I had a post in the works on Monday on the Turkish election, which I had hoped to finish and publish that afternoon. No such luck. For the rest of that day—and into the next and beyond—I was distracted by another matter, one that is objectively far less consequential than the most important election in the history of the Turkish Republic but not inconsequential in my own not-too-consequential life, which involved a stroke of good fortune. A veritable coup de chance. Scrolling through Facebook—which I spend ever less time on—a week ago Thursday, the algorithm decided to display a post by a Facebook friend, whom I will call Brice, saying that he had two tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert in Paris the following Monday that he wanted to sell, and that if one were interested, to send him a private FB message.

Now I had read last fall that Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band would be in Paris in May ’23 and so I went online to see about buying tickets, but the two concerts were of course sold out. Looking to purchase tickets for a bigtime concert was, as it happens, literally something I had never done as an adult, as I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve been to a large venue concert since the age of 21—the last ones (in Paris) being Patti Smith at the 2012 Fête de l’Humanité (outdoors) and Cheb Mami in 1996 at the Zénith, i.e., once every 10-15 years. My rock concert-going (and record-purchasing) days were in my teens, when I saw a dozen or so bigtime acts (* see below). I continue to listen to music, of course, and generally try to keep up with what’s new—some of what’s new, at least (**)—but attending concerts is just not something I’ve done much of since my high school-early college years. When I go to stadiums or arenas, it’s for sporting events (sometimes) or (more often) political rallies.

As for Springsteen, I’ve always respected him and liked his major hits, but was not a huge fan. But he’s grown on me as I’ve gotten older, both his music and the man himself. So when FB friend Brice—an American academic domiciled in the Middle East and with whom I have interacted professionally over the years, though not met in person—issued his offer, I got in touch. As he had to cancel his trip to Paris, he was unloading the two tickets for a price that, as I saw when I got the tix, was less than their face value (€139), which was itself, as I learned, a steal (“that’s nothing!” as more than one American friend exclaimed), and literally a fraction of what they would have gone for in the US (as I have learned this week, it is illegal in France, thanks to the strict anti-scalping law, to sell tickets for any event over the price printed on the ticket).

Before committing to buy the tix, though, I had to find someone to come with me. My wife being out of town, I naturally asked my 29-year-old daughter, who goes to concerts like any normal person her age but has her own musical tastes, which can overlap with mine though not always (e.g. this was the last concert she attended). Before mentioning the concert, I asked her what she thought of Bruce Springsteen—”The Boss”—and his music, to which she replied to the effect of: “Uh, I don’t know. I’m not familiar with him.” Ah, okay. She did know “Born in the USA” when I mentioned it but nothing beyond that (and it was likewise with her friends, so she said), and was tepid about accompanying me. But then I received a message from Brice saying that someone else wanted to buy the tix, so I had to decide quickly. I called him illico on WhatsApp and said I would take them. He assured me, speaking as one who had attended dozens of Springsteen concerts over the past five decades—including three in Paris, though had never lived here—that I, who had never seen The Boss, would not regret it, nor would my daughter. And so he emailed me the tix (and with payment to be worked out later). I thus told my daughter that she had to come with me, that this was an exceptional, possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—Springsteen being 73-years-old—that he’s one of the greatest rock singers ever, is an exceptional stage performer, a cultural icon, has good political and social values—e.g. he’s friends with Barack & Michelle Obama, and is anti-Trump, i.e. he’s one of us—has remained true to his working class roots, et j’en passe. She agreed, no problem.

Springsteen’s two Paris concerts were a news story over the weekend and into this week, with reports in the evening news, articles in the press, and specials on public radio and television. On Saturday night, the public station France 4 broadcast the 2¾-hour documentary of Springsteen’s 2002 concert in Barcelona (at the iconic Camp Nou stadium). I watched the entire thing. An incredible concert. I was thus psyched, as it were, for Monday night.

Cutting to the chase, my daughter enjoyed the concert, so she said, pronouncing it “super.” As for me, in thinking of all the spectacles—music, sports, whatever—I have attended in the course of my life—now in the latter part of the seventh decade—this was the most spectacular ever. Period. I was quite simply blown away by the concert. It lived up to all expectations and then some. And as I have learned this week via pics and commentary posted on Facebook, I have numerous friends (FB and real life)/colleagues/relatives who are big, longtime fans of The Boss and have been to many of his concerts. And this includes some I would not have expected, such as a well-known Algerian journalist here in Paris—and editor-in-chief of a high-profile left-leaning monthly—with whom I am friendly, who informed me that not only did he attend Monday’s concert but Saturday’s as well, as he has been a huge Springsteen fan since his teen years in Algiers during the Boumediene era! Well how about that! I have been decidedly behind-the-curve, it looks like.

What impresses about Bruce Springsteen, in addition to his great music, is his consideration and generosity toward his fans. His concerts start on time—he doesn’t keep the audience waiting for an hour (which we’ve all seen) and/or then appearing on the stage drunk or manifestly stoned (which I’ve seen)—and they then go for three hours or even more, and without a break! It’s exhilarating, nonstop, high octane music from beginning to end. The sheer stamina and physical strength of the man—and at age 73!—and his band members are exceptional. And they give the audience what it came for. I can’t imagine that too many people have left a Bruce Springsteen concert disappointed or dissatisfied.

And he interacts with the audience. He communicates with it. (I have attended more than one concert where the lead singer—whom everyone came to see—didn’t say a word to the audience). The Boss’s fans love him and he loves them back. And it is likewise between him and his band. Bruce Springsteen, in addition to being a musician hors pair, is a good man.

Here are some of the photos I took during the nearly three hour concert and with commentary. And as it happens, a YouTuber videoed the entire concert, and from a good vantage point, and posted it here. To get a sense of it, just watch the first 8-minutes or so.

At the concert hall, an hour early. The Paris La Défense Arena is the largest domed stadium in Europe, with a concert capacity of 40,000. There was, needless to say, not an empty seat.
The crowd spanned the generations, from Boomers to Gen-Xers and some early Millennials. I asked my daughter what she thought the mean age was. She said 53, which sounded right.
Father and daughter
The E Street Band makes its entry, one by one. It’s 7:10 PM.
And The Boss. Thunderous cheering.
Bonjour Paree!
And with his famous ‘One-two-one-two-three-four!’ he’s off like a rocket!
My love will not let you down“: What a great song! And to begin the concert with!
Ghosts.” Great song too!
Prove it all night“: yet another great song.
Nightshift.” I love that song (the original by The Commodores too).
It’s almost 8:30.
Bruce is telling the audience the story (with French subtitles on the screens) of his longtime friend George, who died of lung cancer, and the song he composed for him, “Last man standing.” Watch here (he begins: “It was 1965, I was 15-years-old, I had been playing guitar for about six months…”).
It’s almost 9:00 PM. Bruce is singing Patti Smith’s “Because the night.” My daughter took a video but WordPress is telling me that I need to upgrade to Premium to post it. As I don’t feel like doing that, here it is via YouTube.
It’s 9:25. The lights have come on for the megahits, loved by everyone.
Born in the USA” (via YouTube, as I can’t post my own video).
Born to run.”
Dancing in the dark.” Just wow! If you can’t get enough of this song, then check this one out too.

There were two more, “Tenth Avenue freeze-out” and “I’ll see you in my dreams,” and then it was over, at 10:02 PM. Almost three hours nonstop of excellent music (28 songs total) and a spectacular, breathtaking show, and by one of the greatest singer-composers of our era.

It’s 10:25. Going home.

Rolling Stone France has an article dated May 17 on the two concerts, and in which one may find the concert setlists.

Le Monde has a dispatch on Saturday’s concert translated for its English edition, “Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band charm Paris with a celebration of friendship and generosity.” The lede: “On his international tour, the American singer delivered a personal and generous marathon concert in Paris on Saturday. A second is scheduled for Monday night.”

I am reminded of Blinded by the Light, a heartwarming, feel-good movie from 2019, and based on a true story: “In England in 1987, a teenager from an Asian family learns to live his life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of American rock star Bruce Springsteen.”

As for the post on Turkey, that will come.

(*) For the record, my first concert was Led Zeppelin in 1970 (in Milwaukee). Then, from 1973 to 1976, I saw (mostly in Chicago): Rod Stewart, John McLaughlin, Procul Harem, Lou Reed (twice), The Kinks, Jethro Tull, Traffic, The Moody Blues, The Allman Brothers Band, and Jefferson Starship. (I tried to get tickets for The Who when they came to Chicago in 1973 but no chance).

(**) The music radio stations I listen to in France are RFM and FIP.

Israel launched air strikes in Gaza the night before last, as one may have heard, targeting top operatives of Islamic Jihad in their homes while they were presumably asleep. Among the 13 persons killed by the IDF bombers—murdered, in effect—were four women and four children, including the three in the photo above (source: Sara Roy email list), the older ones named Ali and Mayar, their father being one of the Islamic Jihad officials.

This looks to have been the other child.

The IDF spokesperson told the press that while they were aware that there had been “some collateral,” the airstrikes were “carried out with professionalism and precision in planning and execution.” Which is to say, the IDF knew that the “collateral” would be in the houses they were going to bomb and certainly be killed, but what the heck, that’s the breaks.

The Israeli rapid response operation on social media, in the old standby, immediately accused the targeted terrorists of using the children—sleeping in their beds in their home—as human shields—as if they’re supposed to live and sleep away from their parents and somewhere other than their homes—and that, in any case, the Geneva Conventions absolve the Israelis for killing civilians if they so happen to be killing terrorists (or “terrorists”) in the process. And if those arguments don’t convince, the hasbara operatives have the usual whataboutist retorts at their disposal (another old standby)..

But whatever justification Israel advances for killing terrorists (or “terrorists”), while the latter are at home with their families or otherwise taking a break from the muqawama, one thing is certain, which that the terrorists/”terrorists” who are killed will be quickly replaced, and by men who are invariably tougher and more politically uncompromising. In other words, Israel’s decades-long policy of targeted assassination—which it has carried out more than any other state in the world—has contributed nothing to Israel’s security or in any way degraded the organizations that threaten it (Hamas, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad). If anything, the latter are militarily stronger today than ever—as the Israelis have, in the case of Hamas, learned in the IDF’s successive operations in Gaza (2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021).

So when bombs are dropped on the homes of Hamas/IJ officials, one of the motives, when not simple vengeance, is to inflict fear on the neighbors in the densely-populated quarters where the officials live. The killing of women, children, medical doctors, and other civilians may not be deliberate but is inevitable nonetheless. If these killings are not bona fide war crimes, then Israeli officials should explain why and in the appropriate venue. #ICC #TheHague

Prior to the Gaza bombing, I was reading about Israel demolishing an EU-funded Palestinian school, near Bethlehem, the story circulating on social media and WhatsApp, mainly by indignant American Jews (in my news feeds at least).

The Facebook friend who posted the above—and who is also a friend in real life—is a political science MENA specialist and well-known in academic and policy circles, and with whom I would argue about the Arab-Israeli conflict back in the ’80s, during our graduate school days. He naturally defended Israel but like so many liberal Zionists with a deep attachment to Israel—and I knew so many back in the day—his views evolved as Israel moved right and the occupation started to look permanent, to the point where he sometimes seems to outflank me in his indignation at the actions of the Israeli government (maybe because it is felt so personally).

À propos, I was sent yesterday by a friend—who may or may not have been a liberal Zionist in his youth but has a strong personal connection to Israel—a recent Gallup poll on partisan attitudes toward Israel and how those of Democrats have shifted toward the Palestinians.

This has been the trend for a while, which we all know, and is only normal given that Israel is now a deep red state—as red as Alabama and Oklahoma—and where Trump would win in a walk against any Democrat. Add to this the images of children who will soon be blown to smithereens by bombs dropped from F-35s, and with no apologies or assumption of any responsibility by the state dropping the bombs, and one gets the reaction I’ve heard de vive voix from literally four Jewish friends over the past two months, which is, in effect, “I want nothing to do with a place that thinks and acts this way.”

As for the friend who sent the Gallup poll—and who is politically closer to the center than to the left—he has succeeded in persuading me on the validity of applying the apartheid label to Israel. Which is to say, I’ve changed my mind on this.

More on this à l’occasion.

The French pension reform

Full table here

Today is the 11th journée de mobilisation—of demonstrations and strikes—against Emmanuel Macron’s reform of the pension system. The movement has dominated French politics for the past the three months—the 1st journée was on January 19th—as those outside France who normally don’t follow this country too closely are likely aware, in view of the sensationalist TV coverage of the antics of the small numbers of Black Blocs, anarchists, and other hell-raisers, who inevitably infiltrate what are otherwise orderly marches—of a million or more law-abiding citizens across France on each journée—led by the eight major trade union federations, which are exceptionally united in their rejection of Macron’s reform.

I have naturally been following the movement though from a distance, as I am personally not concerned by the issue at hand and have not had strong views on it. And I have not attended a single one of the demos (unlike my wife, who’s been on almost all, under the banner of her union, in which she remains active as a retiree). Manifs of the syndicats and radical/far-left hangers-on are a French classic; they’re choreographed, or almost so, and rarely cause governments to quake. After marching in one or two, you get the idea. And speaking for myself, classic questions sociales stoke my passions somewhat less than do questions de société, or outright political ones, such as this. I have thus not felt overly motivated to write about the present movement, in part because I have also not felt competent to weigh in on the policy side of the pension issue or to take a decided position on Macron’s reform. The politics of the issue—how it has played out in parliament, of Macron himself, the disorder at the demos, the action of the police and other actors, etc.—are another matter, however, and on which I have plenty to say. And stateside friends and family have been asking for my views and when I’m going to do an AWAV on the subject. So here is my 2¢.

N.B. I am only going to discuss the policy side here, specifically the raising of the retirement age from 62 to 64, on which the unions and the public—and President Macron himself—have been fixated. I’ll take up the politics in the next post on the subject. On raising the retirement age, there is a manifest consensus—or, rather, an ideological reflex—among France-based Anglo-American journalists—apart from those on the left, of whom there are a few—and other such observers that Macron’s reform is so obviously necessary that it goes without saying. C’est une évidence. It hardly even needs to be argued. My good friend Claire Berlinski, une bonne libérale, dans le sens classique, thus had a lengthy post dated March 24th, “The riots (again) in France,” on her Substack site, The Cosmopolitan Globalist, in which she offered “a short debate” on France’s retirement age, beginning with “arguments in favor of raising the retirement age.” These consisted of a visual presentation of a succession of tables and graphs, of demographic projections and other data, a cursory examination of which will lead any sentient reader to naturally conclude—as, again, it goes without saying—that if the retirement age is not raised to (at minimum) 64, the French pension system will, by the end of this decade, become unsustainable or simply go bankrupt. Case closed.

Another doomsayer is John Lichfield, who resides in a village in Normandy and has been, as I have long asserted, the best Anglo-American journalist reporting on this country over the years (since I started to read him in The Independent in the early ’00s, in any case). But even the best and brightest among us occasionally misfire, and such is the case with Lichfield in his March 27th piece in the webzine UnHerd on the pension battle, which carries the unfortunate title, “Macron needs to be more like Thatcher: France is refusing to grow up.” British editorialists and headline writers would be well-advised to shelve the old saw about how the delusional French, collectively depicted as petulant children who won’t eat their spinach, need a “Margaret Thatcher”: a casse-couilles who will “impose reform on the country for its own good and against its will.”

Spare us, please. Nice how Thatcherism has worked out in Britain since her day, BTW—the sorry state of that country being her legacy—and as if France herself has not already enacted five pension reform laws over the past thirty years, along with other neoliberal reform measures, pour le meilleur et pour le pire.

For Lichfield as for Claire, raising the retirement age to 64 is une évidence, with no valid arguments against. So in Claire’s “short debate,” the single “argument” that she advances against raising the retirement age consists of a 17-second video posted on Twitter, of apparent protestors setting the mediaeval-era front door of the Bordeaux city hall on fire—and who carried out the act, so we are to understand, out of genuine opposition to Macron’s reform bill. (Though it appears that the arsonists were, in fact, far right-wing smashers who had nothing to do with the pension reform demo.)

Having looked into the 64 question, as it were, I am persuaded that those opposed to Macron’s reform are indeed right on the retirement age. And it is not only the syndicats and gauchistes who are critical of raising the retirement age but also prominent mainstream economists, one of whom is the libéral, erstwhile Macron adviser Philippe Aghion, formerly of Harvard University, nowadays a professor at the Collège de France and INSEAD. In a tribune in Les Echos dated Oct. 6, 2022, “La retraite à 65 ans serait injuste et inefficace,” Aghion begins

[T]o be able to invest more and better in education, health, energy transition and reindustrialization, while remaining credible vis-à-vis financial markets and our European partners [emphasis added], France has had to increase its employment and workforce participation rates. One of the levers to achieve this is pension reform. There is a fair and efficient way to reform our pension system and an unfair and less efficient way. The unfair and less efficient way is to raise the legal retirement age to 65. [N.B. All translations into English are by DeepL and edited by me]

Aghion continued in this vein in an interview in Libération (Dec. 8, 2022):

Economic rationality dictates that pension reform should be driven by the number of years one pays into the system, not the retirement age. (…) Setting the minimum age at 65 [the government’s initial proposal] would force low-skilled individuals, who started working early and have a lower life expectancy, to work even longer. On the other hand, it makes little or no difference for more qualified employees, who have a higher than average life expectancy and who enter the labor market later than others: most of us already leave the labor market after age 65. All in all, setting the minimum age at 65 will only affect the least qualified individuals, whose [Social Security taxes] are lower than those of more highly skilled individuals and who are less employable than the latter. So it is not only unfair but also inefficient, and I have not seen a convincing economic argument to the contrary.

