Attack of the fantasy bombers

November 5, 2010 § Leave a comment


Booby-trap bomb sent to Nicolas Sarkozy”,Greek parcel bomb plot targets Merkel”, “Italian police investigating parcel bomb sent to Berlusconi”. To go by yesterday’s headlines, you put a bomb in a box, do a gift wrap, post it “personally addressed” to Nicolas Sarkozy, Elysée Palace, Paris, and usually it should end up on his desk, or in Merkel’s case, in her “office”. Imagine, there’s le Président in his 365 room house, with 1000 staff, pouring milk over his cornflakes and reading the Daily Mail – “How ah love those provocative English ‘eadlines,” he chuckles, as his international wife gazes benignly on. Some jam and tea, then it’s time to open the mail! Bank statements, death threats from Islamic jihad, 40% discount on a new pair of glasses from “Optic 2000”, more death threats, a reminder about the electricity bill, a ten page rant against gypsies – from some nutjob calling himself the Interior Minister, donate a fiver to the Red Cross, etc. “Ach,” complains the president, as the doorbell rings, “so many letters to read, so little time, but what’s this?” Opens the front door and there’s Pierre the postman with a parcel from some funny address in Greece. “Did you order anything on ebay?” wonders the President as he walks back to the kitchen. “Nothing,” says his attractive wife. “Well, seeing as it’s personally addressed to me, and you know ah just love surprise packages,” he says, eagerly ripping the seal, pulling out a box, opening it up and KABOOM.

All this is supposed to be the work of the “Conspiracy in the Cells of Fire”, a Greek group that likes to send bombs to government buildings and which obviously wants its name to sound like the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. While Harry Potter and the Conspiracy in the Cells of Fire must be fantasists to think they can “personally” address bombs to world leaders, they are nevertheless linked to Harry Potter and the Sect of Revolutionaries. The Sect of Revolutionaries this year bumped off a journalist investigating corruption amongst the Greek elite. Which is exactly what anarchist groups do, don’t they? – killing journalists investigating, well, corruption amongst the Greek elite… While it’s hard to keep track of what is fantasy and reality, one thing we can be sure about after these fantasy bomb attacks, like last week’s “trial-run” bombs sent to a gay Chicago synagogue from Yemen (just who opens surprise parcels from Yemen?) is another plethora of ridiculous security rules in airports around Europe. Thanks to a complicit press, this is when fantasy unfortunately becomes reality.


Meet Europe’s highest paid politician

July 19, 2010 § Leave a comment has just posted a list of the world’s highest paid politicans, four of whom are European. Confining ourselves to the Eurololly-list only, we get Angela Merkel in fourth place, David Cameron third, second spot for Nicolas Sarkozy and taking the gold medal is…is…is… Monsieur Brian Cowen of the Irish Republic…

Who with his cool €263,000 can have a right laugh and say a Peuh to Sarkozy’s piffling €247,000, whose football team cheated Ireland of a World Cup, after all. And he can even toot a diamond encrusted vuvuzela of historical tables turned at David Cameron, whose ancestors cheated the great Irish people of nationhood and potatoes for seven thousand years at least. Having grown up in eighties Ireland, I know what a “boost” victories at the Eurovision were for our downtrodden race, so at least on the day that Moody’s gave it another downgrade and big life-loving Brian’s government just after sitting down thinking up another €3bn in cuts, we have this to sing about. Right?

P.S. One thing the post overlooked was the salaries of the two colossi locked in dreadful combat for supremacy at the head of the Union. Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy earn +500K apiece. With their healthier “continental” European lifestyles, they look a lot better than Brian though. Sort of.

Europhrenia – Bon anniversaire Monsieur le President

May 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s exactly three years since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President of the French Republic. It only seems like one thousand and ninety five days since I went walking out on Place de la République to watch some anti Sarkozy activists in a standoff with the CRS riot police, who sent tiny CS gas canisters tocking out of wide stubby barrelled guns. Just as I was turning in for the night, I saw one such Vicks jar sized canister fly up into the air, bounce off the fifth floor of a building at Boulevard Magenta, go spinning through the top of a 50 foot tall linden tree, drop to the footpath, bounce into the alleyway where I live, and come to a rest approximately 6 inches away from where I was standing. All this to explain that on the night that Nicolas Sarkozy was elected I cried my eyes out.

