conversation - not a tin-foil hat thing any longer, but something plausible, that may even have documentation.

It's not exactly "the great awakening" - but it will do.

Posted by Alan at 20:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005 20:07 PST home

All Quiet in Paris
Topic: Breaking News

Paris Follow-Up: All Quiet in Paris
Some additional thoughts from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, an account of the situation on the ground there, just after midnight, Saturday morning. This is a supplement to Riots Continue - Politicians Wrangle While Suburbs Burn.

All Quiet in Paris

PARIS, Saturday, November 5 -

I'm tired of 'fair and balanced.' It's 12:30 at night and I've just been out for a little tour, to the tabac and back. Now the roller rando is passing beneath my window.

It's gotten cooler but it's Friday night and there were four high-heeled honeys in jeans looking for a taxi to take them to the club, and groups of other couples after dinner looking for a café, plus the usual folks sleeping rough on the avenue under the brown lights. Three blocks from the big police station, I passed a big crowd outside the Zango, wreathed in clouds of pot fumes. If you stay in, you can forget that all sorts of people are out at night, all the time. In half a hour I saw no patrolling police, heard no sirens, saw no law at all, and no fires.

The loudest noise came from a party with all the windows open, above the horse butcher on Daguerre. The people out in the suburbs, the other thing they're complaining about, is all the police, fire and ambulance sirens, all night and every night. They think they are being blitzed.

I am not the only one who attributes the riots to Sarkozy's provocation. It was this that led to the kids getting electrocuted. They didn't want the hassle of showing their IDs to the police, knowing they'd probably get bounced around a bit. The police are unpredictable. They must have been scared though, to go over that wall with the barbed-wire on top. If they didn't see the danger signs they knew they were there.

What there was, after the first night of battles with the police in Clichy-sous-Bois, was nothing. The president was mum. The prime minister said nothing. Sarkozy was still muttering threats, but he's always got something to say.

Then the following night there's more riot. The Imams are trying to cool tempers, the 'big brothers' are out trying to channel the kids away from the cops, but they cops are there, dressed and equipped for street battles. With their shields, helmets, batons, tear-gas and flash-balls.

Meanwhile some politicians, mainly members of Sarkozy's own UMP, are wondering if he's flipped out. They should because on Sunday night he's on TV-news saying his 'zero tolerance' mantra-cum-slogan. The riot rages anew, beginning ever earlier.

Basically, here in Paris, it seemed like the government was somewhere else. Nobody said anything of any consequence. On Tuesday the prime minister's planned visit to Canada was still on.

Then he canceled it, and on Thursday Le Parisien's headline says, '10 Reasons for Hope.' There's a 'hip-hoptimiste,' the big brothers, the ghetto guys who've done good, plans for houses instead of the towers, return of businesses, and other dreams. The following page has the previous night's score including buses added to the 40 cars cooked up, and attacks on firemen.

From last night it's total situation of 'fed-up.' From Wednesday to Thursday 315 cars are fried, the RER is attacked, schools are burnt, despite a thousand police on the spot. The prime minister begins saying that the République isn't going to give in.

The prosecutor in Bobigny closed the investigation into the deaths of the two electrocuted kids, but a criminal proceeding by an investigating judge is launched against 'X' for manslaughter. The kids' parents reportedly refuse to meet Sarkozy.

The right-wing begins its theories of 'civil wars' and continues its arguments against voting for foreigners - which, curiously, has only been recently proposed by Sarkozy. 'The only solution to avoid ethnic war is stop immigration,' they say, no different from the Front National.

When the riots spread to suburbs controlled by the Communists they speak out, but usually to blame the government for years of inaction. The Socialists are silent, supposedly solely concerned with their coming congress at Le Mans.

I made a mistake last night saying that radio FIP had zero news. Actually, there is no news on FIP at night, but it doesn't mean any other station is out there covering the latest actions in the battle, which is not quite a civil war.

Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Posted by Alan at 17:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Riots Continue - Politicians Wrangle While Suburbs Burn
Topic: Breaking News

News, Not Commentary: Just In From Paris
Instead of commentary, news, from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, an account of the situation on the ground there today.
Riots Continue - Politicians Wrangle While Suburbs Burn

PARIS, Friday, November 4 - The illusion that France is in control of itself dissolved during the week as suburban youths took to the streets night after night to conduct running cat-and-mouse battles with armed riot police, to trash and burn, in an 8-night orgy of mayhem.