The manifest unfairness of raising the retirement age—of its disproportionately negative impact on certain categories of workers—has been underscored by many. In an article in Social Europe (March 1st), “What’s driving the social crisis in France,” Guillaume Duval, former editor-in-chief of Alternatives Économiques and friend, thus writes:

The French pensions system is built around two main parameters: the minimum retirement age (currently 62) and the minimum duration of contributions required to obtain a full pension—42 years, with a planned increase to 43 years in 2035. (As well as raising the minimum retirement age to 64, under the proposal this threshold would be brought forward to 2027.)

The project is particularly unfair since it would penalise those who started working, and paying contributions, early. These are often the people with the lowest salaries, the toughest working conditions and the shortest life expectancy, while those who have studied at university, and had already had to leave after the age of 64, will be little affected. The government has been obliged to propose some modifications to limit the injustice but they are not easily accessible and many problems remain.

This is what scandalises the public. All the more so since Macron had explained at length during his first term that he would not take such a measure, because it was too unfair. We have had pension reforms over and over again: in 1993, in 2003, in 2010 … Each time the government swears that this is the last one and the system will be safe for decades. And each time it comes back a few years later to harden the system again.

True, the share of gross domestic product devoted to pensions in France, at 15.9 per cent (including disability), is among the highest in Europe, although behind Greece and Italy. But this reflects the past.

For the future, because of reforms already introduced, France is on the contrary one of the only countries in the European Union where, in spite of the ageing population, the share of pensions in GDP should decrease, according to the European Commission. By 2070, France would no longer rank third in this regard but ninth, close to the EU average.

Given the increase in the proportion of pensioners among the population, this implies a sharp deterioration for future pensioners. The public have understood this perfectly well. This is why they do not accept that the government wants to go even further, to cut another 0.7 percentage points of GDP from pensions expenditure.

Moreover, while the minimum legal retirement age is at the bottom of the EU spectrum, what mainly determines the effective retirement age in France is the duration of contributions. This effective pension age is already increasing rapidly and will continue to do so with the arrival in retirement of the first generations with mass access to higher education. Even without reform, it will reach 64 in the coming years.

For all these reasons, the public do not see the urgency of such a reform. If there is a limited problem of balancing the pensions budget over the next few years, we could increase slightly the contributions of employers and employees.

In an interview (March 21st) on France Culture’s L’Invité(e) des Matins, Patrick Artus, chief economist at the Natixis investment bank and prolific author, critiques Macron’s “authoritarian method”—of his failure to enlist social actors in elaborating the pension reform—and his misplaced priorities. Artus deplores the fact

that this pension reform has not been placed at the heart of a structural problem of the French economy, which is the low level of the employment rate (the percentage of the working age population that has a job). The employment rate is 8 or 9 points lower in France than in Germany, Sweden or the Netherlands. The employment rate for people over 60 is 35%, whereas it is 60/65% in other countries (…) and the unemployment rate for young people is over 18%. This is essentially a problem of vocational training, skills and initial training. (…) All studies show that there is a deficiency in the education system. We had plenty of progress to make on the employment rate, by providing vocational training at all ages, with an incredible potential to increase tax revenues. It’s a great shame that we didn’t combine this reform with others.

As Artus repeatedly reminds readers (or listeners), if France had the same employment and workforce participation rates as Germany, the French pension system would be running a surplus. There would be no need for reform.

For a viewpoint from Germany, here is an article (via Courrier International) from the Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung, datelined January 20th:

Attack on the social system.

Pension at 64 – wouldn’t it be nice? Anyone who wants to understand the resistance to Macron’s pension reform needs to be familiar with the special features of the French social system.

Retiring at 64 with a full pension is something many people in Europe can only dream of. In France, however, the gradual increase in the retirement age from 62 today to 64 is an affront. But a simple comparison with the statutory retirement age in Germany or other EU countries is misleading. The figure alone would be taken out of context. To understand the current protests against Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reform, one must also consider the very specific French context.

Since 1981, when Socialist President François Mitterrand lowered the retirement age to 60, this relatively early retirement has been considered a social achievement in France and the centerpiece of all social policy. Workers have long accepted that their low wages have been compensated by reasonably generous social benefits and by a functioning system.

In France, the old-age pension is part of the Sécurité Sociale, which also includes public health insurance, accident insurance, and the family allowance fund. Anyone who now wants to break a piece out of this overall structure must expect correspondingly fierce reactions. In the event of a defeat in this battle over the retirement age, many fear that the rest of social security will no longer be guaranteed either.

Raising the retirement age for those born after 1961 in the short term is tantamount to announcing the slaughter of a sacred cow. Those affected and the unions regard Macron’s plans as a frontal attack. Every time the government has shaken up social achievements so far, there have been very violent conflicts. In 1995, the Alain Juppé government had to withdraw a pension reform after several weeks of protests. Today, there is also the fact that in recent years many sections of the population have accumulated anger toward the “privileged” and the system, which can escalate quickly (as was the case with the yellow vest protests).

In France, too, life expectancy has risen, and many senior citizens would be fit enough to remain active beyond the age of 65. Already today, future retirees in France must have worked for 42 years and paid contributions into the pension scheme in order to receive full benefits, and since there are often too many gaps – the years of study do not count for most, for example – they already continue to work beyond the current official age limit of 62, if possible.

On the other hand, between the ages of 55 and 60, half have already left the workforce – and often not voluntarily. The supply of jobs for “seniors” on the labor market is meager. Macron’s call for them to work longer sounds hypocritical to them against this background. In reality, raising the retirement age and extending the required contribution years simply means a smaller pension in many cases.

There is more to be said about the factors driving the resistance to the pension reform—notably the conditions of work in France and power dynamics in the workplace—which I will take up next time.

À suivre.

Ihsane El Kadi

He has been one of Algeria’s best and brightest journalists over the past four decades and is now one of that country’s most high-profile political prisoners, having been sentenced by an Algiers court today to five years in prison and hit with a fine, in manifestly ridiculous, trumped-up charges, and with his Algiers-based media companies—Radio M and Maghreb Emergent—permanently shuttered. It was not unexpected but is an outrage nonetheless.

Algeria is, along with almost all of its MENA neighbors, witnessing a wave of political repression against non-Islamist regime critics unseen since at least the 1980s, as part of the military-backed power apparatus’s crackdown on the vestiges of the Hirak—the 2019-2021 protest movement that was so exhilarating and seemingly full of promise in its early days. Despite periodic bouts of repression and targeted persecution of specific personalities, Algeria has had one of the most vibrant presses—Arabic and French—in the MENA region over the past 35 years, and which Ihsane El Kadi personified. Those days are in the past.

Numerous journalists and political activists have felt the repressive hand of the Algerian state over the past three years but I’m paying particular attention to El Kadi, as I have long been familiar with his journalism and am also personally acquainted with him. In my 1989-90 Algiers days, I read every article I saw that carried his signature—then in the daily Horizons—a number of which figured in footnotes in my doctoral thesis. During my last visit to Algeria, in May-June 2016, I met Ihsane for the first time, at the offices of the short-lived HuffPost Algeria (off Place Audin)—of which he was a founding partner—along with three of his illustrious veteran colleagues. After an hour-long radio debate on Radio M, they invited me to a café on Rue Didouche Mourad, during which we talked Algerian politics (what else?), present and past. It was one of the more interesting conversations I had on that trip (and conversations are never boring in Algeria). Ihsane was particularly warm and friendly.

For the anecdote, when we got up to leave, Ihsane said he had a particular matter he wanted to ask me about: the NBA finals that were underway, of the Golden State Warriors vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder. He knew more about it than I did, needless to say.

The LRB Blog has an informative post dated 6 Feb. 2023, “Free Ihsane El Kadi,” by Jack Brown.

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

On this twentieth anniversary, give or take a day, of America’s unprovoked, unjustified invasion of Iraq, I am linking here to my lengthy AWAV post on the invasion’s tenth anniversary, of which I would change not a word if I were writing it today. And there’s not much I would add to those thoughts of a decade ago, except to underscore just how crazy the whole Iraq enterprise was: of the climate of hysteria in Washington at the time and incomprehensible notion that Iraq—a petrostate of 24 million inhabitants with a GDP the size of a small American city, broken by over twelve years of crippling economic sanctions and utterly isolated internationally, with not a single ally in the world—posed the slightest threat to the United States—and even if it had possessed “weapons of mass destruction” (what a deceptive expression that was!), which of course it did not (and that there was no credible evidence that it did). As for the awfulness of Saddam Hussein and his regime, sure, but one does not send the armada halfway around the world, wreak mass death and destruction, upend regional stability—relative as it may have been—and spend over $1 trillion in the process, for that reason alone. And it is hard to argue today that Saddam’s regime in 2002-03 was nastier than a host of regimes elsewhere, beginning with Afghanistan under the Taliban and the Assad dictatorship in Syria over the past five decades.

On Syria, the fiasco of the US enterprise in Iraq steeled my opposition to an eventual US intervention in the civil war there, as appalled and outraged as I was/am by the criminal Bashar al-Assad regime. Numerous friends and others I know—with whom I am otherwise on the same page politically—will never forgive Barack Obama for his refusal to militarily intervene in Syria in 2013 and after. Obama made two big mistakes on Syria: making the removal of Bashar from power a US policy objective—an objective that was unimpeachable but should not have been made explicit if the US were not going to actively try to bring it about—and drawing a red line on the use of chemical weapons—and then failing to act when they were. But these mistakes aside, I thought Obama did the right thing in not allowing the US to be pulled into a military quagmire in Syria, which would have certainly ended in a fiasco far greater than Iraq. And even if there were a hypothetical chance of a non-fiasco outcome—whatever that would have looked like—the US was simply not in a position to wage another war in the Middle East in the wake of the Iraq fiasco—and in a country and conflict as complex as Syria and where consequential outside actors—who had greater interests in Syria than did the US—were heavily implicated (Russia, Iran, Hizbullah). After the decade-long fiasco in Iraq, the American public would not hear about the United States waging a ‘forever war’ in Syria—which is why Obama decided that the red line was no longer one.

On the case of liberals who jumped on the Bush-Cheney bandwagon in 2003, one may listen to Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland’s 35-minute podcast discussion with erstwhile liberal hawk Peter Beinart, who explains his thinking of the time and why, along with so many, he came to regret having supported military intervention in Iraq.

I was not, in fact, unsympathetic to some of the arguments of some of the liberal hawks, as I made clear in my tenth anniversary post, but also made clear in the months preceding the war—in a series of email essays written in 2002-03 and assembled in an AWAV post titled The Iraq War file—that a US military invasion of Iraq would very likely be a fiasco. I thus wrote on February 1, 2003: “I would put the probability of an occupation of Iraq ending in fiasco on the order of 98%, which is why I ultimately have to be against an invasion (not to mention the terrible consequences this will inevitably have for the Iraqi population).”

I may have erred in some of my predictions but was prescient in others, if I may say so.

Of the numerous retrospectives on the anniversary, I will cite two that I think are particularly good. One is the powerful ‘long read’ in The Guardian by journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, “Baghdad memories: what the first few months of the US occupation felt like to an Iraqi.” The lede: “When I was 28, the US arrived in Baghdad. The soldiers were announced as liberators and their leaders talked of democracy. I watched the regime and Saddam statues fall, chaos reign and a sectarian war unfold.”

Abdul-Ahad’s essay is adapted from his book, published this month by Knopf, A Stranger in Your Own City: Travels in the Middle East’s Long War. It is no doubt a great read.

Another article, in Prospect magazine, is “Iraq, the fallout: Two decades on from the US-led invasion, Iraq is still suffering from violence and corruption that the war left behind,” by journalist Lizzie Porter, who is based in Iraq and Turkey, and is senior correspondent at Iraq Oil Report.

When beginning this post I was reminded of an exceptional two-part, 5½-hour long documentary by France-based Iraqi filmmaker Abbas Fahdel, titled Homeland: Iraq Year Zero, which opened theatrically here in February 2016 and that I saw at the time (trailer here). I found the documentary so excellent that I was going to devote a dithyrambic AWAV post to it, but never did. Seven years later, here’s a description of the film and with a strong recommendation to see it if one can (and can set aside 5+ hours to do so). This from one website:

In February 2002 – about a year before the U.S. invasion – Iraqi filmmaker Abbas Fahdel traveled home from France to capture everyday life as his country prepared for war. He concentrated on family and friends, including his 12-year-old nephew, Haider, as they went about their daily lives, which had come to include planning for shortages of food, water and power. No strangers to war, the Iraqis thought they understood what was coming, and could even manage to be grimly humorous about what they felt would likely be a major and lengthy inconvenience. And then, the war began.

When Fahdel resumed filming in 2003, two weeks after the invasion, daily activities have come to a near standstill, the city is overrun with foreign soldiers, and many areas of Baghdad had been closed off to ordinary citizens. Iraqis endure, seemingly as unwitting as Americans themselves about what further tragedy awaits. Fahdel’s epic yet intimate film paints a compelling portrait of people struggling to survive while their civilization, dating back to ancient times, is destroyed around them.

And from another site:

Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) is a riveting home-movie chronicle of life in Iraq before and after the US invasion. Offering all-too-rare images of everyday life in Iraq, the film closely follows extended family members and friends of director Abbas Fahdel as they brace for the long impending attack and then struggle to survive the disastrous consequences of American imperialism. Leaving the invasion itself eerily absent, Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) is cleaved into two epic chapters starkly separated by a dark, gaping chasm. Part 1. Before the Fall offers a touching portrait of middle-class Iraq, assembled from extended domestic scenes and debates among Baghdad friends and neighbors, as well as a wedding that becomes an emotional centerpiece of the entire film. Part 2. After the Battle bravely takes to the street to survey, with shock and unspoken outrage, the ruthless destruction of public and private space wrought by the occupying US forces.

As I saw the film seven years ago, it is not fresh in my mind, though I can make a couple of comments about it. One, which one reads above, is that it gives a better idea of what life was like for urban Iraqis at the time than any cinematic treatment one will see. The other, from the second part, when American troops were patrolling the streets of Baghdad, is the utter futility of the American enterprise in Iraq. The Americans were in over their heads in Iraq, occupying a country and people of whom they knew nothing and understood even less. Iraq was Mission Impossible for America. Fiasco was preordained.

UPDATE: In a March 20th L’Heure du Monde podcast, Le Monde editorialist Alain Frachon spoke of a conversation he had had with former DGSE director Jean-Claude Cousseran (2000-02) in the run-up to the US invasion, who told Frachon that, in the estimation of French intelligence, the Iraqis had no nuclear program or chemical weapons—what existed of both having been dismantled by UN inspectors in the 1990s—and that while it was possible that the Iraqis possessed a quantity of anthrax, they had no delivery system to weaponize it.

2nd UPDATE: Mehdi Hasan, who is the most redoubtable interviewer on American television, had a (good, civilized) 12-minute debate on his MSNBC show (March 31) with Tom Nichols, on whether or not George W. Bush should be prosecuted for war crimes in Iraq, as all agree that Vladimir Putin should be for Ukraine (watch here). Mehdi naturally says yes, the NeverTrumper ex-Republican Nichols—who supported the Iraq invasion in 2003 before changing his mind several years later—says no. My reflexive sympathies are with Mehdi, though I will side more with Nichols on the Iraq-Ukraine comparison, which Nichols contests and that I think is valid only up to a point. In addition to differences between the two cases that Nichols cites, I would add three: 1. Regardless of some of the rhetoric in Washington in 2003, the United States never had the vocation, let alone ability, to permanently occupy Iraq or turn it into a vassal state. This was never in the cards. I was already arguing in 2003 that the Americans would eventually pack up and leave Iraq, and sooner rather later. Putin’s designs on Ukraine, it goes without saying, are otherwise. 2. Though the US set up an occupation regime via the Coalition Provisional Authority, it was not meant to last—and it did for only a year. Moreover, the only Iraqi political party the CPA banned was the Ba’ath (a big mistake in itself). The Iraqi Governing Council created by the CPA—which later evolved into the Iraqi parliament—included all the other political forces in Iraq, long banned and repressed, from Islamists to the Communist party (historically one of the most significant in the Arab world) and the Kurdish and other regional parties. Say what one will about Bush and the “neocons” but they did sincerely believe that they could bring democracy to Iraq. The comparison with Putin and Ukraine hardly necessitates explanation. 3. The US military and its mercenary auxiliaries committed war crimes (Abu Ghraib, Haditha massacre, Nisour Square massacre, etc.) and frequently behaved poorly toward Iraqis, but their overall comportment toward civilians simply does not compare with that of the Russians in Ukraine today. Again, this hardly necessitates explanation.

