Sunday, March 12, 2006

South America

Here is a photo from Rio, in front of the great Cristo de Corcovado. [Posted for Dan by Glen]


Dan said...

These photos from South America and Africa are compliments of a friend, John Sadwith, Executive Director of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association. As soon as he read that I needed a few more continents he jumped on the task of completing our around the world tour and within a week had sent me pictures from both continents. Thank you John, you're a good friend.

Brother Ted said...

A new campaign! We need "Get Well Dan!" photos from the remaining continents and each of the 50 states. Hey, why not! So put out the call to friends and family and then forward your photos to

This could be fun!Oh, be sure to identify the photos.

sigunjoe said...

Dear Dan,
We are shamed by the far-flung notes and photos from exotic Africa, Latin America and Australia. Not least of all because they are so terse and I am so windy. But at least you can count the continent of Europe as reporting for duty in Ted's "Get Well Dan" campaign. My report:
On Thursday, two days ago, my big deal of the day was to pick up a few bottles of wine at a little shop off Boulevard St. Germain. To get there I had to wade through a crowd of students, tens of thousands of them in all, who were packed along Boulevard Raspail from Montparnasse to the river. On the way to the store, the crowd was having the time of their lives. Every few minutes a shout would go up and then race down the boulevard like a sonic boom. It was thrilling.
On the way back home, when I was in the middle of the throng again, somebody somewhere must have gotten frightened because a stampede started to build and headed right for me and my prized bottles of Rhone red. Just as I was about to be trampled, some stalwarts behind me threw up their hands and shouted, “Calme! Calme!” and the frightened students slowed down and stopped. Then an explosion went off not far from us, but by this time I was safely out of the way. From the little park next to the Bon Marche department store, some masked malcontents were throwing rocks at the cops. Paving stones, the time-honored projectiles, are hard to find these days.
Today is the big day. Saturday, March 18. It’s the day the students of France, hundreds of thousands of them anyway, will try to resurrect the sainted spirit of 1968, when the student rioting almost brought down the great De Gaulle and laid in a memory mine that is still being worked in the popular imagination to this very day. If ’68 can be reborn, so too can the Resistance of World War II, the Commune of 1871, and even the defining event of modern France, the Revolution of 1789. Memory is everything here. It validates everything, no matter how empty and self-destructive. It is the dead past, but it is life itself.
It is just past 2 p.m., and we are waiting for the students to pour into the streets around the Sorbonne, a 10-minute walk from our apartment, and into the streets of every major city in France. The “events” (evenements) are supposed to go on until 8 p.m., and to be followed by informal rioting and trashing of shop windows. It’s another tradition. The cops will be out in force, ready for the stones and stink bombs that have been lobbed their way several times already here and around France.
The demonstrators are primarily university students, but also high-schoolers, retirees and, the spine and brains of the whole operation, the public-service unions. Even the lycees, the high schools, have a national union, which looks for guidance to the largely Communist and Trotskyist leaders of the senior unions.
What’s it all about? The burning issue is a new law passed a month or so ago that makes a minor change in the stringent labor laws. When a young worker gets his or her first job, the employer is now authorized to dismiss that worker any time in the first two years of employment without going through the very expensive, lengthy process that is normal for all other workers. Prime Minister de Villepin pushed this new law through the legislature in order to relieve the shameful unemployment statistics that haunt this nation: 10% unemployment overall, 25% among the young, up to 40% among the young immigrants—the ones who rioted in December outside Paris.
Villepin hopes to see this change revive job growth, as employers begin to feel comfortable in hiring. If this works, he can use it in his campaign for the presidency next year. He is backed by business, of course, and by nearly every economist and labor expert in Europe. Even the left-wing daily Le Monde editorialized last week that Villepin did not go far enough, that the entire labor system has to be reformed. If Villepin had tried that, France would now be in chaos.
If all this seems so obvious to the experts and the pundits, with proof that it works from other countries that have tried it, why the huge opposition? Roughly two thirds of the French support the demonstrators and want the law to be repealed. It’s one of those situations you see regularly here: France, or at least majority France, against the world. William Pfaff, a liberal columnist who has long lived in Paris, wrote in the International Herald Tribune the other day: “I may be a dim American, but I never dreamed that anybody right out of school had the right to hold one job for a lifetime.”
What we are witnessing here today is Jacobinism, a heritage from the Jacobins, who occupied the radical extreme among the French revolutionaries. This ideology survives today as the belief in an all-powerful bureaucratic state, which issues millions of rules that are supposed to keep the enemy of the people, the bourgeoisie, from exploiting the proletarian masses. Jacobinism is indispensable in understanding France, because it embodies the passionate belief in refusal, in saying no to the powers of king and church that ruled France until the revolution and that continue in the bourgeoisie and the elites who actually run the state. This is one of the great ironies of French politics: the left got the all-powerful state it wanted, but it never managed to stop the hated bourgeoisie from running it, via the elite schools only their children are well prepared enough to attend.
So Jacobinism lives on in the French left with a steely determination to cede nothing of its hard-earned privileges. In France, there is no such thing as win-win. If you win, I lose is the cynical conviction ground in over centuries of oppression and misery. One French commentator on the radio the other evening spoke of “cette certitude jacobine,” this blind certainty that “we” are right and everyone else is wrong.
Since there are always politicians in the background manipulating, sure enough the Socialists are supporting the marchers as a way of embarrassing Villepin. If they can get him to back down and withdraw the new law, they will have effectively knocked him out of the running for president and embarrassed the center right ruling party.
This may happen, but those who have seen it all before predict that these demonstrations are not about to revive the days of May ’68. For one thing, back then the risings were occurring elsewhere in the world, in Berkeley and New York and so on. The aim was revolution, the overthrow of capitalism and installation of socialism in the first world. Today the aim is not for change but against it. And the change itself is so minor. It shows how the left here has become reactionary, no longer radical, no longer able to form a vision of what to do to make things better.
And no one can blame them. The European Union seems in a state of meltdown, as nationalism begins to rise again in France, Germany, Poland, and elsewhere in the Union. Jobs are slipping away to Asia. People all over Europe are feeling the loss of their identities as French or Italian or Spanish or whatever. That’s essentially why France voted against the EU constitution last year. Globalization appears more and more to be an American bandwagon onto which hungry Asians are gleefully climbing, but which frightens well-fed Europeans. Not to mention the waves of Muslims crowding into European lands, whose governments haven’t a clue how to integrate them. And, after the affair of the Danish cartoons, ugliness prevails even among the traditionally open and gentle Dutch and Scandinavians.
The EU leadership wants to allow Turkey in, which would make a Muslim nation the most populous one in the union. France is under pressure to allow workers from other EU countries to come to work there, but fears that an army of Polish plumbers will descend on France and throw all French plumbers onto the unemployment lines. The nightmares come so thick and fast, yet as we walked the streets of Paris an hour ago, everyone seemed to be at lunch in the happily crowded restaurants. New Yorkers are more nervous than this on a normal workday. And the mystery that is France muddles on. More soon.