The government, meeting in crises daily, seemed incapable of mastering the situation, perhaps because it cannot - or refuses to - comprehend how it has gone wrong. In France the government is supposed to manage the country, but it seems that the best it can do is react.

It all started when interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy paid a public relations visit to Argenteuil on Tuesday, October 25. In a regular show-the-force junket he was greeted by boos and catcalls, and when he called the reception committee 'rabble' and said he was going to 'cut out the gangrene,' he had to start dodging thrown rocks and beer cans.

Two nights later three teenagers returning home in Clichy-sous-Bois thought they were fleeing from a police identity check. To escape they climbed a barrier topped with barbed-wire to seek refuge in an electro-transformer station and two were electrocuted.

News of the deaths set off the anger of local youths. A week ago they torched cars and garbage containers and assaulted riot police with rocks and other missiles.

Some observers think events were launched by the offensive action and aggressive words of the competitive interior minister. Other observers, with over-heated nightmare visions of common delinquency run amok coupled with international terrorism, placed all blame on the teenagers.

In the following days, ones that followed consecutive nights of blazing riots and battles with riot police, the interior minister 'persisted,' announcing on the TFI Sunday evening news that the government would exercise 'zero tolerence.' As cooler heads began to prevail in Clichy-sous-Bois, the nightly battles shifted to many other suburbs outside Paris.

On Wednesday some members of his own party had enough of Sarkozy. In a heated session with the prime minister present, one UMP deputy was reported as saying, 'he gives an impression of being what his detractors say he is.' Another said, 'he's happy to throw oil on the fire - a minister who acts but achieves no results.'

If anything, with its constitutional guarantees of equality and respect for human rights, France has the best intentions. The ruptures come from the discrepancy between the promise and the reality.

It is no secret to the government that 'sensitive' housing areas throughout France have a population of five million, located in 750 'sensitive zones,' where the unemployment rate is 20 percent, double the national average. Average individual income in these areas is 10,500 euros annually - less than the minimum wage - and more than a third less than the national average of 17,100 euros.

What is a secret is the reason the government believes that problems with youth and unemployment will go away if they are ignored. Not so ancient history has shown that everybody gets tired of riots and they tend to stop without being squashed by repression. Now we see, yet again, how they flare up because the fuse is never extinguished.

The leaders of other countries with similar problems do not envy the French. If anything they hope the French can invent a doable idea that they can successfully borrow.

Meanwhile opinion makers who live in countries where there is a potential for unrest, but with less than no tolerance for material destruction, plentiful willing courts and endless jail capacity, feel free to tell the French what they are doing wrong.

It is not aloofness that prevents the French from listening. Tonight the Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who cancelled a planned trip to Canada on Wednesday, met for two and a half hours with 15 teenagers from the 'sensitive' suburbs to learn what they have to say. For one thing, they do not like the incessant identity checks.

According to tonight's TV-news some voices were characterizing Nicolas Sarkozy as a pyromaniac, and others were calling for his resignation. On the other side within UMP ranks, some were urging the government to get tough.

The communist mayor of Stains, Michel Beaumale, was his Thursday night town when he happened on some teenagers hanging out in the Rue Mandela. While discussing the situation with them, somebody else broke a window on the mayor's car and popped in a Molotov cocktail. The mayor put it out before much damage was caused.


A note on the photos:

"After the guy got killed taking photos when he was told to stop, I am not going out to the suburbs for a couple of stock photos when I can get them in the safety of Paris. Photos therefore, taken in Paris 14, although a couple of them are of public housing - what we call HLM here.

"I did, after all, live out in one of 'those' suburbs for twelve years. What things 'look like' isn't so different from anyplace else. I mean, folks out there aren't... gypsies!
" - Ric

Editor's note:
Riots Put a Fear in the French
With clashes ongoing in largely Muslim suburbs of Paris, officials deploy 1,000 police in hopes of reining in restive Arab and African youths.
Sebastian Rotella - Los Angeles Times - Friday, November 04, 2005

"... police in nearby Epinay arrested three men who allegedly beat a visiting photographer to death. The man worked for a lighting company and had stopped his car at a housing project to take pictures of light fixtures when he was assaulted in front of his family, police said."