3rd UPDATE: Radio France Internationale had a two-part must-listen panel discussion (April 1-2; on podcast here and here) taking stock 20 years after, with top Iraq specialists Loulouwa Al Rachid (who authored the ICG report, ‘Voices from the Iraqi street’, discussed in my 10th anniversary AWAV post), Myriam Benraad, and Adel Bakawan, and with left-leaning American University of Paris professor Philip Golub commenting on US policy.

2023 Oscars

[updates below]

This is my first Oscars post since 2020. I didn’t—or, rather, couldn’t—have one in 2021, as thanks to the pandemic and months-long closing of the cinemas in France, I hadn’t seen most of the nominated films; and too many of last year’s nominees I also hadn’t seen, as they were on streaming platforms I do not have access to (none apart from Netflix), had not yet opened here, or that I didn’t bother with. But I have seen most of this year’s nominees in the top categories, enough for an AWAV post at least.

As much as I love movies, I generally don’t read much about cinema—and rarely read reviews before seeing the pic—and don’t look for pundit speculation as to which movie is going to win what award. I did, however, come across Oscar predictions yesterday by David Sims of The Atlantic and NYT columnist Ross Douthat, both of whom are nigh certain that Everything Everywhere All at Once will win Best Picture, plus a slew of other awards—that it is a film “a remarkable number of people just passionately loved” and will have a “triumphant night” today March 12th. Of the ten Best Picture nominees, there are three I haven’t seen, this being one of them. I paid no attention to it when it opened here last August and could not bring myself to download on VOD after seeing the trailer, which did not pique my curiosity, au contraire. I am really not a fan of science fiction, though will consent to see a film in the genre if recommended by reliable persons. There has, however, been deep division over this one, including on Facebook threads I’ve seen, with some liking or loving the pic, and others disliking it, finding it insufferable, or simply ceasing to watch after 15-20 minutes (a risk in my case). If its night is indeed triumphant, I’ll probably succumb and check it out.

[UPDATE: ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ reopened in several Paris theaters following its Oscars triumph, so I went to see it (Mar. 26), at a packed salle of mostly younger people. Had I watched the movie on VOD at home, I would have turned it off after maybe half an hour, 45 minutes max. It was already hard enough to follow from the beginning but once it descended into sci-fi/fantasy, I lost the thread entirely. I couldn’t follow what the hell was happening or why, and frankly didn’t care. One is assaulted with rapid fire, non-stop special effects and which make no goddamned sense. And the non-stop violence—of people beating up on one another, throwing projectiles, and Kung-Fu fighting, and for no apparent reason—was off-putting. This is not a movie for someone my age. I can understand it winning the technical Oscars and maybe even some of the acting ones—maybe—but Best Picture? GMAB! As for it being the first Asian-American movie to win such accolades, so what? BFD!]

One reads in the NYT that two of the Best Picture nominees are “four-quadrant” movies, this being a Hollywood trade expression for a movie that is “popular with everyone, everywhere,” that prompts all demographics to buy a ticket: young, old, female, male. The two in question so happen to be the other ones I did not see, Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water, planetary mega blockbusters both, as everyone knows (‘Avatar’, which has made over $2 billion worldwide, sold almost as many tix at Paris theaters as the population of the city). My not seeing the two was not deliberate. The former I just didn’t get around to—it wasn’t a priority, either en salle or in VOD—and likewise with the latter, being put off, in addition, by the 3+ hour runtime (as for the sci-fi/fantasy aspect, I did see the first ‘Avatar’ thirteen years back, which I did not regret, so it being of the sci-fi genre is not redhibitory in and of itself). I’ll catch up with both of these at some point, inshallah.

[UPDATE: I saw ‘Avatar’ (Mar. 21) and in IMAX 3D (my very first time), which is the only way to see a movie like that, for me at least. It’s quite impressive as a visual spectacle. As for the story, bof. It’s a cartoon, or all but one. That said, I appreciated the implicit écolo/progressive message, of the Na’vi humanoids living in harmony with nature, and with the bad guy real humans—led by the evil Colonel Miles Quaritch (his avatar), a stereotypical American soldier with his stupid-ass military lingo—100% MAGA, and who [spoiler alert!] happily get the shit kicked out of them by the otherwise primitive Na’vi in the climactic battle scene (of course). I don’t imagine that MAGA Americans liked it too much. N.B. As it’s the sequel of a movie that came out 13 years ago, I had to consult the Wikipedia page of the first Avatar to remind myself of the origins of the story.]

As for the Best Picture nominees that I have seen, voilà my brief takes.

Tár: An extraordinary film, which had me absorbed for its entire 2½+ hours, and with a tour de force performance by Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár, the megalomaniacal, borderline sociopathic orchestra conductor—all going to show that powerful, narcissistic women can behave as odiously as men. There is unanimity on the film among everyone I know who has seen it—and everyone over a certain age, say, early 40s (i.e. Boomers and Gen-Xers), loved the scene—already famous—where Lydia Tár puts the “BIPOC pangender” student, named Max, in his place, thus scoring one against the wokesters—though which inevitably boomeranged against her later, the Millennials and Gen-Zers exacting their revenge. “Finally, a great movie about cancel culture,” dixit Michelle Goldberg. While Maestra Tár was, objectively speaking, right in what she said to snowflake Max, the novelist Zadie Smith, in a lengthy, nuanced NYRB review essay on the film, wondered about her pedagogical approach: “As we learn in her classroom, Tár’s method is direct combat. For she is Gen X—like me—and one of the striking things about my crowd is that…we prefer to scorn emotions personally…and also to trample over other peoples’. It doesn’t occur to Tár that sweet young Max may have serious trouble with anxiety—although we in the audience certainly notice his knees bouncing frantically. The power differential between these two means that a rant Tár might launch into around a dinner table in Berlin—to much receptive laughter—is experienced as ritual humiliation by a young man exposed in front of his peers.” Yes, of course. Empathy and tact do not hurt, particularly with a student less than half your age.

The Banshees of Inisherin: A terrific film, and with exceptional performances, particularly by Colin Farrell. As with ‘Tár’, I was thoroughly absorbed in this one, as were most of those I know who’ve seen it. There are a few dissenters, though, who found the story not to be credible, of Colm (Brendan Gleeson) terminating his lifelong friendship with Pádraic (Farrell) for no apparent reason, and then threatening to cut off his own fingers one by one if Pádraic wouldn’t leave him alone—a threat that he (spoiler alert!) made good on. Of course it’s not credible if seen in a literal sense, but the film should not be taken that way. It’s a fable, with things that happen, notably the terminated friendship and finger cutting, to be seen metaphorically, not in the first degree. E.g. the Irish Civil War that is underway in the distance (it’s 1923), in which men who were bound to one another against the English, who were united on just about everything, suddenly and stupidly trying kill one another. Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson has an informative essay on this, submitting that the film “is great—and even better if you know the history behind it.” See as well the insightful essay by Andrew Sullivan, who has Irish roots, “Off the coast of modernity: Martin McDonagh’s poignant and hilarious parable,” in his Substack site.

The Fabelmans: French critics have been falling over themselves with praise for this one, collectively scoring it a 4.9 on the Allociné website, signifying that the overwhelming majority are calling it a masterpiece. No less. This is unprecedented, to say the least. It is also excessive, needless to say. Absurdly so, in fact. The movie is, as one knows, Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age autoportrait, of growing up in 1950s-60s Arizona, in a Jewish family—in a part of America where there weren’t too many other Jews around—and how he came to love movies and how to make them. In this respect, it’s a perfectly serviceable biopic and entertaining enough, though is, at 2½ hours runtime, a little long. I began to get impatient two-thirds of the way through. I also had a qualm about Spielberg’s depiction of his high school senior year in California, in which he looks to have embellished some of his memories. E.g. the bullying he was subjected to by the WASP jocks; count me as dubious but this kind of bullying simply does not happen among 17-18 year-olds, particularly the college bound. Bullying is a middle school thing; it does not happen in the 12th grade. The religiosity of his evangelical Protestant girlfriend was also a little over-the-top (though this one may have been tongue-in-cheek on Spielberg’s part). And a fun little detail: not a single one of the teenagers lit up a cigarette, when, in 1964, at least half of them would have been smoking once they were outside school grounds. So while French critics rated the pic a 5.0 (chef d’œuvre) on Allociné, I gave it a 3.0 max (not bad/okay).

Elvis: It’s a biopic, so you know what’s going to happen. Except when you don’t. Elvis Presley was a personality in popular culture while I was growing up and was often enough in the news—particularly when he died (I was 21)—but he was also slightly before my time. I was not a fan of his music in my youth, nor was anyone else I knew. And the radio stations I listened to (in Milwaukee and Chicago) didn’t play him. Urban Americans in my social milieu, who were born in the mid 1950s and after, did not listen to Elvis. That said, I was generally impressed with his songs when I would hear them. So, respect for Elvis as a chanteur. Watching the biopic, which I assume was a faithful portrayal his formative years, I realized that I did not know about his impoverished childhood, friendly relationships with Afro-Americans—which was not too common for whites in the Jim Crow South—and—a central theme of the film—the tyrannical control his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (played by Tom Hanks), exercised over him (that he prevented Elvis from holding concerts outside the United States, among so many other things). In short, I thought it was a well-done, well-acted movie (Austin Butler is good as Elvis), and I learned things from it.

Women Talking: I saw this one last Wednesday, the day it opened in France, in a near empty salle off the Champs-Élysées. I would be surprised if the salles have filled up for it since. The film does have its qualities, it should be said, notably the first-rate all-female ensemble cast and the dialogue—which is all that happens; it’s a 100 minute talk fest, almost all inside a barn—of the women debating what to do about the sexual abuse they have all been subjected to by the male members of their Mennonite cult, who have kept them in lifelong isolation from the outside world. One is naturally reminded of Albert Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. I will admit to having briefly nodded off at one point, though didn’t feel that I had missed anything important, as one gets the idea early on. Its qualities aside, this is not a fun movie to sit through.

Triangle of Sadness: Filthy rich people on a luxury cruise treat the ship’s personnel like dirt, and then they all get stranded on an inhospitable desert island, with the proles and their superior survival skills turning the tables on the parasitic, useless rich people. The theme is, as they would say where I live, un tantinet racoleur, i.e. it appeals to our visceral sentiments. Everyone wants to stick it to filthy rich people, after all, and feels schadenfreude when they suddenly suffer material misfortune, n’est-ce pas? I was recently listening to a Bulwark podcast discussion, during which one of the Bulwark regulars—a self-described low taxes, laissez-faire libertarian—described an otherwise enjoyable vacation he had been treated to on St. Barts, where he found the denizens and holiday-makers to be so filthy rich—and with their almost unlimited amounts of money not the product of hard work or anything useful they had ever done—that his sentiment while in this upper class tropical paradise was “we need to tax the hell out of these people!” To which I say, “yes, that and a whole lot more!” As for the movie, I didn’t like it too much and was mystified that it won the Palme d’or at Cannes (and is now nominated for the best picture Oscar). It is also a multinational/mainly Swedish production, not American, so shouldn’t even be in this category to begin with.

All Quiet on the Western Front: I watched this on Netflix the other day. Everyone has read the book (in high school if you’re American) and maybe seen at least one of the previous cinematic versions. It is being said that this one is the best of the three (and the 1930 one is considered a chef d’œuvre). It is indeed an excellent film, conveying the horror of war more effectively than any other recent one that comes to mind. One thinks throughout of the Donbass today, as I write. And in the World War I genre, it’s a couple of notches above Sam Mendes’ ‘1917’. As with the above one, though, it’s not American, so one wonders what it’s doing in this category.

Then there are these, which figure in the Best Actor category.

The Whale: The film is, in effect, a stage play, taking place almost entirely in a living room, where Charlie (Brendan Fraser), a morbidly obese college instructor (adjunct) of English literature and creative writing, spends his life, teaching his courses on Zoom but not showing his face, so the students won’t see that he weighs at least 600 lbs, if not more. Charlie seems like a good man—conscientious, generous, and kind, and a good teacher to boot—so one wants to sympathize with him despite his physical condition. It would be easier to do that if his obesity were genetic or the result of something beyond his control, but learning that it was self-inflicted and then observing his gluttony, it’s hard to maintain sympathy. The film is both engaging and disquieting, if not creepy at points. Fatphobes are not likely to change their attitude after seeing it. Brendan Fraser—an actor with whom I am not familiar (I’ve seen him in two films, in the late ’90s/early ’00s, which I barely remember, and his performance not at all)—is apparently favored to win the Oscar for his role. He’s not my first choice, or second.

Aftersun: I was looking forward to this one, in view of the top reviews on both sides of the pond and, above all, the story, of a woman’s memory of a vacation she took with her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), twenty years earlier, at age 11, on the Turkish coast in the late ’90s. A father and daughter bonding. As the father of a daughter who was once 11 (not an easy age, il faut le dire), I could relate to the theme. But while I thought it a generally good film, it did not entirely resonate with me, mainly as I did not relate to Calum. He’s not my kind of guy and his relationship with his daughter did not remind me of the one I had with mine at that age. I also did not find Paul Mescal’s performance memorable and am puzzled that it is deemed Oscar-worthy.

Living: Rodney Williams (Bill Nighy) is a lonely, taciturn 60-year-old widower and colorless administrator in the London public works department, who learns that he has terminal cancer and with six months left to live. Having led a manifestly boring, insipid life, he finally comes alive during those six months, living life as it should be lived: to the fullest. It’s a subtle and moving film IMHO, impeccably situated at a particular moment in time (early 1950s England), and with Bill Nighy’s performance worthy of an Oscar nomination (though maybe not to win it). Every last critic has naturally mentioned that the film is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 ‘Ikiru’, universally considered a chef d’œuvre and that all the critics have naturally seen, and are naturally comparing ‘Living’ to. I’ve seen several Japanese classics from the 1950s but not ‘Ikiru’. I should.

My vote:

Obviously. ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ is a close second. ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ looks almost sure to win, though.

BEST DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh (‘The Banshees of Inisherin’).
Why not? It will, however, probably be the two guys who directed ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’.

BEST ACTOR: Colin Farrell (‘The Banshees of Inisherin’).
Hands down. Austin Butler in ‘Elvis’ is second. As for the others, see above.

BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett (‘Tár’).
Hands down. And regardless of the competition. The only other one I can speak to here is Michelle Williams in ‘The Fabelmans’, who wasn’t bad. I cannot speak to Ana de Armas in ‘Blonde’, Andrea Riseborough in ‘To Leslie’, or Michelle Yeoh in ‘Everything…’, as I haven’t seen these.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Brendan Gleeson (‘The Banshees of Inisherin’).
Of course. I am not familiar with Brian Tyree Henry and have not seen ‘Causeway’.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Angela Bassett (‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’).
I actually have not seen this one—it was not at all a priority when it played here (I saw the first ‘Black Panther’ in 2018, which was quite enough)—but am sure she’s good and deserves to win (and likely will). Hong Chau is meritorious in ‘The Whale’.

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front.’
This goes without saying. I liked the Polish film EO. Haven’t seen the others (though want to, particularly ‘Argentina, 1985’).

2023 César awards

[update below]

I’ve had a post on the César awards every year for the past ten, it not being a ceremony I actually care about but which offers the opportunity to write about French movies of the past year considered by the French movie industry—but not necessarily by me—to have been the best. The event is tomorrow (Friday), at the Olympia hall (in the 9th arrondissement). The full list of nominees is here. Leading with eleven nominations is ‘L’Innocent’ (The Innocent), followed by ten for ‘La Nuit du 12’ (The Night of the 12th), nine each for ‘En corps’ (Rise) and ‘Pacifiction: Tourment sur les Îles’, seven apiece for ‘Les Amandiers’ (Forever Young) and ‘Novembre’, and four each for ‘À plein temps’ (Full Time) and ‘Saint Omer’. I’ve seen just about all of those—in the theater, a couple via streaming— in the categories I weigh in on. There were a number of good to very good French movies last year, though only two that I rated ‘excellent’ on Allociné—one of which receiving not a single César nomination, as was the case with several that I rated ‘très bien’.

Voilà my verdict.

BEST FILM: La Nuit du 12 (Night of the 12th).
This is one of the two French films of the year I rated ‘excellent’, and which appears to be the consensus choice to win this. Directed by Dominik Moll, it’s a slick, impeccably cast, acted, and paced police thriller—and with a feminist subtext—inspired by an actual fait divers, described in a book on the judicial police—with the movie shifting the crime scene from the Paris region to a town in the Alps, near Grenoble—in which a 20-year-old woman sans histoires, named Clara, is atrociously murdered while walking home late at night (on October 12, 2016) from a friend’s house in her quiet residential neighborhood, by a man laying in wait for her in a dark corner—one does not see his face—who douses her with gasoline and then sets her alight. Crimes don’t get more terrifying than this or murders more hideous. Two police detectives, Yohan and Marceau (Bastien Bouillon and Bouli Lanners, respectively), are put in charge of the investigation, which quickly leads to several men with whom (excepting one, maybe) Clara had had a casual relationship, and any one of whom is a possible suspect in the crime, each with a putative motive or in apparent possession of material evidence. But the evidence was either not conclusive or the alibis were convincing, so the case started to go cold, which fueled detective Yohan’s obsession with it—and with that, a reflection, echoed by more than one character, on what it is about so many men, who are driven into such jealous rage over women’s sexuality so as to commit acts of violence, including murder. After three years of going nowhere, the case was relaunched on the instruction of a female magistrate and which turned up a new lead, but—spoiler alert!—did not yield the culprit. So the case stayed cold (though I’m pretty sure I know who did it).