French presidential terms last five years so today has a definite Wednesday feeling to it. We have passed over the hump, so to speak, and now the lightened weekend mood is only just around the corner, getting ready to jump out and say Boo. While busy working on unearthing the particular achievements of this presidency of “rupture”, as it was then called, I am wondering whether to extend him the traditional English birthday wish of “Many Happy Returns”, aware that this could be construed in an electoral way.

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EUROPHRENIA- Burqa ban, and why not plastic surgery too?

April 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has green-lighted legislation that will ban women from wearing burqas in public places. This is obviously great news for the 2000 or so unfortunates – out of a Muslim female population of approximately 5 million – who actually go round wearing two man tents over themselves. Just how the French police are going to enforce these rules in public remains to be seen, but surely candidates for legal martyrdom must already be queuing.

This bill is the essence of the Sarkozy administration. French has a great word for it – “brasser de l’air”, which means to makes swimming motion outside the medium of water just to give the impression that you’re saying something, going somewhere. After floating this foolish idea around until it returned as so much egg in face, with even the Constitutional Court doubting its legality, the government must have felt itself compelled to see it through since not to do so would have made it look all wishy-washy.

And even so the government squirms away from taking responsibility for a decision that directly targets a specific faith group by couching it in PC terms. Burqas “do not pose a problem in a religious sense, but threaten the dignity of women,” goes the declaration. But aren’t there other phenomena that undermine the dignity of women beyond Islamic ones, as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu was wont to ask?

Quite recently in the plush and altogether secular neighbourhood of the Marais in central Paris, I noticed that an inordinate number of women in their forties, fifties and sixties had inflicted some form of plastic surgery on themselves. Blown up lips, facial skin pulled tight and waxy looking, eyes drawn up into the corners, cheekbones bulged out. The effect was less unpleasant than just eerie. Trying to visualise myself as the subject, I keep thinking of those virtual reality visors back in the early 90’s that when clapped on threw you into a 3D world. Each time you moved your head, your virtual reality head followed along, just a fraction off. It got me thinking that plastic surgery is like the flipside of the burqa. The latter makes you glaringly invisible, less than human, but the former, by surgically caricaturing secondary sexual characteristics, makes you a sight beyond human.

The problem is that plastic surgery is practised by so-called empowered and independent women at the top end of society, the burqa by the stereotype of a downtrodden Muslim sisterhood that needs to be saved from itself. And yet both can be read as symptoms of an enduring and masochistic subservience to the male gaze. Only one gives rise to moral panic attacks and hand wringing about equality, however. So let’s not be confused in our progressive instincts by a government’s weasel words. Clearly, I’m not arguing for a ban on either of these practises. As I’ve mentioned previously, you cannot force dignity on anyone if they are not prepared to defend it themselves. We should also be free to ruin our lives too.

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BHL buries socialism, sort of

July 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

When Parti Socialiste general secretary Martine Aubry, shortly after the French Socialists European election debacle in June, proclaimed she was giving the party “six months to change course”, she probably didn’t reckon on Parisian philosopher Bernard Henri Levy butting in over at Journal du Dimanche (JDD) and declaring that she manages a “house of the dead.” “The PS is dead… and must disappear,’ go his musings, splashed over JDD’s front page.

Philosophers teach us to die, as Cicero once said, so you could argue that BHL is doing the decent thing, since even Christ himself might have had second thoughts about resurrecting a body that, completely out of power since 2002, has not just been going gamey like Lazarus, but has lumps of it dropping off all the time, the most opportunistic, like Eric Besson, grafting themselves to President Sarkozy’s still vigorous UMP. As BHL philosophically points out, death has also visited the once mighty French Communist party. Looking further afield, he echoes similar obituaries in the British press. While the Spectator has unsurprisngly dubbed Labour a government of the living dead, no less than Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley fears that Labour will never see power again, ever. Lest we forget, though, Labour is the party that ushered the Whigs, that extraordinary political machine that dominated Britain for two centuries, into oblivion. The lesson being that political parties are mortal too.

Indeed, a quick trawl through Presseurop and you can more and less see that the Socialist spectre that haunted the 19th century is now a shade, feebly protesting while in Berlusconi’s Italy, vigilante groups nostalgic for fascism now patrol its streets in a bid to flush out “illegal” immigrants. Interior minister Marco Bastoni, who campaigns on such lofty sentiments as “sticks for immigrants” assures us that these groups will be psychologically and politically vetted. But you only have to wonder about the mental profile of people who fancy a night out “on patrol” to twig that such controls by necessity are likely to be lenient. Over in Lithuania, the TiT party pushes for prison for those who “promote” homosexual “values”, while in Brussels David Cameron’s Conservative party kowtows to Poland’s Law and Justice party, some of whose members go teary when the glory days of the Waffen SS are evoked.