The photos:

Photos and Text Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Posted by Alan at 16:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005 16:22 PST home

Thursday, 3 November 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Warning Signs: The Word from the Banlieues

By Thursday November 3rd the news cycle had been drained - the administration, combating startling new polling over the previous weekend about how no one was buying their line on "honesty and integrity" and all that - it seem the Libby indictment soured people - countered with a new Supreme Court nominee Monday morning, one well-qualified but sure to enrage the Democrats, and to their left, the progressives, and to the left of them, the hard-core lefties. Who wants Machine Gun Sam or a fellow who sees all women as mindless, irresponsible little girls? Well, some do.

That should have changed the subject, and Tuesday morning the administration then announced a plan to deal with the threat of avian flu - a massive spending proposal. Forget the war and the CIA leak thing - we need to move on. And four hours later the senate Democrats, led by Senator Reid, shut down the whole place for a secret session to demand some action on a long-delayed report on how "intelligence" might have been manipulated to get us into the mess in Iraq. Someone was stonewalling, and all paths led back to Vice President Cheney. (See this - "When I asked Reid whether he meant to state so flatly that Cheney was personally and directly stalling the Intelligence Committee's work, he didn't pause a beat. In fact he almost stood from his chair. 'Yes. I say that without any qualification ... Circle it.'") And, wonders of wonders, they got some action. And they wiped out all the efforts by the administration to change the subject.

Wednesday we found out our government runs a worldwide chain of secret prisons where we "disappear" people and torture them, and that the Office of the Vice President is leading the charge to change the rules so we can kidnap and torture anyone we'd like, anywhere, and tell no one, not even people in our own government. We call kidnapping "extraordinary rendition" and torture "enhanced interrogation" of course - but Ford calls their new sedan, the Fusion, sporty. You can say anything you want. The Ford is still a brick on wheels. There was a whole lot of outrage about the prison and torture issue, of course. The new Ford is selling well, however.

Thursday? "Scooter" Libby was arraigned. They read the charges. He pled not guilty and was released on his own recognizance. Yawn. The Washington Post attempted a scoop - White House insiders (anonymous high-level staffers quoted extensively) were saying Karl Rove had to resign, but then the right-wing pro-Bush media buzzed with the obvious - this was all from Scott McClelland, the press secretary, who was ticked that Karl Rove had told him flat-out there was nothing going on and had him lie on national television for him. Yawn. An internal squabble of not much significance.

No big news on Thursday? More soldiers died. Wednesday night's national protest got little attention, even if people walked away from their jobs and some streets out here in Los Angeles were shut down. The World Can't Wait? Yes, it can.

Was this big news?
President Bush last week appointed nine campaign contributors, including three longtime fund-raisers, to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a 16-member panel of individuals from the private sector who advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of U.S. intelligence efforts. After watching the fate of Michael Brown as head of FEMA and Harriet Miers as Supreme Court nominee, you might think the president would be wary about the appearance of cronyism - especially with a critical national-security issue such as intelligence. Instead, Bush reappointed William DeWitt, an Ohio businessman who has raised more than $300,000 for the president's campaigns, for a third two-year term on the panel. Originally appointed in 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, DeWitt, who was also a top fund-raiser for Bush's 2004 Inaugural committee, was a partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Other appointees included former Commerce secretary Don Evans, a longtime Bush friend; Texas oilman Ray Hunt; Netscape founder Jim Barksdale, and former congressman and 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton. Like DeWitt, Evans and Hunt have also been longtime Bush fund-raisers, raising more than $100,000 apiece for the president's campaigns. Barksdale and five other appointees - incoming chairman Stephen Friedman, former Reagan adviser Arthur Culvahouse, retired admiral David Jeremiah, Martin Faga and John L. Morrison - were contributors to the president's 2004 re-election effort. …
No, that's business as usual. Who else would you want who to advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of our intelligence efforts? Experts? Friends, or at least those who hand out money, will do just fine.

Maybe the mid-week polling was big news - Bush's job approval falls to 35 percent. The only recent president lower at this point in his second term was Richard Nixon. Vice President Cheney is down nine more points since the last check, at nineteen percent.

Like it matters? These two are in for the next three years and there is not one thing anyone, anywhere, can do about it. Their supporters control both houses of congress, much of the judiciary, and got one believer in the unlimited power of the executive on the Supreme Court, soon to be followed by another. They could come as a tag team and slit your grandmother's throat, just for a giggle. What could you do about it?