My runner-up is Cédric Klapisch’s feel-good En corps (Rise), whose protagonist is a 26-year-old professional ballerina named Élise (Marion Barbeau), who fractures her ankle during a performance at the Opera Garnier, the injury being so severe, she is so informed afterwards, that she will likely never dance again. As dancing is all she has ever done or wants to do, she sets out to prove the doctors and X-rays wrong, falls in with a contemporary dance troupe at its retreat in bucolic rural Brittany, where she learns an entirely new form of dancing—which includes break dancing—and finds romance while she’s at it. She returns to Paris with the troupe, performs publicly to a stellar reception, and voilà, le happy end! La vie est belle. The pic is a crowd-pleaser, the kind the grand public loves—it was the biggest box office hit by far of the five nominees (1.4 million tickets sold, which is a lot for France)—and which I don’t dislike myself when well done, which this one is. The supporting cast is tops.

In Louis Garrel’s L’Innocent (The Innocent), a crowd-pleasing crime comedy, protag Abel (Garrel himself) is panicked by the marriage of his twice-divorced 60-year-old mother (Anouk Grinberg), who teaches a theater acting class in a prison, with one of her prisoner students (Roschdy Zem), who is about to be released but with Abel not convinced that he has given up a life of crime. But Abel then comes to see lucrative possibilities in collaborating with his new stepfather, so with girlfriend (Noémie Merlant) they plan a heist. The pic’s a caper, entertaining and fun, and with plenty of laughs for those who laugh easily (which is not me; I’m a tough customer when it comes to the laugh-o-meter), though it’s hardly the best of the year in my book. Great choice of theme song, though: Gérard Blanc’s 1986 “Une autre histoire” (which may be heard in the trailer). Love that one!

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s Les Amandiers (Forever Young), set in the mid 1980s, is a semi-autobiographical trip down memory lane of the director’s two years as a student at the renowned theater school in Nanterre of the same name as the film, headed by the renowned figures in the theater world, Patrice Chéreau and Pierre Romans. VBT’s camarades at the school included Agnès Jaoui, Vincent Perez, and Marianne Denicourt—all of whom, one learns—as only initiates and insiders could possibly know—are played by youthful cast members under different names. The movie depicts the lives and loves of early-20s theater students at that particular moment in history, with their psychodramas, états d’âme, and you name it (and with the chape de plomb of HIV/AIDS hovering over their raging hormones). I did not care for the movie. I did not like the characters or relate to their trials and tribulations. But seeing the critics’ and spectateur ratings on Allociné, I’m in a minority on this.

Incomprehensibly nominated for best film is Pacifiction, directed by auteur Albert Serra and with multi-laureate actor Benoît Magimel in the lead role. Billed as an espionage drama, it is thus described on Allociné: “On the island of Tahiti, in French Polynesia, the High Commissioner of the Republic and representative of the French state, De Roller, is a calculating man with perfect manners. In official receptions as well as in shady establishments, he regularly takes the pulse of a local population from which anger can explode at any moment—and all the more so as a rumor is flying: that a submarine has been sighted, whose presence could announce a resumption of French nuclear tests.” Sounds promising! AWAV’s kind of movie! I hesitated, however, when seeing the sheer number of thumbs-way-down spectateur reviews on Allociné—far lower than the critics’, which were effusive—plus the 2 hour 45 minute run time. But when it was nominated for nine Césars (no less) I decided to bite the bullet, expend a Sunday afternoon, and attend a special screening. Big mistake. I would have done well to have read beforehand this money quote in an otherwise stellar, Uber-cinephile Allociné spectateur review: “this is a cinematic experience as demanding as a film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Andrei Tarkovsky, or Bela Tarr. Some people will suffer, as it is most unpleasant to feel trapped in a movie theater watching a movie that one is not liking. But for those who like Weerasethakul, Tarkovsky or Tarr, ‘Pacifiction’ is a rare and profound experience.” Hoo boy! The one film each that I’ve seen by the first two of these highbrow auteurs so bored me to tears that I subsequently ruled out ever again seeing anything that had their respective names on it. This assessment by another Allociné spectateur, who rated the film ‘très mauvais’, captures my sentiment: “The run time can be off-putting, with one’s fears confirmed during the film. Literally nothing happens. 2H45 of nothing, of emptiness, of interstellar boredom (ennui intersidéral). One will only remember this film for it having wasted almost three hours of one’s time. And to be sure to avoid the next one by this director…” Had I not been sitting alone in the furthest back row, where I could scroll through my phone without disturbing anyone, I would have likely left early. N.B. ‘Pacifiction’ was not exactly a box office hit, selling a grand total of 56K tickets (<4% of ‘En corps’).

N.B. The other French film of 2022 I rated ‘excellent’ (4.5 score on Allociné), but which was nominated for nothing, was Gaspar Noé’s Vortex, an absorbing 2½ hour portrait of a day in the life of an octogenarian couple in Paris’ 18th arrondissement who, clinging to their possessions of a lifetime, refuse to quit their apartment and quartier for assisted living, and despite one of them sliding into dementia. It is the most powerful film one will see on the ravages of ageing (and that awaits us all, if we’re not already into it).

BEST DIRECTOR: Cédric Jimenez for Novembre (November).
It was somewhat of a risky undertaking to make an action movie around such a traumatic event as the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks, only seven years after the fact, that would not upset a lot of people and be both a box office hit and not panned by the critics. Cédric Jimenez, who directed the smash hit ‘BAC Nord’ (discussed in last year’s César post), pulled it all off. The pic’s focus is the police investigation, beginning the moment the news broke of the attacks—which are not shown—and the race against the clock to capture or neutralize the terrorists before they commited another atrocity and/or vanished back to Syria. It’s a riveting, high octane thriller—even though you know what’s going to happen—and with a top-notch ensemble cast led by Jean Dujardin. And it was a box office success to boot, with 2.4M tix sold (outdoing ‘BAC Nord’).

The other nominees are the directors of all the above films except for ‘Les Amandiers’. All are worthy—even Albert Serra of ‘Pacifiction’, for the impressive cinematography of Polynesia.

BEST ACTOR: Jean Dujardin in ‘Novembre’.
Louis Garrel in ‘L’Innocent’ would also be fine (and I’ll bet he gets it). As for Vincent Macaigne in Emmanuel Mouret’s Chronique d’une liaison passagère (Diary of a Fleeting Affair), no way! As the title suggests, the story is a casual affair, purely carnal, of a middle-aged married man (Macaigne) and single mom (Sandrine Kiberlain), that is supposed to be sans lendemain and devoid of sentiments, but begins to last and with sentiments inevitably developing. Yawn. The pic got the thumbs up from critics (including US/UK) and audiences alike, but I’m in the tiny minority of those who didn’t like it. I found the relationship implausible and the banter and general interaction between the two frivolous and uninteresting. The story did not ring true. Also, while the cinquantenaire Sandrine Kiberlain is pas mal, I can’t imagine what woman would want to go out with a schlump like Macaigne (his character in the film at least).

Denis Ménochet is a good actor and I make it a point to see François Ozon’s latest film, whatever it is, even though he’s hit and miss. When he’s “hit” he can be excellent, but his Peter Von Kant—inspired, as one may surmise, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’—is a “miss” IMHO. As for Ménochet’s lead performance, I cannot objectively assess it, as the film both irritated and bored me from almost the opening scene. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. That’s as much as I can say about it.

Benoît Magimel in ‘Pacifiction’: no.

BEST ACTRESS: Laure Calamy in À plein temps (Full Time).
This is the third year in a row that I’ve pegged Laure Calamy for this award. She’s a terrific actress, one of the best—I’ll see her in anything—and does not disappoint in this first-rate film, the subject of which is the daily ordeal of the working world for those in precarious, low paid jobs—and in the case here, of one who has slid way down the occupational/class ladder and is desperately trying, against hope, to climb her way back up. Parenthetically, one comprehends the opposition of so many to Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, of the idea that they’ll have to spend two additional years in the galère of the contemporary working world.

I am not a fan of Juliette Binoche but she’s good enough, albeit not entirely convincing, in Emmanuel Carrère’s Ouistreham (Between Two Worlds), the cinematic adaptation of the well-known reporter Florence Aubenas’ 2010 best-seller Le Quai de Ouistreham (English translation: The Night Cleaner), in which she recounts her six months of going undercover as a member of the cleaning staff on the Ouistreham-Portsmouth cross-Channel ferry, to experience menial labor and the shitty working conditions of those who perform it, but to also bear witness to their camaraderie and expressions of solidarity with one another.

Economic precariousness and the shitty world of work—for those on the lower rungs of the social ladder at least—is almost a sub-genre in French cinema. As for acting in the genre, more convincing than the inescapably bourgeois Juliette Binoche is Adèle Exarchopoulos in Rien à foutre (Zero Fucks Given; yes, that’s the English title), in which she plays a mid 20s stewardess for a low-cost airline—talk about a grueling, underpaid job, and with having to put up with all sorts of indignities—but she does her job and seeks to enjoy life in her off hours. The film is engaging until the final maybe twenty minutes, when I thought it dragged and seemed to go nowhere, but the smartest American critic of French cinema thought the opposite. Someone is clearly à côté de la plaque here, no doubt yours truly.

Virginie Efira is a great actress and certainly French cinema’s most prolific at the present time, appearing in several movies a year, and the nomination for her role in Revoir Paris (Paris Memories), as a survivor of a terrorist attack in Paris suffering from PTSD, is well-deserved. IMHO she should have, however, been nominated instead for her role in Rebecca Zlotowski’s Les Enfants des autres (Other Peoples Children), one of AWAV’s Top 10 movies of 2022 but which was nominated for not a single César. I loved Virginie in this one.

I’m sure Fanny Ardant acquits herself well in Les Jeunes amants (The Young Lovers), in which she plays a 71-year-old woman who becomes romantically involved with a man 25 years her junior, but I didn’t see it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Roschdy Zem in ‘L’Innocent.’
I have no particular preference in this category, so will go with the actor I like the most, independently of the films in question. Bouli Lanners in ‘La Nuit du 12’ is perfectly okay, as are François Civil and Pio Marmaï in ‘En corps’. Micha Lescot in ‘Les Amandiers’: I can’t picture him, let alone his character in the film.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Lyna Khoudri in ‘Novembre’.
I like her, and it would be nice to see an Algerian win. And yes, she is good as the hijab-wearing “Sonia” character, whose tip led to the police neutralizing the terrorist Abaaoud. Anaïs Demoustier is fine as the rookie cop in ‘Novembre’. Anouk Grinberg and Noémie Merlant in ‘L’Innocent’: sure, why not?

As for Judith Chemla in Le Sixième enfant (The Sixth Child), she is meritorious as the Roma wife pregnant with her sixth child that she and her husband cannot afford, and that, refusing abortion, they are ready to sell, for a tidy sum of cash, to a well-heeled Parisian lawyer couple unable to have children and who are desperate to adopt one, even if it means breaking the law (and being disbarred and going to prison). It’s a slick, impeccably cast film but had me ill at ease, as you just know that it won’t have a happy ending.

MOST PROMISING ACTOR: Aliocha Reinert in Petite Nature (Softie).
Bastien Bouillon, as police detective Yohan in ‘La Nuit du 12’, will probably win but I vote for Reinert, who is both remarkable and unforgettable as the 10-year-old Johnny (11 when the film was shot), who, in this little gem of a film, lives in Forbach (in the Lorraine) with his low-class mother, who works petits boulots, and siblings (likely with different fathers, all absent), is taken under the wing of his 6th grade teacher, and dreams of escaping his dysfunctional family and social condition.

Paul Kircher in Christophe Honoré’s Le Lycéen (Winter Boy) is good enough, I suppose, in this coming-of-age (a popular genre this year), of a high school senior discovering himself and, above all, his sexuality (some of the scenes are explicit). It’s an LGBTQ+ niche film, with necessarily limited appeal outside that niche. I have nothing to say about Stéfan Crepon in ‘Peter von Kant’. I can’t speak to Dimitri Doré in Bruno Reidal, confession d’un meurtrier, as I haven’t seen it.

MOST PROMISING ACTRESS: Mallory Wanecque in Les Pires (The Worst Ones).
Marion Barbeau, as Élise in ‘En corps’, will likely win but I vote for Wanecque, who is memorable as the cheeky15-year-old Lily from a cité in Boulogne-sur-Mer, along with the rest of the amateur cast of children in the film, all lower class problem kids—the “worst” elements in the cité—who, one notes in passing, are all “white,” not the usual suspects from the ghetto.

The other nominees are Nadia Tereszkiewicz, as the double of Valeria Bruni Tadeschi in ‘Les Amandiers’; Rebecca Marder in Une jeune fille qui va bien (A Radiant Girl), a coming-of-age film, directed by Sandrine Kiberlain, of a 19-year-old Jewish girl in Paris during the Occupation; and Guslagie Malanda in Saint Omer, as Laurence Coly, the defendant in the trial.

BEST FIRST FILM: ‘Le Sixième enfant’ (The Sixth Child), by Léopold Legrand & Saint Omer, by Alice Diop ex æquo.
This was a tie, or a coin flip. I initially had mixed feelings about ‘Saint Omer’ after seeing it, but revised my view of the film upwards following a discussion with the Uber-cinephile and always insightful Adam Shatz. Perhaps I’ll post my thoughts on it in an update. In the meantime, here’s a lengthy essay on the film by critic Olivier Barlet in Africultures (by far the best site for reviews of films with an Africa link).

Lise Akoka & Romane Gueret’s ‘Les Pires’, which has won a slew of festival awards (including at Cannes), could well win this one too. Charlotte Le Bon’s Falcon Lake, an early teen coming-of-age film that takes place almost entirely at a lake in Quebec, has its merits, one supposes, but is not at the top of this category. Bruno Reidal, by Vincent Le Port, is apparently quite good but, as mentioned above, I have yet to see it.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: Retour à Reims (Fragments), by Jean-Gabriel Périot.
This is the only one of the five nominees I’ve seen but peu importe, I’d choose it anyway. As the title suggests, it is the cinematic adaptation of (parts of) sociologist-philosopher Didier Eribon’s 2009 book Retour à Reims (English translation: Returning to Reims), which is both sociology and memoir, and one of the most brilliant and insightful—and personal—works of social science one will read on growing up in a working class family (in the 1950s-60s), and how the working class mutated from the 1980s on (in France, but with parallels with the US and elsewhere). The documentary is narrated by Adèle Haenel and with impressive archival footage from the postwar decades.

On films that did not receive their due from the César academy or were shut out altogether: There has been criticism of the short shrift given to Simone, le voyage du siècle (Simone Veil, A Woman of the Century), which received but two nominations, and in minor categories—best costume design & best production design—when it was a well-done biopic of one of France’s most popular and admired personalities, from the 1980s to her death in 2017 (see my R.I.P. post), and was, moreover, a huge box office hit—2.5 million tix, more than any other nominated film—and particularly among young people, including teenagers, with the word being spread, so one learns, on Tik Tok.

The films that I scored 4.0 (très bien) on Allociné that were shut out are: Les Promesses, Arthur Rambo, Un autre monde, Un beau matin, Les Harkis, and Annie Colère.

UPDATE: The list of awards is here. Most of my choices did not win, needless to say.

Jeff Beck, R.I.P.

A blast from my past, circa mid-late ’60s/early ’70s. The Yardbirds were among my favorite groups of that era, with their hit songs Shapes of Things and Heart Full of Soul. Various friends on Facebook, in remembering Jeff Beck, are mentioning in particular the great instrumental Beck’s Bolero. Yes, it is great indeed! C’est tout.

Best (and worst) movies of 2022

Voilà AWAV’s annual list, for the 13th year running (for last year’s, go here). I saw a lot of movies this year—almost all on the wide screen—probably too many. Problem is, three or four movies a week, sometimes more, open here to good reviews and look sufficiently interesting, so even though I can’t see everything I do try—though some were inevitably forgettable and/or not worth my time. And I missed several Hollywood blockbusters, e.g. ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, which I had nothing against seeing but didn’t get around to, and ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’, which did not, in fact, figure on my “too see” list. I did want to see ‘The Woman King’ but it quit the salles before I could get to it. I have yet to see ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. On verra.