Back in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil, after a street party for immigrant squatters, the French police fire a flash ball into a man’s face, liquefying his eye, shattering his cheekbone and nose, following this up with false declarations not just as to the “riot” they faced down, but on the victim’s identity. A spate of flashball incidents, however, and the question as to why men of usually African origin are “committing suicide” regularly in temporary police custody are some of the many subjects, however, that the PS prefers to dodge. Indeed, like Italy’s PD, it has always been at pains to prove that it too can out-tough the right on crime and immigration.

So fine if the PS is dead. The only irony is that BHL, after saying the unsayable, shys away from the obvious conclusion and nominates ex-Mitterand ministers Segolène Royale, Dominique Strauss Kahn et al as part of a left “renewal”, rather than as the problem. Cynics might say that having served as advisor to Royal in her failed campaign against Nicolas Sarkozy, that he knows where his bread is buttered. The truth is that he probably doesn’t know himself, but unlike Socrates, won’t admit of philosophical ignorance. However, for anyone who believes in a progressive politics, there is enough matter to suggest that reaction is a Europe-wide phenomenon. Quite simply because Europe’s reactionaries, whether in Brussels or in each other’s villas, hang together. It follows that any counter movement requires a perspective that takes in the entire European space. This socialization of European leaders, after all, is but a reflection that a majority of Europeans are increasingly socialized too. While Socialism is dead, the International, strangely enough, may have only just begun.

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No peek-a-boo with President Sarkozy

May 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

My first blog at Presseurop

Is France taking an authoritarian turn? So wonders left-leaning daily Libération. In Marseilles a 52 year old philosophy professor has been charged for “breach of the peace in daylight hours disturbing other people’s tranquility.”

The incident unfolded all of eighteen months ago in Marseilles’ central train station where PL (only his initials are known) yelled “Sarkozy, je te vois!” (I can see you) as a means “to break the ice with some humour” as two police officers carried out an ID check on two youths. Passers-by are said to have laughed at this allusion to the French president’s predeliction for law and order crusades. The police officers, however ( described by PL as “very kind” ) “felt intimidated” and “invited” wise-cracking PL to the station. Eighteen months later he received a summons.

PL’s rebel yell would seem fairly innocuous, if not insipid, but Marseilles’ zealous local prosecutors have dug up the above-mentioned, and wonderfully eloquent, charge, from the very bowels of French law (dating from 1875) to protect presidential dignity. This, as Libération notes, is not the first of such incidents since the controversial Sarkozy rose to prominence. In 2004, an erudite demonstrator schooled in Roman period population movements was sentenced to one month imprisonment for having yelled “Go back to China, you Hungarian git” at the then Interior Minister – whose father hailed from Budapest. Unlike his tranquil predecessors, Chirac and Mitterand, the French president is renowned for his sensitivity when members of the public vent their pent. He has not just crossed swords with Breton fisherman, but last year launched a personal suit against a firm which produced a voodoo doll in his image emblazoned with the “Get lost, silly twat” remark with which he dispatched a farmer at the French Agricultural Fair of 2008.

Sarkozy’s street-fighting style, many complain, has diminished the office of president. “He wanted to break with his predecessors by going down into the arena himself,” says political commentator Stéphane Rozès. But in bringing the presidential function to street level, “he invites citizens’ invective.” What worries Libération most, however, is that the case against PL was launched not at the President’s instigation but by “the zeal of public servants”. “In other democracies,” writes editor Laurent Joffrin, “this little affair would have caused a major scandal. In the Republic, we have the right to make remarks about the sovereign”.

So is France’s often vulgarly eloquent street life being smothered by an increasingly monarchical Sarkozy aided by an obsequious judiciary ? One legal blogger alarmingly observes that “penal law is being instrumentalised in order to create a political police.” Perhaps the mood would be less dark if the French left were able to rise out of the doldrums it has languished in since the passing of the Mitterand administration all of fourteen years ago. Le Monde reports that in the forthcoming European elections the PS, France’s main opposition party, stands to win a lacklustre 22% of seats while the UMP at 27% will remain the largest French party at the Strasbourg parliament. The UMP, after all, is the party of a president whose approval ratings rarely go above 40%.

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