Well, Thursday in the new issue of The Nation there was their cover story. They are proposing impeachment. The idea is the president has clearly violated "Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, which prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States." The suggestion is that there was a "conspiracy" to convince Americans to support the war in Iraq by using a "PR blitz" that manipulated data to connect Iraq to 9/11 and to claim that Saddam Hussein had or had sought weapons of mass destruction. "As if picking peanuts out of a Cracker Jack box, they plucked favorable tidbits from reports previously rejected as unreliable, presented them as certainties and then used these 'facts' to make their case."

Yeah, so? If the folks in the White House even know of this article they're laughing their asses off. The people spoke in the 2004 elections. When you're holding four aces you know what a bluff looks like. And you don't really need your grandmother around, really, do you?

Ah well.

The real news was overseas.

Yes, in the UK one of Blair's main men had to resign and Blair was forced to back down his terrorism laws. He doesn't have Bush's mandate from the people, it would seem. Actually, he doesn't have the luxury of not facing consequences but once every four years. Our system is a bit less "interactive" of course.

In Germany, their new Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, lauded by the right in America, is barely in charge after quite a mess of a close election. But this will be worked out.

The hot news was from France.

To set the scene, from the Associated Press, October 28 - Do artists have to be miserable to produce great art? A new exhibition in France suggests that a little inner darkness helps -
"Melancholy - Genius and Insanity in the Western World," which has visitors lining up around the block at Paris' Grand Palais, is anything but depressing.

"Long Live Melancholy!" one highbrow French magazine raved in its review.

The dazzlingly extensive look at art from antiquity to the 21st century shows how troubled thoughts have inspired great painters, sculptors, philosophers and writers.

"Melancholy is not only negative," curator Gerard Regnier said in an interview. "On the contrary, it was a positive energy that gave strength and genius to great artists throughout Western civilization."

Among them: Picasso, Rodin, van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Edward Hopper, Goya, Delacroix, William Blake. Nearly 300 works are on display, including masterpieces on rare loan from dozens of museums and collectors. ...
Ah yes, the world is sometimes too much, and you can make great art from that. (Note - recent photos of the Grand Palais in these pages here and here, and the official site of Les Galeries nationales du Grand Palais should you wish to drop by. Also see this, an extensive discussion of the whole business of depression and "genius" centering on the new book on Abraham Lincoln's "melancholia" - probably clinical depression - and another book on our "persistent romanticizing of depression.")

Be that as it may, there was much to be depressed about in Paris this week, or more precisely in the northeast banlieues - the outlying districts tourists never visit.

As of late Thursday:

Paris rioting enters second week - BBC News
French government defiant against rioters - DeHavilland, UK
Paris-Area Riots Spread to 20 Towns - New York Newsday
Riots erupt again in Paris suburbs, 50 cars torched - Reuters
Deep roots of Paris riots - ABC News

Deep roots? See this from Patrice de Beer -
A week after the riots in the Lozells area of Birmingham, England, between people of African-Caribbean descent and those of Asian origin [see Mick McCahill in these pages here - AMP], the northeast Paris banlieues (suburbs) of Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil exploded in violent confrontation between police and black and Beurs (north African) youths. There have been clashes for six nights in a row - extending on the night of 1-2 November to the suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois. They involve the stoning of police vans, the burning of dozens of cars, attacks on firemen, and the vandalising of a police station, a post office, and a city hall. The disturbances have gone as far as a bullet being fired at a police van and a tear-gas canister being thrown at a local mosque during evening prayers - in the midst of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadan.

As in Birmingham, rumour was at the heart of the unfolding events. On 27 October, two teenagers - Ziad Benna and Bouna Traore, sons of working-class African Muslim immigrants - were electrocuted while hiding in an electric substation. The circumstances of the incident are contested; it was quickly alleged - though by politicians rather than police, who strenuously deny the claim - that they had tried to escape a police check.

This is not the first racial riot - and it certainly won't be the last - in the suburban ghettoes of France or other European countries. Youth violence, and more particularly violence in immigrant communities - legal or illegal, involving French citizens or not - has been here for a long time, and seems here to stay. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister and candidate to succeed president Jacques Chirac at the Elysée palace in 2007 - the two men hate each other despite belonging to the same UMP party - has adopted a repressive, law-and-order, zero-tolerance strategy towards the banlieues.