TOP 10:
Boy from Heaven (Cairo Conspiracy صبي من الجنة)
Flee (Flugt)
Full Time (À plein temps)
Les Harkis
Other People’s Children (Les Enfants des autres)
Rise (En corps)
The Beasts (As Bestas)
The Night of the 12th (La Nuit du 12)

Harka (حركة)
Holy Spider (Les Nuits de Mashhad عنکبوت مقدس)
Red Rocket
The Chef

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (ལུང་ནག་ན)

Clara Sola


Hive (Zgjoi)

The Hill Where Lionesses Roar (Luaneshat e kodrës)


Sun Children (خورشید)

My Brothers and I (Mes frères et moi)

A Chiara

Armageddon Time


Unclenching the Fists (Разжимая кулаки)

My Favorite War (Mans mīļākais karš)

Leave No Traces (Żeby nie było śladów)

Miracle (Miracol)

Women Do Cry (Жените наистина плачат)

Pamfir (Памфір)

107 Mothers (Цензорка)

Butterfly Vision (Бачення метелика)

Nobody Has to Know


Commitment Hasan (Bağlılık Hasan)

Goodnight Soldier (شەوباش پێشمەرگە)

Leila’s Brothers (برادران لیلا)

Feathers (ريش)

The Gravedigger’s Wife

Under the Fig Trees (تحت الشجرة)

As In Heaven (Du som er i himlen)

Let It Be Morning (فليكن صباحا ויהי בוקר)

All Eyes Off Me (מישהו יאהב מישהו)

My Sunny Maad (Moje slunce Mad)

Goodbye Mister Wong

Aristocrats (あのこは貴族)

Plan 75 (プランななじゅうご)

Decision to Leave (헤어질 결심)


The Good Boss (El buen patrón)

Official Competition (Competencia oficial)

She Said

Bones and All



Operation Mincemeat

Between Two Worlds (Ouistreham)

Les Promesses

Le Monde d’hier

Farewell Mr. Haffmann (Adieu Monsieur Haffmann)



Another World (Un autre monde)

Reprise en main

November (Novembre)

Paris Memories (Revoir Paris)

One Fine Morning (Un beau matin)

Driving Madeleine (Une belle course)

The Sixth Child (Le Sixième enfant)

Citoyen d’honneur

My Traitor, My Love (De nos frères blessés)

Dairy of a Fleeting Affair (Chronique d’une liaison passagère)

The Vanished President (Le Tigre et le Président)

The Origin of Evil (L’Origine du mal)

Angry Annie (Annie colère)

Simone Veil, A Woman of the Century (Simone, le voyage du siècle)


Our Ties (Les Miens)

Saint Omer

Our Brothers (Nos frangins)


Triangle of Sadness

Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege


Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush

Babi Yar. Context

Arthur Rambo

Tori and Lokita

Hit the Road (جاده خاکی)

No Bears (خرس نیست)


Broker (Les Bonnes Étoiles 브로커)

Final Cut (Coupez!)

The Innocent (L’Innocent)

Rifkin’s Festival

Licorice Pizza

Nightmare Alley


Forever Young (Les Amandiers)

Peter von Kant


Both Sides of the Blade (Avec amour et acharnement)

The Immaculate Reception

[update below]

All minimally informed persons, including those with a minimal interest in soccer, know that last Sunday’s France-Argentina game is unanimously considered to have been the greatest final in the history of the World Cup, indeed one of the greatest high-stakes games ever in the history of the sport. In regard to sports superlatives, today so happens to be the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest, and certainly most famous, plays in the history of America’s National Football League, immortalized in memory as The Immaculate Reception. The game was the divisional playoff of the NFL’s American Football Conference (the World Cup equivalent of a quarterfinal), between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders. With the Raiders up by one point, 7-6, in the closing seconds of the game and what would be its final play, Steelers’ quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a desperation pass, which, not caught by the targeted receiver, ricocheted into the arms of fullback Franco Harris, who ran the ball into the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown—and a 13-7 victory for the Steelers. It was an incredible end to the game—watch it on YouTube here—and an exhilarating one if you were for the Steelers. The reaction in Pittsburgh was almost like that in Buenos Aires after the penalty shootout last Sunday. The Steelers thus went on to face the Miami Dolphins in the AFC championship the following Sunday, which they lost (the Dolphins, undefeated that season, were destined to win the Super Bowl that year).

I was reminded of The Immaculate Reception with the announcement of the untimely death of Franco Harris three days ago, on December 20. Harris, who was a rookie at the time of his famous Reception, went on to an illustrious career with the Steelers over the subsequent eleven seasons. He was one of the great running backs of his era and is, at present, the NFL’s 15th all-time leader in rushing yards. He was also a cool, sympathetic guy, so I and many others thought. One thing that made him stand out off the football field was his being mixed race—Black father & Italian mother, met and married in Italy while the father served there during the war—which wasn’t too common in the America of the time (interracial couples are more numerous nowadays but still not nearly what one sees in France). Harris’s racial heritage and stature as local hero led to relative interracial good feelings in Pittsburgh after The Immaculate Reception, with Blacks and Whites being friendly in public with each other (I remember news reports on this at the time), which was decidedly out-of-the-ordinary in working class cities like Pittsburgh. Harris was also a Democratic Party supporter and political progressive (e.g. see here), which was definitely out-of-the-ordinary for football players with known political views or partisan identities, who heavily lean Republican. American football is almost by its very nature a right-wing sport, but that’s a whole other subject.

The main reason I’m writing on this Golden Anniversary of The Immaculate Reception is because I saw it, on television of course. I watched the entire game, from beginning to end, on that cold, overcast December 23, 1972, Saturday afternoon (I was living in Chicago, which is 650 km due west from Pittsburgh, where the game was played). I had become a Steelers fan that year, having a curious identification with Pittsburgh, a (then) polluted industrial city I had never been to, probably because my mother was born in nearby Canonsburg and grew up in mill towns in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, so there was a reflexive affinity there. And when it came to football, I always reflexively supported Rust Belt teams over Sunbelt ones. The Steelers also had a winning season that year for the first time in almost ten, and would become the dominant NFL team of the 1970s. It was a great team indeed, with a colorful cast of excellent players, an awesome defense, and which would win four Super Bowls in the course of the decade.

Today is also the 47th anniversary, give or take five days, of another famous NFL play (and which I also saw, on TV): Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds of the Dallas Cowboys-Minnesota Vikings NFC divisional playoff on December 28, 1975, which gave Dallas the victory (and popularized the expression ‘Hail Mary pass‘ in the process). See it on YouTube here. Amazing play.

UPDATE: On the subject of great games in the history of the NFL, the 55th anniversary of another one is coming up next weekend, the December 31, 1967, ‘Ice Bowl’ in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which I of course saw and wrote an AWAV post on some nine years ago. This was truly one for the ages.

The Qatar World Cup – III

What an incredible game! One for the ages. Such is the unanimous consensus among media commentators, veteran sports analysts, ordinary fans, and casual spectators for whom the World Cup final is the only soccer match they will likely watch to the end, but had decided to root for one side or the other—e.g. those weighing in on my running Facebook comments thread during the game—and who all spoke of it in superlatives: Great game! Excellent game! Totally insane! et j’en passe. Commentators with historical knowledge have likewise been unanimous in calling it the greatest final in World Cup history—since the advent of color television at least, as one specified—if not the greatest soccer game ever. I don’t know about that one, though all can agree that it was an extraordinary game between two great, evenly matched teams and with each one as deserving to win as the other.

The first two-thirds of the match were not particularly thrilling if one was supporting France, it should be said, with Argentina dominating from the outset. It was frustrating, when not painful, to watch Les Bleus’ ineffectual performance, unable to pose any kind of threat to La Albiceleste to almost the 70th minute. The Argentines were coasting to victory and the French to humiliating defeat, but then there was the penalty in the 80th minute and converted by Mbappé, followed by his spectacular goal a minute later to equalize the score at 2-2—two goals in a mere minute doesn’t happen very often—completely upending the game and giving the hundreds of millions of spectators around the world the most exciting, heart-stopping 50 minutes of high-stakes fútbol they are ever likely to see.

The game was, of course, settled with the penalty shootout—and with Argentina inevitably winning it. American commenters felt that the shootout was an anticlimactic, unsatisfying end to the game but I considered it logical, as the only way to settle a tie after 120 minutes of play, when the players are physically exhausted and at heightened risk of injury. I was disappointed by the outcome but not devastated—certainly less than I was after the 2006 final against Italy—given that, to repeat myself, each side deserved to win. Also, the Argentinians—players and people—wanted so badly to win, to end the Argentinian National Team’s 32-year drought—whereas France is/was reigning world champions. The scenes of jubilation in Buenos Aires are on a whole other level of magnitude from those here in France when we won in 2018. If winning this trophy makes the masses in Argentina happy—as they haven’t had much to celebrate in recent times—I can accept losing the game with honor.

I’ve probably been wasting my time writing the above, as anyone reading this no doubt saw the game or heard about it afterward. With the World Cup now over, there is plenty to write about or link to in regard to its bilan, geopolitical fallout, and the like. I am going to offer here one piece, on the multiracial character of the French national team and the French extreme right, by one of my favorite political analysts in the French media, Thomas Legrand, in his column in today’s Libération:

Le billet de Thomas Legrand

Le parcours des Bleus à la Coupe du monde claque le bec aux identitaires

Ce qu’a réalisé le groupe de Didier Deschamps, finaliste, confirme l’organisation française de nos sports collectifs – des clubs amateurs structurés par les fédérations et subventionnés par les municipalités – et vient invalider les théories des déclinistes de droite.

par Thomas Legrand

publié le 19 décembre 2022 à 8h30

En tant qu’éditorialiste bien-pensant, porte-plume de la cléricature bobo, adepte du politiquement correct, voix autorisée du journal post-soixante-huitard, wokophile libéral libertaire, islamogauchiste, droit-de-l’hommiste, écolo punitif, je ne peux pas résister, après ce magnifique parcours des Bleus, à enfoncer le clou gauchiasse, à tirer un puissant péno de journalope dans la lucarne des déclinistes réacs et autres aboyeurs de la fachosphère, polarisateurs des chaînes bollorisées : la France des immigrés, la France des banlieues, la France diverse, joyeuse et confiante a montré sa cohésion et sa puissance.

Ou bien je suis aussi assez tenté, en tant qu’éditorialiste mainstream, suppôt du capitalisme, chien de garde du système postcolonial, universaliste-patriarcal-blanc-hétérosexuel-cisgenre, porte-plume d’un journal perfusé par un multimilliardaire cynique et carboné, de canarder au fond des filets des indigénistes décoloniaux, des différentialistes victimaires, en affirmant que la belle équipe de France «racisée aux deux tiers» n’a, en réalité, brillé que de son bleu commun.

Conjonction particulière

Certes, le principe même de tirer des enseignements sociologiques ou politiques de la prestation de 22 types en short et d’un entraîneur plus stratège que les autres est certainement abusif. L’analyse la plus évidente, qui ne devrait souffrir aucune contestation, est parfaitement désidéologisée. L’extraordinaire bilan des Bleus de ces dernières années est le résultat d’une conjonction particulière : un entraîneur fin tacticien, DRH de génie qui aura su favoriser un esprit de cohésion. On peut aussi pointer la particularité du système de formation sportive français. Pendant des décennies, l’absence de culture sportive en milieu scolaire était pointée par les sportologues des tous poils pour expliquer nos piètres résultats en sport-co. Mais que ce soit en handball, en basket, en volley et, depuis un peu plus d’un an, en rugby, les Bleus de toutes ces disciplines sont sur le podium. Notre faiblesse sportive scolaire est finalement très avantageusement suppléée par le système de clubs amateurs structurés par les fédérations et subventionnés par les municipalités. Les centres de formation en foot ou en rugby, les politiques de détection fonctionnent et donnent maintenant leurs fruits dans les compétitions internationales.

Il n’est sans doute pas la peine d’aller beaucoup plus loin dans l’analyse. On peut se contenter de constater qu’une politique française à la fois publique et privée, associative et commerciale, fonctionne.

Cohésion naturelle

Mais c’est très tentant – et je cède à cette tentation de profiter du parcours enthousiasmant des Bleus, de l’engouement populaire et massif des Français, pour desserrer un peu la mâchoire identitaire. Si le onze de France s’était vautré dès les poules, les identitaires de droite, les névrosés du «grand remplacement»auraient expliqué qu’aucune cohésion n’était possible avec une équipe de racailles multiethniques (ils nous ont fait le coup en 2010) alors que les décoloniaux – beaucoup moins nombreux et quasiment sans relais médiatiques, convenons-en – auraient pointé le manque de soutien pour une équipe racisée, et un racisme structurel des instances footballistiques (ils nous ont fait le coup quand Karim Benzema n’était pas sélectionné).

Rien de tout ça. Dans une France que certains réacs décrivent comme étant au bord de la «guerre civile», archipelisée, la cohésion des 22 Français de tous horizons est possible et semble même naturelle. La France populaire, c’est-à-dire, en grande partie, la France des cités, celle qui joue au foot, est forte. De même, la France du rugby, celle qui mélange accents du Sud-Ouest et de Seine-Saint-Denis, qui réunit ruraux et citadins, censée être divisée comme jamais, n’a jamais été aussi prête à soulever la coupe Webb Ellis à l’automne prochain, celle des champions du monde.

If one missed it, the NYT had a lengthy portrait in September of France’s soccer superstar: “Kylian Mbappé is coming for it all: In a rare interview, the French soccer star discussed chasing the Champions League title, supplanting his teammate Lionel Messi as world player of the year and the possibility of a move to Real Madrid.” Though Mbappé has never lived or played in an Anglophone country, his spoken English is very good. Impressive.

The Qatar World Cup – II

This post is not about the France-Argentina dream final, which begins in a couple of hours as I write, and about which I will likely have something to say after it’s over. I want to return here, while it’s still de l’actualité, to the exceptional run of the Moroccan national team, which, to borrow the expression, captured the imagination of the world and thrilled countless hundreds of millions. The run of course came to an end in last Wednesday’s semifinal, with the defeat by France, and which was followed by the loss to Croatia in yesterday’s third place consolation game. But peu importe, the Moroccan team is returning home as heroes—in Morocco and further afield.

There have been some excellent instant analyses in English of the phenomenon over the past week by social scientists, which will be of interest to all interested persons, including to social scientifically-inclined AWAV readers who have little to no interest in soccer or the World Cup.

First, I am relinking to the terrific essay, added as an update in the previous AWAV post, by Hisham Aïdi, Senior Lecturer at SIPA Columbia University, “The (African) Arab Cup,” on the excellent blog Africa Is a Country. The lede: “Morocco’s World Cup heroics are forging a new, dissident Third-World solidarity, reflecting the multifaceted nature of Moroccan identity itself: simultaneously Arab, African, and Amazigh.” Everyone on social media who has linked to Aïdi’s essay has referred to it with superlatives. If one has the slightest interest in or curiosity about the general subject, do read it.

Other essays:

A postcolonial World Cup showdown for the ages: Seven scholars share their thoughts on today’s Morocco-France World Cup semifinal,” in political science MENA specialist Marc Lynch’s well-known blog, Abu Aardvark’s MENA Academy (Dec.14). Marc, a professor at George Washington University, invited me to contribute to the symposium but I was occupied with writing my last AWAV post. The contributions are worth the read, particularly the one by anthropologist Paul Silverstein.

In the New York Times (Dec. 14), “Morocco has given the Arab world something to cheer for again,” by Issandr El Amrani, the Amman-based Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa at Open Society Foundations.

In The Atlantic (Dec.14), “The ultimate postcolonial derby: Morocco and France meet in a historic showdown with deep significance for fans of both teams,” by anthropologist Laurent Dubois, of the University of Virginia. I have learned much over the years from Dubois’ social scientific writings on soccer. He also had a guest essay in the NYT (Dec. 10), “Another France is possible. Look at its World Cup team.”

In The Markaz Review (Dec. 15), “Everyone has a stake in Morocco’s football team,” by Brahim El Guabli and Aomar Boum, brilliant scholars both, who teach at Williams College (comparative literature) and UCLA (anthropology), respectively.

El Guabli and Boum evoke, entre autres, the colonial legacy in the relationship between Morocco and France, which has been a lietmotif in commentary in the West on the semifinal meeting between the two. Too much has been made of this IMO. Tahar Ben Jelloun, in his fine Dec. 15 tribune in Le Monde, clarified the matter:

The relationship between [Morocco and France] is a common one, based on friendship and respect. Morocco was a protectorate [i.e. not a colony] from 1912 to 1956. It is a different picture [from] the one of neighboring Algeria. Morocco has no grudge against France, and no debt from history to live from.

The French presence in Morocco was rather light and, thanks to Marshal of France Hubert Lyautey (the resident-general in Morocco between 1912 and 1925), respectful of the values of traditional Moroccan society.

El Guabli and Boum make this important observation:

The Qatar World Cup has also revealed the importance of the land where the cup is organized in determining the outcome and favoring some teams while disfavoring others. Particularly, Morocco has been playing while being supported by thousands of Moroccan, Arab, and Muslim fans, who would have needed visas and financial clout to make the trip to any Euro-American country. This alone is further reason to question the choice to continue organizing the competition in countries that have strict visa requirements and whose cost of living is higher than what football fans from the Global South can afford.