The rhetoric is as polarising as it is simple: it threatens evildoers ("them") with jail sentences if they dare threaten the law-abiding citizens ("us"). Until now, this hyper-mediatic policy has paid off, helping make "Sarko" - himself the son of an Hungarian immigrant - one of the most popular politicians in France.
Well, with going into the details of the Union pour un Movement Populaire (UMP) or the history of Nicolas Sarkozy, note this:
It seems more obvious than ever that violence attracts more violence, and that it becomes a vicious circle where violent police repression of local riots nurtures even more violence and in turn even more repression. It is true that, in the banlieues as in the more affluent inner cities, people fear petty crime, drug peddling, and carjacking by jobless youngsters. But nor do they like being fingered by police and politicians as potential criminals because of their appearance or creed. The only Beur member of government, Azouz Begag, "minister for social promotion and equality of opportunity", criticised Sarko for his provocative words: "You must not call youngsters 'scum', tell them that you're going to hit them hard. You must try to appease the situation," he said, adding "I use the verb 'clean up' for my shoes or my car, not for neighbourhoods".

Repression has shown its limits. Not that it is useless or harmful, as any government has to protect its citizens against crime. But a repressive policy cannot compensate for racial and social integration, nor offer an answer to discrimination, the housing problems of ghettoised suburbs and (above all) to the unemployment which hits the immigrant population even harder than the majority of job-seekers. Histrionic posturing to attract voters in pre-electoral times can cause more harm than good especially when the very social structure of France is at stake.
You have to love that turn of phrase - "histrionic posturing to attract voters in pre-electoral times." Hey! That's how we found ourselves in Iraq, with our kids dying. Nicolas Sarkozy. George Bush. Whatever.

As for "histrionic posturing" one might check out this -
Paris is reaping what it's sown, and if we don't heed the warnings (as if the murder of thousands and destruction of two buildings in New York City weren't enough), we can expect the same.

Lax immigration policies, prostration to the god of multiculturalism, and the refusal to fight fire with fire are three reasons why Muslim "youths" in Paris are rioting in the streets.

As I see it, the religion of Islam is inherently incompatible with the concept of individual liberty, a crucial component of western countries. It's no accident that a culture like the West and a nation like the United States were envisioned and created by people who were either Christians and/or biblically literate and/or respected the Christian tradition. In countries under Islamic law, there's no such idea as "individual liberty." You're either a Muslim or in danger of having your throat sliced open.

A growing problem in the West is not only our insane, suicidal embrace of "multiculturalism," but an inability to recognize that Islam is an enemy intent on destroying freedom wherever it exists. Those Muslim rioters in Paris, angry about being unemployed or whatever their excuse, need to be crushed.
Yeah, this particular commentator wants you to know these godless maniacs are coming to get all Christians, and we have to crush them.

What about someone who is there?

Just Above Sunset, the magazine-style site that is parent to this web log, each week carries at least one column from "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis.

He's there. He says this -
"This headline makes me sick: French youths riot for seventh night running. French youths? They make it sound so generic and ordinary, as if a bunch of rowdy, drunk teenagers decided to throw rocks at cars. These are radical Muslims, foreign invaders, destroying property and injuring people who graciously allowed them into their country in the first place!"

– These are kids.
– They were born in France; therefore they are French.
– Only two of them have been killed. Hiding from the police.
– No police have been killed.
– There have been dozens of arrests. Some kids are already in jail.
– Religious leaders are trying to stop it. Older brothers have been trying to stop it. Some question why political leaders don't seem to be trying too hard to stop it.
– Some of the kids, obviously, are Muslim. Others are Christians. Some are black.

"Lax immigration policies, prostration to the god of multiculturalism, and the refusal to fight fire with fire are three reasons why Muslim 'youths' in Paris are rioting in the streets.

– Nutbush ! There are NO riots in Paris.

Actually there aren't any riots. Sarkozy called the kids 'rabble' or 'riffraff' - and said he would 'cut out the gangrene.' This was at Argenteuil, Tuesday a week ago. Then two kids who thought they were being chased by the police - confirmed by witnesses - escaped by electrocuting themselves. Their friends became annoyed and fought with the CRS for a few nights. Then, since Sarkozy isn't saying he's sorry, other kids in other suburbs have decided to fry their neighbors' cars, plus buses, schools and police stations.