The question of visas, of the ability—or, rather, impediments, or non-ability—to travel to Europe and North America by passport-holders from the Global South, is a source of resentment and animosity by citizens of countries in the latter toward the West, and the principal one by those of former French colonies/protectorates—far more than narratives over colonial legacies—toward France. This is an important subject and to which I will soon return, as there is little awareness of it in the West.

For the record, there were no problems in France after the France-Morocco match on Wednesday, at least not from Maghreb-origin youths. My fears on this score were unfounded, as my friend Ouali (see previous post) insisted to me. I am happy to have been wrong.

The Qatar World Cup

Morocco vs Spain, 6 December 2022 (Photo credit: Javier Soriano/AFP)

[update below]

This is my first post on the 2022 World Cup, which has been underway for the past three weeks, if one didn’t know, with 61 games played so far and just three to go. I’ve watched most of them, in part or in whole, though am not a fervent soccer aficionado by any means, being a relative latecomer in life to the sport. A pure product of American sports culture—baseball, basketball, (American) football—I was not interested in soccer growing up—boys in the 1960s/1970s Midwest didn’t play it—and partook in the then typical (and ignorant) American disdain for the sport—seeing soccer as a stupid game of 11 guys kicking a ball across a field to a scoreless tie. How boring. (To any American who still sees soccer that way—and thinks that it’s too low-scoring—I doubt he would continue to had he watched the England-USA group stage match on Nov. 25, which ended in a scoreless tie; what an exciting, high-octane game!).

My attitude evolved after moving to France in the 1990s, and above all with the 1998 World Cup, when I started to follow international soccer competition and became a fan of the French national team. I do not, however, watch the professional clubs or pay close attention to the Champions League. You have to grow up with that. The history, sociology, and politics of soccer interest me as much as the actual game itself—the complex technical side of which I rely on friends (notably Algerian) to educate me on—which one may gather from my ten posts on the 2014 tournament and three on the 2018 one.

The politics have obviously been important in the current tournament, with the outrage of it being hosted by Qatar—a subject I took up in posts in 2013 and 2014. There have been numerous enquêtes and reportages in the media over the past two or three months on the multifaceted Qatari World Cup scandal. I haven’t felt the need to read them, though, as the story has been well-known from the outset:

  • The massive corruption, with briefcases of cash and all, employed by Qatar to bribe FIFA members, governments, and whoever else needed to be paid off in order for the Emir to best the bids of rival candidates, who were far more logical choices to organize the event (Australia, USA),
  • Awarding the tournament to an artificial petrostate with a population of 1.8 million (at the time of the award), but with the portion of actual citizens around 10% of that, and having no soccer tradition. Qatar can field an international team only by importing players from Africa and naturalizing them.
  • Qatar is, as one knows, one of the hottest places on earth, with temperatures in June-July—traditional World Cup months, during the professional offseason in Europe—reaching 50°C/120°F and humid. One does not go outside in such weather. This was not a consideration when the award was announced. The event would clearly have to be moved to November-December, disrupting the regular season of the European leagues.
  • The quasi slave labor conditions of the migrant workers—most from South Asia—recruited en masse to build everything. Some 6,500 workers (probably a conservative estimate) have died over the past decade.
  • The ecological calamity of the pharaonic-scale construction and infrastructure projects, air conditioning of the eight new stadiums, the fifty-fold (or whatever it is) increase in air traffic in and out of Doha, et j’en passe.
  • The obscenity of spending $220 billion on a one-month sports tournament. And building eight stadiums, all within 55 km of the others, is the height of folly. Qatar will be looking at white elephants on a heretofore unseen scale.
  • And then there’s the mauvaise foi of the Emir and his entourage, reflected in the banning of beer two days before the tournament began, though the decision had without doubt been taken well before that, if not at the very outset. But if it had been announced during the bidding process that this would be a dry World Cup, Qatar would not have been awarded the event. Obviously.

Despite the scandal of Qatar—above all, the migrant worker deaths—I was not about to join the boycott—of not watching the games on television—that some on the left in France and elsewhere in Europe called for (people who wouldn’t have watched the World Cup regardless). Not a chance, particularly as the French national team has remained second to none and with a better-than-even chance of winning the trophy for the second time in a row (a feat last achieved by Brazil in 1962). As it happens, I was in the US (North Carolina) during the group phase and round of 16 (visiting my mother), so saw more of the tournament than I would have here in France, as all the games are on Fox, which is in the standard cable package—whereas in France, 36 of the 64 are/were on the subscription-only (Qatari-owned) beIN Sports—and, with the 8-hour time difference between Doha and EST, were at convenient times (for those who don’t have to go to work in the morning).

I’m not going to give my take on the tournament up to now and the performance of this or that team, which wouldn’t be interesting. Just a comment or two on three teams. First, France, which is my main interest. I don’t think anyone thought Les Bleus would ignominiously crash out in the group phase, as they did in 2002 and 2010, and they sure didn’t, coasting to easy wins against Australia and Denmark. As for the 1-0 loss to Tunisia, it was no big deal, as the Bleus had already qualified for the knockout stage and were playing their bench (and against a Tunisian team that really wanted to win). Poland in the 16 was no problem and England in the QF last Saturday, while close to the end, was never not in hand (thanks to that second penalty). A great game by two great teams! Second, the USMNT, which is now in the top tier of international soccer and can realistically dream of going all the way in the next World Cup (which will, moreover, be co-hosted by the US). For the first time ever I found myself cheering loudly (in my mother’s TV room) for Team USA, in the match against Iran, in which I was admittedly motivated in part by politics. As I explained on Facebook on Nov. 29:

In the 1998 Iran-USA group match I was for Iran, as the US team was lousy and Americans didn’t care about the World Cup, whereas the game meant so much to the Iranian people (who were/are not at all anti-American; they’re quite the opposite), and there was a sentiment of hope in Iran at the time with the election of Khatami the previous year. The context today is obviously different, both politically and sporting-wise. The Iranian people in the streets demonstrating against the regime are divided on the national team, so it has been reported, and you just know that if it beats the US and moves on to the knockout phase, the victory will be appropriated by the regime and with the players – out of fear or threats for many among them – dutifully falling into line. It would also be a shame if the US team, which is now good, were eliminated at this early stage.

I predicted that Team USA would defeat the Netherlands in the 16 and move on to the quarterfinal (where it would be shown the door by Argentina), but, alas, the Dutch won easily. Better luck in ’26.

The third team is, of course, Morocco and its Atlas Lions, who have stunned and thrilled the world with their utterly unexpected march to tomorrow’s semifinal, slaying Belgium, Spain, and Portugal along the way. To say that the entire Arab world and Africa—don’t even talk about Morocco itself—is in a state of collective ecstasy over the Moroccan team’s performance would be an understatement. Why, they’re even rooting for the team in Israel! In Algeria, which has broken diplomatic relations with Morocco and forbidden state television to even mention Morocco in its World Cup coverage, the people are at one in supporting the Atlas Lions. In the US, news articles carry headlines like “Indestructible Morocco, the World Cup’s darling,” and inform readers of “The team that U.S. soccer fans should root for now.” The near totality of my Facebook friends, plus those I see on comments threads, are supporting Morocco. Everyone is for the underdog and loves a Cinderella story.

Two articles to read: Journalist Aida Alami (whom I know personally) in Al Jazeera, “World Cup 2022: Why Morocco’s win over Spain means so much to me. We’re used to losing. Morocco’s team is changing that, for the country and the Global South.” And Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post, “Morocco’s showdown with France carries complex political baggage.”

I have been as enthusiastic over the Moroccan team as the next person but also nervous that it would, if it kept winning, ultimately meet France in the semifinal—and which is, of course, what has happened. And tomorrow (at 2:00 PM EST). I will still be for Les Bleus, of course, but many in France of Maghreb origin, with their multiple identities, will not. I expressed my nervousness on Facebook, in responding to an Algerian commenter who wrote, before the quarterfinal, that he hoped Morocco would go all the way to the final—implicitly signifying that it would beat France along the way. My reaction led to an exchange with my good friend, Ouali, who’s a Franco-Algerian/Kabyle dual-national, and an early Gen-Xer who came to France in his mid 20s, after his undergraduate years in Algiers. Here’s the exchange, translated from French by DeepL and edited by me, which took place on Dec. 7:

ARUN: If Morocco and France win their next matches [versus Portugal and England, respectively], they will meet in the semi-finals. Such a match is to be viewed with trepidation. All North Africans and Muslims in France will be united with Morocco and against the French team, which will upset many in France. If Morocco wins, there will be an explosion of joy among North Africans, who will celebrate the defeat of France (and on the Champs-Elysées, with the inevitable clashes with the police). If France beats Morocco, there will be the inevitable riots in the banlieues, torched cars, etc. In any case, the reaction among French people (non-Muslim, white) will be very negative. This will be a boon for the RN, Zemmour et al. Given the current political context in France, we really don’t need this.

OUALI: Arun, I am stupified by the ideas that you have exposed on the possible match between Morocco and Les Bleus. Here’s why:

First of all, normally constituted people of sound mind naturally make the distinction between the sporting nationality and French citizenship. No young or not so young person of Maghrebi origin, who is normally constituted and sound of mind, sees the two nationalities as being in contradiction. Young people of North African origin are like any young French person of Italian or Portuguese origin who supports the team of their parents’ country without opposing it to France. It is just stupid to think the opposite. I have a friend of Italian origin born in France who is a fan of the Italian team and doesn’t like Les Bleus at all; likewise for a friend of Portuguese origin.

Why do we get offended when it’s a young person of Algerian or North African origin? It’s pure racism. Besides, the Portuguese community did indeed celebrate on the Champs-Elysées the victory of Portugal over France in the final of the Euro 2016 and nobody raised a finger to accuse the young Franco-Portuguese of being anti France. As for the problem of violence that generally follow these popular celebrations of young people of North African origin, they are not the real supporters of these teams but rather young people of multiple origins (North African, sub-Saharan or other) and who are mostly teenage school drop-outs from the lower class and live in difficult neighborhoods. This phenomenon is not found in the Portuguese or Italian communities, who are already socially and economically integrated into French society due to their long history of immigration and the upward mobility that followed. These two communities are found more in the neighborhoods of Paris 12ème and surrounding banlieues (Vincennes, Nogent-sur-Marne, Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, etc.) and not in the 93, the department that is home to the most poor people in France.

Contrary to what you may think, young people of North African origin are on an upward economic trajectory and are successfully integrated into French society: there are millions of them, some are supporters of the Moroccan or Algerian team, and are neither thugs nor anti-French but harmoniously live their citizenship and French nationality while being good supporters of their parents’ country by emotional loyalty, and that is normal. And every democrat understands this except the fascists and the racists.

ARUN: Ouali, I don’t disagree with you and hope to be wrong, but I have in mind the France-Algeria match of October 2001, which shocked many French people (and Algerians in Algeria too). Seeing La Marseillaise and Les Bleus booed by the young people in the Stade de France was difficult to digest. But the collective spirit of the young generation has undoubtedly evolved. I hope so anyway.

As for the Portuguese in France, I know well their soccer loyalties, being a Saint-Maurian. There is certainly a double standard among the French on this.

OUALI: Arun, I know that you don’t disagree with me on these questions because I know well your left-wing positions on these problems, certainly because of your American culture, which is more multiculturalist than nationalist, as can be noticed in France, whose nationalism is very much impregnated by the colonial imaginary.

On the France-Algeria match in 2001, yes, it was a failure in every respect: organizational, sporting and cultural. I think there was a political appropriation of this event that the political and media class willingly overpoliticized out of political calculation and under the pressure of the extreme right. But it was a simple soccer match without any political dimension. Booing Les Bleus and the Marseillaise was first of all an anti-sporting act, therefore condemnable and deplorable, but it had no political significance because the young people who committed this act were undoubtedly de-politicized and with their behavior similar to that of all the fans or ultra supporters found in soccer stadiums, which sports sociologists explain by hooliganism.

The young Franco-Algerians who booed La Marseillaise did it because of their depoliticization and deculturation. On the other hand, the Corsicans who booed La Marseillaise at the Stade de France during the final of the Coupe de France in 2001, and in the presence of Jacques Chirac, was a *highly political act*. But this event was quickly forgotten by the French political and media class and by the French society, which continues to go en masse to Corsica to spend its vacations. Double standards, or selective memory, or rather, the colonial memory in all its delirium, or the Irrational, is prevalent.

The emotional shock provoked by this unfortunate event was rather a political and media orchestration to manipulate minds and consciences. I still remember all the debates that followed this event and all the cowards of the political class who were partly responsible, whether Socialist or right-wing, except for a few left-wing personalities such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who had a rational and above all honest position by saying at the time that it was a simple soccer match and this type of incident is found in other matches in France and elsewhere.

To summarize, there was political manipulation orchestrated by the traditional political class under electoral pressure, i.e. electoral defeat, and by the extreme right which shamefully exploited this sporting event to influence minds and work the consciences, and the French collective imaginary, which was already not in good health.

Voilà Arun, I think I have succeeded in calming your fears and I conclude here by saying that we must stop stigmatizing a social group and simply implement the motto of the Republic: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. But alas, none of these three concepts are applied when it comes to Maghrebi communities. There are, however, millions who succeed, who integrate successfully, and participate in national development. Hence the imperative work of reconciliation that official France must accomplish to guarantee the vivre-ensemble and thus the future of the French nation.

ARUN: Very good, Ouali. And yes, you’ve alleviated my fears a bit 🙃

I have written in some detail on the October 2001 France-Algeria soccer match here, on multiple identities and national sports team loyalties here, and on double standards (mainly, though not exclusively, right-wing) in regard to expressions of multiple identities here.

For the record, it may be noted that over half the players on Morocco’s national team are dual nationals born and/or raised in European countries with large Moroccan immigrant populations (France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Italy), and with most playing professionally in Europe. It is likewise with the Algerian and Tunisian national teams, as well as those of Senegal, Ivory Coast, and other former French colonies,

The well-known Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun has a nice tribune in Le Monde today on the upcoming semifinal, in which he concludes with this:

On Wednesday, when the game takes place, we will hold our breath and watch an outstanding game. Whether Les Bleus or the Atlas Lions win, there will be joy and hope for political, diplomatic, and cultural reconciliation.

We worry there could be outbreaks of violence, with some trying to spoil the party. But whoever wins, it will be a great and magnificent celebration, and we keep looking forward to the rest of this World Cup, which is unlike anything we have ever seen..


UPDATE: Hisham Aïdi, a Senior Lecturer at SIPA Columbia University, has an excellent post, “The (African) Arab Cup,” on the Africa Is a Country blog.

On getting old

Robert Reich has a great post on his Substack site, on the question that is preoccupying all Democrats these days—and was an inevitable subject of discussion at Thanksgiving dinner yesterday (I’m in the US at present)—which is whether or not Joe Biden should run for reelection. Reich uses the question as a hook to write about ageing, i.e. getting old (he’s 76). In addition to being funny—and with LOL moments—what he says is so true. Anyone over a certain age will identify with it (disclosure: I’m 66). Here’s the post, with noteworthy passages in bold.

Joe, please don’t run again

Apologies if I repeat myself (I’ve written much of this before), but, hell, I’m getting old — as is Joe

NOV 25


Hate to drag you from leftover turkeys back into the world of politics (I’ll refrain from the obvious bad joke here), but the question is growing louder about whether Joe Biden should run again for president.

Having turned 80 last Sunday, Biden is already the oldest president in American history. Concerns about his age top the list for why Democratic voters want the party to find an alternative for 2024.

But the question “should Joe Biden run again?” is really four different questions:

(1) Has he done a good job so far? (Answer: By-and-large, yes.)

(2) Should he run again if he wants to? (Almost certainly.)

(3) Will he be the best candidate to beat Trump or whomever else Republicans are likely to nominate? (Maybe, but let’s discuss.)

(4) Would he be a capable leader of the United States when he’s in his mid-80s? (Possible, but unlikely.)

As I’ve said before, I don’t think concern about Biden’s age reflects an “ageist” prejudice against those who have reached such withering heights so much as an understanding that people in their 80s do wither.

I speak with a certain authority. I’m 76. I feel fit, I swing dance and salsa, and can do 20 pushups in a row. Yet I confess to a certain loss of, shall we say, fizz.

Joe Biden could easily make it until 86, when he’d conclude his second term. After all, it’s now thought a bit disappointing if a person dies before 85. (My mother passed at 86, my father two weeks before his 102nd birthday, so I’m hoping for the best, genetically speaking.)

Three score and ten is the number of years of life set out in the Bible. Modern technology and Big Pharma should add at least a decade and a half. Beyond this is an extra helping. “After 80, it’s gravy,” my father used to say.

Joe will be on the cusp of the gravy train.

Where will this end? There’s only one possibility. As the old saying goes, “we won’t get out of this alive.”

That reality occurs to me with increasing frequency. I find myself reading the obituary pages with ever greater curiosity about how long they lasted and what brought them down. I remember a New Yorker cartoon in which an older reader of the obituaries sees headlines that read only “Older Than Me” or “Younger Than Me.”

Yet most of the time I forget my age. The other day after lunch with some of my graduate students, I caught our reflection in a store window and for an instant wondered about the identity of that little old man in our midst.

It’s not death that’s the worrying thing about a second Biden term. It’s the dwindling capacities that go with aging. “Bodily decrepitude,” said Yeats, “is wisdom.” I have accumulated somewhat more of the former than the latter, but Biden seems fairly spry (why do I feel I have to add “for someone his age?”).

I still have my teeth, in contrast to my grandfather whom I vividly recall storing his choppers in a glass next to his bed, and have so far steered clear of heart attack or stroke (I pray I’m not tempting fate by my stating this fact). But I’ve lived through several kidney stones and a few unexplained fits of epilepsy in my late thirties. I’ve had both hips replaced. And my hearing is for shit. Even with hearing aids, I have a hard time understanding someone talking to me in a noisy restaurant.

You’d think that the sheer market power of 60 million boomers losing their hearing would be enough to generate at least one set of quiet restaurants. But no — restaurants seem to be loud as ever. Getting louder, in fact.

When I get together with old friends, our first ritual is an “organ recital” — how’s your back? knee? heart? hip? shoulder? eyesight? hearing? prostate? hemorrhoids? digestion?

The recital can run (and ruin) an entire lunch.

The question my friends and I jokingly (and brutishly) asked one other in college— “getting much?”—now refers not to sex but to sleep. I don’t know anyone over 75 who sleeps through the night. When he was president, Bill Clinton prided himself on getting only about four hours. But he was in his forties then. (I also recall cabinet meetings where he dozed off.) How does Biden manage?

My memory for names is horrible. (I once asked Ted Kennedy how he recalled names and he advised that if a man is over 50, just ask “how’s the back?” and he’ll think you know him.)

I often can’t remember where I put my wallet and keys or why I’ve entered a room. And certain proper nouns have disappeared altogether. Even when rediscovered, they have a diabolical way of disappearing again. Biden’s secret service detail can worry about his wallet and he’s got a teleprompter for wayward nouns, but I’m sure he’s experiencing some diminution in the memory department.

I have lost much of my enthusiasm for travel and feel, as did Philip Larkin, that I would like to visit China, but only on the condition that I could return home that night. Air Force One makes this possible under most circumstances. If not, it has a first-class bedroom and personal bathroom, so I don’t expect Biden’s trips are overly taxing.

I’m told that after the age of 60, one loses half an inch of height every five years. This doesn’t appear to be a problem for Biden but it presents a challenge for me, considering that at my zenith I didn’t quite make it to five feet. If I live as long as my father did, I may vanish.

Another diminution I’ve noticed is tact. A few days ago, I gave the finger to a driver who passed me recklessly on the highway. These days, giving the finger to a stranger is itself a reckless act.

I’m also noticing I have less patience, perhaps because of an unconscious “use by” timer that’s now clicking away. Increasingly I wonder why I’m wasting time with this or that buffoon. I’m less tolerant of long waiting lines, automated phone menus, and Republicans.

Cicero claimed “older people who are reasonable, good-tempered, and gracious bear aging well. Those who are mean-spirited and irritable will be unhappy at every stage of their lives.” Easy for Cicero to say. He was forced into exile and murdered at the age of 63, his decapitated head and right hand hung up in the Forum by order of the notoriously mean-spirited and irritable Marcus Antonius.

How the hell does Biden maintain tact or patience when he has to deal with Mitch McConnell? Or Joe Manchin? And very soon with Kevin McCarthy, for crying out loud?

The style sections of the papers tell us that the 70s are the new 50s. Septuagenarians are supposed to be fit and alert, exercise like mad, have rip-roaring sex, and party until dawn.

Rubbish. Inevitably, things begin falling apart. My aunt, who lived far into her nineties, told me “getting old isn’t for sissies.” Toward the end she repeated that phrase every two to three minutes.

Am I repeating myself?

I’m doing videos on TikTok and Snapchat, but when my students talk about Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez or Jared Leto, I don’t have clue who they’re talking about (and frankly don’t care). And I find myself using words –- “hence,” “utmost,” “therefore,” “tony,” “brilliant” — that my younger colleagues find charmingly old-fashioned. If I refer to “Rose Marie Woods” or “Jackie Robinson” or “Ed Sullivan” or “Mary Jo Kopechne,” they’re bewildered. The culture has flipped in so many ways. When I was seventeen, I could go into a drugstore and confidently ask for a package of Luckies and nervously whisper a request for condoms. Now it’s precisely the reverse. (I stopped smoking long ago.)

Santayana said the reason that old people have nothing but foreboding about the future is that they cannot imagine a world that’s good without themselves in it. I don’t share that view. To the contrary, I think my generation — including Bill and Hillary, George W., Trump, Newt Gingrich, Clarence Thomas, Chuck Schumer, and Biden – have fucked it up royally. The world will probably be better without us. (On the other hand, I think Nancy Pelosi has done a wonderful job.)

Joe, please don’t run. (But if you do, I’ll be 100 percent behind you.)

[update below] [2nd update below]

It’s been a week since the election and I continue to breathe a sigh of relief. The outcome was almost a divine surprise, as, along with the masses of Nervous Nellie, hand-wringing Democrats (which the great majority of Ds are, and certainly my friends and family), I feared the dreaded red wave, if not tsunami. The polls were suggesting as much—or were being interpreted that way—as was the punditocracy, and what do I know anyway about how many voters are going to turn out in the VA 7th CD and for whom they’re going to vote? Even Sabato’s Crystal Ball (smart political science website) predicted a solid 24 seat Republican pick-up in the House—for a comfortable 237-198 majority (greater than the Democrats’ in the 2018 midterms)—a 51-49 R majority in the Senate, and victories for MAGA gubernatorial candidates in purple states Arizona and Wisconsin. As one is likely aware, the Ds will at minimum maintain their current 50-50/VP tie-breaker Senate majority and with a good chance of adding a 51st seat in the Dec. 6th Georgia run-off. Control of the House has not yet been decided as I write—ballots are still being counted in some 30 races—though the Ds will unfortunately not happily surprise us and cross the 218 seat threshold; the Rs are set to win, though by a mere 6 to 9 seats, for a narrow 222-213 majority at best (identical to the Ds’ current one). In the AZ governor’s race, the Uber MAGA ultra-rightist Kari Lake—who I was quasi certain would win—has, after six days of counting, been defeated by the uncharismatic D candidate Katie Hobbs, who by all accounts ran an awful campaign. How gratifying.

A few random comments.

  • The election demonstrated, not for the first time, that it’s not always the economy, stupid—even when the economy may not be doing so well—as the Dobbs ruling and Democracy (big D) were the principal issues that drove turnout on the Democratic Party side, with women and younger voters in the lead, and particularly where these issues were on the ballot—in the form of state referenda on abortion and Trump-supported “stop the steal” R candidates for offices that have power over the organization and certification of elections in the state. As Nate Cohn explained, in states where this was the case, D candidates overperformed (relative to Biden in 2020); where there was no abortion initiative and the R candidates were “normal” Rs, not MAGA whack jobs, the Ds underperformed. The upshot: the Rs’ overall counter-performance was more a repudiation of Trump and his acolytes than of the R party writ large. America remains divided down the middle (52-48 D-R in my estimation).
  • On the democracy question, the election outcome was sans appel, with 2020 election-denying Trumpist candidates for governor or, perhaps more importantly, secretary of state, defeated across the board, including in every last swing state. What this means is that there will be no constitutional crisis in 2024, such as we have feared, over the vote count and certification of the presidential election by MAGA elected officials in a position to reject ballots they don’t want to count or the final result if it shows that Trump lost (if he is indeed the R candidate). The integrity of the election will not be undermined (though voter suppression to prevent citizens from voting in the first place is another matter). Swing state R governors and secretaries of state, e.g. Brian Kemp and Ben Raffensperger in GA, are “normal” Rs, who won’t do Trump’s bidding or execute his entreaties to steal the election. The fact that so far not a single losing MAGA candidate over the past week has alleged fraud or declined to concede defeat is already a positive sign.
  • Two purple states where Ds won smashing victories—abortion and Democracy being on the ballot—were Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In the latter—the ultimate swing state, evenly split between the two parties—the Ds won every statewide election save two, thwarting the Rs in the process from achieving a veto-proof supermajority in the state Assembly, which would have enabled them to enact their legislation—including anti-democracy measures—at will. One of the Ds who unhappily fell short, by one percentage point, was Senate candidate Mandela Barnes, an attractive, compelling candidate in the view of liberal/progressively-minded Democrats but who The Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes, a lifelong Wisconsinite, insisted was too far to the left for the WI median voter, whose vote would be essential to defeat the widely despised Trump sycophant Ron Johnson, considered to be the most beatable senatorial R incumbent of the cycle. Barnes, Sykes argued, was particularly vulnerable on account of his past support for ending cash bail, crime being an issue in WI, and would be mercilessly hammered by the Rs over it—and which he was indeed, and with exceptionally demagogic ads such as this one. Sarah Longwell, also of The Bulwark, pointed out, however, that John Fetterman in PA was as progressive as Barnes and with the same position on cash bail—and which he got hammered on—and yet he easily beat his Trump-backed R opponent (by 4.5% and despite his health-related issues). So what was the difference between the two? Well, Fetterman is a “big white dude” and with whom you can have a few beers at the bar, and if there’s a fight at the bar, he’d likely be in it… Little wonder that Ds are seeing Fetterman as a possible answer to their white working class problem…
  • New York is receiving a lot of attention, as the deep blue state—and with abortion and Democracy not on the ballot—where the Ds suffered big setbacks. As Dave Wasserman tweeted: “Dems lost five NY seats that voted for Biden by more than the national result in ‘20 – including two that voted for Biden by double digits. You can’t really blame that on bad redistricting.” This is so infuriating, as if the Ds had kept those seats, which they should by all rights have done, Nancy Pelosi would be Speaker of the House in the upcoming 118th Congress. We would be spared the shit show—not to mention legislative paralysis if Kevin McCarthy implements the Hastert rule—we’re going to get with the Rs controlling the House with even a razor-thin majority, with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan et al playing high-profile roles in whatever they feel like playing roles in. How to explain the D fiasco in NY? Among others: incompetence by D legislators, who botched a redrawn congressional map that was egregiously gerrymandered; Andrew Cuomo for all sorts of reasons, among them having appointed conservative judges to the NY supreme court—who struck down the gerrymandered map and then took control of drawing the new one—and costing NY a congressional seat via incompetently conducting the 2020 census; the state D leadership snubbing the party’s grassroots; general political malpractice by some of the party’s leading politicos… Let’s hope the NY Ds get their act together and take back those five lost seats in ’24.
  • Though the Ds have retained their razor-thin Senate majority, the Dec. 6th GA run-off remains of capital importance. We need that 51st seat and for reasons that should be manifest to all. Progressive communicator and strategist Dante Atkins concisely spelled out the stakes in this Twitter thread. I am personally optimistic that the Ds will be more mobilized than the Rs for this one and that Raphael Warnock will be reelected. If I could go down to Georgia and knock on doors, I would.
  • Ron DeSantis’s Reaganesque landslide victory, followed by Marco Rubio’s: this definitively confirms that Florida is a red state. Good. Now the Democrats can write it off in ’24 and make an all-out play for Texas (and strive to win back Latinos who defected to Trump and the Rs in 2020, particularly as the Ds appear to have held their own in south TX last Tuesday). In forgetting about FL, the Ds can focus laser-like on AZ, GA, and NC, plus, of course, the PA-MI-WI trio.

I will weigh in on the Democrats and 2024 in an upcoming post. As it so happens, the loser Trump is scheduled to announce his candidacy in the next hour, as I write. I’m crossing my fingers that DeSantis also runs, which I am predicting he will if the polls next winter show his numbers among Republican voters to be good relative to Trump’s, i.e. if he has a chance of knocking off the orange-haired idiot. If such is the case, the pressure on DeSantis from the Republican moneybags and “normies” to contest the idiot will be intense. If DeSantis does jump into the race, the ensuing bloodbath will be a sight to savor, with the victor of the internecine war limping into the general election campaign fatally wounded, though neither (and certainly not Trump) will perceive it that way. Wishful thinking? On verra.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics—a sharp elections analyst, albeit with a Republican tilt—analyzes the midterm outcome in a Nov. 17 post, “What happened?” He argues, among other things, that the Dobbs ruling/abortion issue has been overstated as a factor in the Democrats’ relative success, and underscores the Rs’ advance in the national popular vote, plus continued R gains with Afro-American and Hispanic/Latino voters. The key to the Ds’ performance: candidate quality, or the absence of it on the R side.

2nd UPDATE: Thomas B. Edsall’s Nov. 23 NYT column, “Trump was a gift that might not keep giving,” which is somewhat sobering for Democrats, is absolutely worth the read.

Voilà my first post on American politics in a full year—I didn’t realize it had been that long—but which in no way signifies that I have not been following events outre-Atlantique, though was naturally more focused on France during the months-long presidential and legislative campaign season—and continue to focus on in view of the novel political configuration of the National Assembly (more on which another time). There are times, such as now, when I almost wish I wasn’t American, and thus didn’t care about the place—its domestic politics at least—as reading about it and listening to daily podcast analyses and commentary is so utterly depressing, when not despair-inducing—and, not to mention, downright terrifying, with the sight of tens of millions of fellow citizens descending into an irrational, rage-fueled, conspiracy theory-driven collective psychosis, and with persons like myself, my friends, and family the target of that rage. The reaction of MAGA World to the incident at the Pelosi household spoke volumes. Given the hatred that world feels toward its political opponents, i.e. the party for which half of the American electorate votes, and the sheer quantity of weapons in its possession, it is only a matter of time before people, including prominent public personalities, start getting killed. All the Caudillo of Mar-a-Lago has to do is give the go-ahead. #RadioMilleCollines

During the late summer, I was relatively optimistic for the Democrats’ midterm chances, insisting to friends and family that the Dems would likely keep the Senate (and add a couple of seats or more while they were at it) and possibly even hold the House, bucking the iron law of American politics that midterm elections invariably sanction the party in the White House, and always during economic hard times and when the president’s approval rating is underwater. While the House is now a goner—it is almost certain to go Republican—a massive turnout of D voters tomorrow, along with mass mail-in ballots, could nonetheless limit the losses and protect the razor-thin Democratic control of the Senate. Inshallah. Hoping against hope. But realistically speaking, all signs are pointing to a debacle, a red wave, if not tsunami, in the House and at the state level, and the Rs taking the Senate. The polls have been shifting the Republicans’ way as inflation, crime, and the border have become the main issues driving the campaign, and with the Dobbs ruling receding as a mobilizing issue and only hardcore D voters alarmed over the danger to democracy posed by the MAGA Rs holding the levers of power and at any level of government. And then there’s the reporting on an uptick of support for the Rs among Latino and Asian-American voters, notably in crucial swing states like Nevada, and Black men, as well as D candidates in solid blue states and CDs, e.g. New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Washington, finding themselves in unexpectedly close races. In short, the Rs have the momentum and their rage-driven voters are energized in a way demoralized D voters are not. And in a contest of rage vs. demoralization, guess who has the advantage.

Demagoguery is an effective rage-stoker, e.g. this ad by the very likely next governor of Arizona—and who could very possibly be Trump’s running mate in ’24.

An aside: If one removes a couple of words from the ad (e.g. communist, the wall), it could have easily been signed by Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, or just about anyone on the radical left.

On what eventually victorious Rs will do with their victory, see Ezra Klein’s NYT column yesterday ICYMI, “Republicans have made it very clear what they want to do if they win Congress.” Maureen Dowd’s column, “The Marjorie Taylor Greene-ing of America,” is also worth the read.

I will be tracking a number of races tomorrow night but those in one state, Wisconsin—where I was born and raised to age 12, and with which I still identify—are of particular significance, as their outcome will tell us much about the future of democracy in America. For background, take a half-hour to listen to the NYT’s The Daily podcast (or read the transcript if you prefer), “The Maps: In Wisconsin, aggressive gerrymandering has allowed Republicans to cement their political power. Can Democrats ever make inroads?”

After you’ve done that, read the NYT report, “Wisconsin Republicans stand on the verge of total, veto-proof power: In a 50-50 battleground state, Republicans are close to capturing supermajorities in the State Legislature that would render the Democratic governor irrelevant even if he wins re-election.”

And Ari Berman in Mother Jones, “How Wisconsin became the GOP’s laboratory for dismantling democracy: Republicans are trying to make state politics voter-proof. If they prevail, the next coup attempt may well succeed.”

Jacobin columnist Liza Featherstone has a pertinent take, “The Democrats will probably lose the midterms, because our society is falling apart: The Democrats are too beholden to the rich, and they face structural obstacles that are too daunting, to address the profound sense of social collapse that afflicts the US today. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Since beginning this post I have read a highly pertinent piece in The Guardian, “‘These are conditions ripe for political violence’: how close is the US to civil war?” The lede: “Nearly half of Americans fear their country will erupt within the next decade. Ahead of the midterm elections this week, three experts analyse the depth of the crisis.” The experts are Barbara F. Walter (political scientist, UC-San Diego), Stephen Marche (Canadian novelist and essayist), and Christopher Sebastian Parker (political scientist, UC-Santa Barbara).