Usually there's a small wave of this at Halloween, and at New Years in Strasbourg. For some reason the government think things will quiet down if it plays hard. They have a transport strike in Marseille they can't get settled too. Some troops in Côte d'Ivoire bumped off a guy down there and it's causing another stink.
Okay. That's from the scene.

Who do you trust on this - the American conservative pundit about the wave of maniacs coming to crush us all, or do you trust someone on the scene?

I would guess "histrionic posturing" gets more play than observation of the facts in context.

In any event, what's playing out in France at the moment seems a variation on themes over here. And Sarkozy is showing is what we can expect as we follow the Bush-Cheney model for dealing with this sorry world. The conservative pundit, La Shawn Barber, has the warning backwards.



An interesting note from Canada -
Was reading about the continuing riots around Paris and came across this little oddity...

"Jean-Louis Borloo, minister for social cohesion, said officials need to react "firmly" to the unrest but that France also must acknowledge its failure to deal with decades of simmering anger in the impoverished suburbs of Paris."

So just what the heck is a "minister for social cohesion?"

The government has been spending untold billions on promoting this "multiculturalism" thing for decades here in Canada, but we don't have a "minister for social cohesion."

Sounds more like a euphemism for Minister of Propaganda or something. Or maybe just a guy dressed up in a fuzzy purple suit acting like all is hunky-dory and that we should all hug each other today?
Well, that called for some research.

Jean-Louis Borloo
Minister For Employment, Social Cohesion and Housing

See also Time Magazine, International Edition, Sunday, April 04, 2004 with this -
Jean-Louis Borloo has made a career of tackling lost causes. As a Parisian lawyer he rescued failing businesses. In 1988 he revived a bankrupt soccer team. And as mayor of Valenciennes from 1989 to 2002, he resurrected the moribund former steel town by revamping neighborhoods, attracting a Toyota factory, building a theater, and planning a regional tram whose first rail will be laid this week. Can this miracle worker save France's embattled conservative government after the party's rout in last month's regional elections?

It was evidently with that hope in mind that President Jacques Chirac plucked Jean-Louis Borloo, who turns 53 this week, from a junior minister post to head a new "superministry" for employment, labor and social cohesion in a revamped government. Chirac is hoping the wild-haired, straight-talking populist will serve as a bulwark against voter anger over Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's belt tightening, and his failure to generate jobs or mend the social fracture between the country's affluent classes and its disgruntled masses. Voters put the opposition Socialists in charge of 20 of France's 21 mainland regions, up from 8 in 1998. "France has clearly expressed a demand for a more social approach," says Pascal Perrineau, director of the Center for the Study of French Political Life at Sciences Po in Paris. "Borloo is the response."

Raffarin dutifully resigned after the right's rout at the polls, but Chirac opted to renominate him and install Nicolas Sarkozy, the most ambitious figure on the French right, as Economics, Finance and Industry Minister. Except for Borloo, a politically unclassifiable figure with no standing in the ruling party, Chirac was largely content to reshuffle loyal followers. Dominique de Villepin moves to the Interior Ministry from foreign affairs, where he has been replaced by European Commissioner Michel Barnier.

The very sameness in the Cabinet puts the incandescent Borloo center stage, but it could also hamper him. Sarkozy, burdened with a huge budget deficit, is unlikely to allow him the renewal projects that won him praise in Valenciennes. "Borloo is a good guy, and he knows his subject," says Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former Socialist Finance Minister. "But he won't be setting the agenda like he did in Valenciennes." Even for a miracle worker, reviving the popularity of Chirac's government is a tall order.
And this from Ric Erickson in Paris -
Heard on radio France-Info this morning - Borloo saying something like, either twenty billion euros - to be spent, or has been spent - on housing in past 30 years, and 'what have we got for it?' Odd - no mention of this on tonight's TV-news. Remember France's number two most 'famous?' That was Abbé Pierre [See this - AMP], the now old dude who has been agitating for better housing since... 1947. He's still around, still agitating, but from a wheelchair because he's 92 or something.

Borloo is minister for public housing. There are riots in some public housing because 'social cohesion' has lost its glue. Borloo is from up north someplace, like Lille, and one would think he is a socialist instead of an UMP or UDF. Borloo is perhaps a technician, but he is fairly popular because he doesn't act too much like a politician, unlike another minister, who has 'persisted' with his less than useful comments.
Small world. Sounds much like the United States.

Posted by Alan at 19:34 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005 05:27 PST home

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