Walter is the author of How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them (Viking, 2022). Here’s one passage in her analysis:

The divide between the American political system and any reflection of the popular will is widening, and increasingly it cannot be ignored. The electoral college system means that, in the near term, a Democrat will win the popular mandate by many millions of votes and still lose the presidency. The crisis of democracy will only grow. With around 345 election deniers on the ballot as candidates in November, the Republicans appear to have evolved a new political strategy, seemingly based on the gambling strategy of Joe Pesci’s character in Casino: if they win, they collect. If they don’t, they tell the bookies to go away. Unless there is a completely separate Republican leadership in place by 2024, they will simply ignore the results they don’t like.

MAGA Republicans = Joe Pesci in ‘Casino’. I like that. ‘Goodfellas’ too.

Walter concludes:

Elections have consequences, right up until the point when they don’t. On a superficial level, the 2022 midterms couldn’t matter more; American democracy itself is at stake. On a deeper level, the 2022 midterms don’t matter all that much; they will inform us, if anything, of the schedule and the manner of the fall of the republic. The results might delay the decline, or accelerate it, but at this point, no merely political outcome can prevent the downfall. America has passed the point at which the triumph of one party or another can fix what’s wrong with it, and the kind of structural change that’s necessary isn’t on the table. This is a moment between two American politics. The wind has been sown. The whirlwind is yet to be reaped.

À suivre, évidemment.

The Brazilian election

[update below]

Voilà the most important issue in this Brazilian election, as it directly concerns every last one of us on this planet. Along with countless millions, I thus breathed a sigh of relief last night when Lula overtook Bolsonaro in the vote count, and with his victory announced shortly after. I did not have a good feeling about this election after Bolsonaro’s unexpectedly strong showing in the first round four weeks ago, confirming the seemingly irresistible force of far-right populism in our current era. As it is, Bolsonaro’s narrow personal loss, but political victory at the legislative and state level, mirrors the US Republicans, with Trump narrowly repudiated but the party itself looking to win Congress next week. We’ll see if Bolsonaro is a harbinger for the US.

I did not follow this Brazilian campaign as closely as the one four years ago, though have read a few good pieces. One that I found interesting is a blog post in Mediapart dated October 27, “Le Brésil, source d’inspiration et d’inquiétude pour la gauche en France,” by Roberto Romero Aguila, who is, among other things, a member (Pôle écologique) of the Regional Council of the Île-de-France. For the benefit of non-Francophone AWAV readers, I have translated the piece into English (via DeepL, followed by a little editing). N.B. What he says about the left in Brazil and France applies to other places as well, including the US.

Brazil, a source of inspiration and concern for the left in France

The left in Brazil is faced with two weaknesses. On the one hand, a weakness of objective material forces that pushes it to find compromises with neo-liberal sectors. On the other hand, an ideological weakness in the face of the communicative efficiency of a new fascism that has made lies and hatred the basis of its political business. Why should France be spared?

The second round of the presidential elections in Brazil will take place at the end of this week.

The Brazilian campaign raises a whole series of questions that underlie what is happening in Brazil but more broadly in Latin America as a whole. At the end of this article, I will venture to draw some lessons that could be meditated upon in France.

First of all, we can only notice the weakness of the left in Brazil. A weakness first of all of objective material forces that push the left to find compromises and offer guarantees to a certain number of neo-liberal sectors. Then an ideological weakness in the face of the communicative efficiency of a new fascism that has made lies and hatred the basis of its political business.

Lula should win in the second round, at least according to the polls. The participation rate (due to mandatory voting) was very important, almost 80% of the voters and with a gap of 6 million votes. Regarding the transfers, part of the votes of Simone Tebet, who came third, will go to Lula; the fourth, Ciro Gomez, is also calling for a vote for Lula. Looking solely at the numbers, it is hard to see how Lula does not win. Nevertheless, the media that is dramatizing the situation could themselves create a new situation. Nor would it be surprising if, like Trump, Bolsonaro attempted a post-election coup d’état by refusing to accept the verdict of the ballot box if it went against him.

In spite of this worrying situation, the weaknesses indicated must be of greater concern to us in the long term. Even if Lula were to win, this should not mask the real situation of the left.

The Bolsonarist right, with a gain of nearly two million votes, is becoming firmly entrenched in the Brazilian political landscape.

This is worrying because the many mistakes or errors linked to the Bolsonaro government do not seem to have affected the far-right electorate, but have amplified it. Its social base is solidly anchored. When we look at the other elections that took place on the same day, we can measure this. Despite Lula’s first place in the first round of the presidential elections, the results for the Governors and Congress are very unfavorable to the left.

Bolsonaro has a majority in the Parliament.

With 99 seats Bolsonaro’s party will have the largest political group in the National Assembly; the PT will have 80. The assembly has 513 seats, which will make it very difficult to build a majority for Lula. Indeed, among the dozens of parties that have representation in Congress, the majority are right-wing or even extreme right-wing. Bolsonaro has also succeeded in installing his relatives in key positions in the legislative branch, such as his former health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, the architect of the COVID health policy, which was strongly criticized well beyond Brazil. Also entering Parliament is Bolsonaro’s former Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles, who allowed the dismantling of the organizations of environmental control and authorized the policies of deforestation of the Amazon.

The PT, on the other hand, has made some progress in favor of minorities by electing several deputies of Indian origin and the first transgender deputies.

Concerning the Senate, which renewed a third of its representatives, Bolsonaro will be able to count on the most important group, with 14 senators out of the 81 seats against the 9 of the PT; there will be 8 more senators of the liberal party than during the last legislature and will be composed by former high officials of Bolsonaro’s Government. Among them are General Hamilton, his Vice President, who lauds the era of the dictatorship; the evangelical pastor Damares Alves, ex-Minister of Family; and his ex-Minister of Science Marcos Pontes. He also placed a fundamentalist evangelical pastor Magno Malta who was one of the principal advocates for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016. The presence of these new religious personalities is telling in a country where evangelical Protestantism will eventually overtake Catholicism as the first religion of the country.

Bolsonaro has also succeeded in placing two key personalities in his anti-Lula campaign:

Sergio Moro and Deltan Dallagnol: the judge and the prosecutor who set up the false accusations that led Lula to prison in the “Lava Jato” trial. It should be remembered that Lula was amnestied, cleared of all suspicion and only served time in prison as a preventive measure and because of the Lawfare process that prevented him from running in 2018.

Bolsonaro has a majority in the states.

Brazil, a federal country consisting of 27 states, also elects its governors, whose power is considerable. Before the second round the PT is assured of governing only 3 states. Bolsonaro, for his part, managed to win 11.

This means that when Lula takes power, he will have to lead the country with a Congress that will be hostile to him and a very unfavorable balance of power in the Brazilian state executives.

It is interesting to take a look at the media treatment in Brazil such as it is relayed in Europe and in France. The tendency has been to characterize the two candidates as being in comparable situations, and with an equally unpalatable choice on offer between the plague and cholera, of two “radical” candidates.

Let’s measure what this indicates about the position of the media, it amounts to putting a sign of equality between a fascist candidate, Bolsonaro, and a democratic candidate, Lula. But we must be aware that in Brazil and elsewhere, this radicalism serves the dominant interests in a contradictory way. Indeed, it leads to present these political offers as unreasonable proposals without ever questioning the interest of the majority of citizens. This enables the conclusion that only moderate proposals – which in reality only serve the interests of the reactionary ruling classes – are the real answers. The real radicality that responds to a majority aspiration all over the world is to attack the reduction of inequalities. But this does not fit into the spectrum of reasonable proposals. Fascism, on the other hand, does.

The far right: a force that questions democracy.

It is also surprising that the objective results of Bolsonarism are not sanctioned by the ballot box. His record: increased inequality, poverty, a return to hunger for 60 million Brazilians according to the FAO, and in a country that is the third largest food producer in the world. Lula had taken Brazil out of the UN hunger map for seven years, Bolsonaro made it go backwards. It is the only country in world history that has returned to it after getting out. This “feat” was mainly due to the drastic decrease of public funding in society under the Temer and Bolsonaro governments. All sectors of the country lost wealth under Bolsonaro, but obviously the most fragile lost the most (55%) and the rich only had a 5% decrease in wealth. He has made it easier to carry a gun, which could have consequences after the second round of voting.

The reasons that explain the permanence of Bolsonarism are to be found elsewhere. Indeed, one can think that the neo-liberal model based on free trade has been exhausted since the 2008 crisis. But this failure, which is not assumed but is a factual reality, makes it difficult to provide a rational explanation for the maintenance of neo-liberal constraints that reduce the State to a portion that is all the more congruent as private wealth is maximized. Thus we can see that the dominant oligarchies, including in democratic countries, prefer to bet on extreme right-wing regimes, in reality fascist regimes, renamed hard right, hoping that the order will allow them to keep their rent situations. For in reality, what does Lula represent today, once we have objectified his political position? He is the representative of a centrist alliance that in some aspects could lean to the right, but for the moment still prefers a democratic model to Bolsonarism. In reality, Lula’s team is not or no longer the PT, he is simply the best representative of the democrats of all sides who still believe in this model of political functioning.

But for how much longer?

This is indeed, in my opinion, what is at stake in this election. Bolsonarism feeds on all the dominant sectors that want to maintain their positions and that are ready to write off the fragile construction of democracy because they are convinced that it is the only way to maintain their positions when they are no longer supported by a relevant ideological model. Fascism becomes the framework within which business as usual continues. For this it uses the contradictions of the popular social classes between them, moral or emotional arguments, irrational elements, magical thinking and generates media buzz in order to create a smoke curtain that takes the place of a veil of ignorance allowing to hide the real debates. To all this circus it becomes difficult to bring the contradiction in a rational contradictory framework. In this respect, the left can hardly win by letting itself be trapped in this trap.

What Brazil says about France.

The Brazilian situation is thus particularly illuminating for the situation in France. Indeed, if the results of the French legislative elections allow the illusion of the existence of the left to live on, they do not succeed in countering the rise of the extreme right. For the major element of the last presidential elections in France is indeed this one: the irresistible progression of the extreme right. The second important element is that the unity of the left has allowed to contain the debacle.

But finally, why shouldn’t what happened in Brazil happen in France?

Is it not the case that the very problem of the left today is that it does not have a unifying project for the country? Because even if the Macronists characterize the NUPES as extremist, the project carried by Jean-Luc Mélenchon is not revolutionary. It is a program that defends a certain number of achievements and tries to draw others, and that is already good, but as in Brazil, the left no longer has a vision of society to propose that can federate beyond its hardcore electorate. This same electorate is crumbling all the more rapidly as the ideological foundations that built the principles of the left have gradually disappeared. Thus, in France as in Brazil, the Left needs to re-found a common project of society and it must do so at the European level for us and at the Latin American level for Brazil. Because if we do not take this path, we will at best be the last defenders of our democratic system in the face of those who have only one project: to tear it apart.

Pierre Haski’s geopolitical commentary this morning on France Inter, “Bolsonaro, Netanyahou, Trump… les populistes sont inoxydables,” is good.

UPDATE: Sao Paulo-based journalist Vincent Bevins has a highly informative article (Oct. 28) on the New York Review of Books website, “Bigger than Bolsonaro: After four years in power, a movement created by elite campaigns has built a mass base.”

Putin’s war – VIII

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

Translation: Good Morning, Ukraine! (the name of a morning television program there). Nice that the Ukrainians pulled this off. Hopefully the next time, if the Russians cross a red line, the Ukrainians will render the bridge unusable.

Eliot A. Cohen comments on the attack in The Atlantic (Oct. 9), “Putin’s regime faces the fate of His Kerch Strait Bridge: The attack on the crucial link between Russia and Crimea matters less for its tactical significance and more for what it says about the course of the war.”

Walter Russell Mead’s Oct. 3 column The Wall Street Journal, “Putin’s nuclear threat is real,” is an absolute must-read. The lede: “The conflict isn’t only about Ukraine. He’s waging a global war on the U.S.-led order.” The entire text may be read in the comments thread below but here’s the money quote:

While American presidents going back to George W. Bush have failed to appreciate the depth and passion of Mr. Putin’s hostility to the U.S., the Russian president isn’t that hard to read. Like a movie supervillain who can’t resist sharing the details of his plans for world conquest with the captured hero, Mr. Putin makes no secret of his agenda. At Friday’s ceremony marking Russia’s illegal and invalid “annexation” of four Ukrainian regions, he laid out his worldview and ambitions in a chilling and extraordinary speech that every American policy maker should read.

Vladimir Putin’s September 30th speech—which is indeed chilling and extraordinary—should be read not only by policymakers but by any concerned person who has any kind of point of view on the Ukraine war.

But while I and faithful AWAV readers may find Putin’s words appalling, I am fully aware that many people across the globe—and in the West, on the far right and radical left—adhere to the Russian dictator’s world-view. And this includes friends of mine—or, I should say, included (past tense), as it’s really not possible at this point in history to maintain a friendship with anyone who aligns with Russia against Ukraine and the West (and who, I may add, also supports the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria).

For those from the Global South who are proclaiming neutrality, David Gakunzi, director of the Paris Global Forum, has a pointed piece (Oct. 10) in La Règle du Jeu: “Ukraine: Pour l’honneur de l’Afrique.” The lede: “Nombre de pays africains ont clairement dénoncé l’agression de la Russie contre l’Ukraine. D’autres continuent de louvoyer et de se cacher derrière une notion floue de neutralité. C’est aux responsables de ces États-là que s’adresse ce texte.”

On Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling, there seems to be a consensus forming among informed analysts that while his demented rantings are to be taken seriously, he won’t cross that Rubicon—and if he does, with a tactical nuke, that it will provoke a massive conventional response by the US/NATO, who might, as David Patraeus speculated, “take out every Russian conventional force that we can see and identify on the battlefield” in Ukraine, and including Crimea and naval vessels in the Black Sea.

Fred Kaplan in Slate (Oct. 7) is on the same wavelength, “Why the U.S. might not use a nuke, even if Russia does: If Putin goes nuclear in Ukraine, NATO can annihilate his forces using conventional weapons, and maybe avoid armageddon in the process,” as is Eliot A. Cohen in The Atlantic (Oct. 4), “Russia’s nuclear bluster is a sign of panic: Yielding to Putin’s blackmail would be folly.”

Gen. Jack Keane (ret.) sums up the matter in this short WSJ video. And if one has half an hour to spare, The Daily podcast (Oct. 7), “What are tactical nuclear weapons, and what if Russia uses them?,” with New York Times science reporter and senior writer William J. Broad, is very informative.

Timothy Snyder, in his Oct. 5 Substack post, “How does the Russo-Ukrainian War end?,” makes this pertinent observation:

As I’ll explain in a moment, giving in to nuclear blackmail won’t end the conventional war in Ukraine.  It would, however, make future nuclear war much more likely.  Making concessions to a nuclear blackmailer teachers him that this sort of threat will get him what he wants, which guarantees further crisis scenarios down the line.  It teaches other dictators, future potential blackmailers, that all they need is a nuclear weapon and some bluster to get what they want, which means more nuclear confrontations.  It tends to convince everyone that the only way to defend themselves is to build nuclear weapons, which means global nuclear proliferation.

Timothy Snyder’s latest Substack post (Oct. 10), “Russia’s Crimea disconnect,” is essential reading, as it lays waste to the notion—reduces it to smithereens—that Russia has any legitimate claim to Crimea, historical or otherwise.

Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London, has this Substack post (Oct. 10), “Retribution and regime change: The consequences of Putin’s weakness.” Take a look at the tronche of General Sergei Surovikin, the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. A bona fide terrorist, along with all the other criminals and gangsters in the upper reaches of the Russian state.

À propos, Garry Kasparov made a trenchant assertion in the wake of Russia’s missile attack yesterday:

On Russia as a terrorist state, historian Jean-François Colosimo has justly equated Putin and Osama Bin Laden, though with one difference: Putin has several thousand nuclear warheads at his disposal.

If one needs yet one more example of Russian iniquity, there’s this report (Oct. 9) in The Times of Israel, “Industrial-scale Russian looting destroys Ukraine’s historical sites and artifacts: Priceless crown from bloody rule of Attila the Hun, snatched by Russian troops in February, among thousands of artifacts stolen or destroyed in what Ukraine deems a huge war crime.”

The latest from Russian Depravity Watch:

Amusing, except that it’s not.

UPDATE: Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times has a bone-chilling podcast discussion (Oct. 13) on “Russia’s nuclear threat” with Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (and the Carnegie Moscow Center until the Russian government shut it down in April). Gabeav, who is very well-informed, considers it likely that Putin will go nuclear if he looks to be losing the war. Listen and be scared.

2nd UPDATE: Historian and Russia specialist Françoise Thom has a lengthy, must-read article (Oct. 14) on the excellent Desk Russie website, “La matrice autocratique en Russie: une fatale attraction.” The lede: “Depuis quelques semaines, le régime poutinien semble tituber vers sa fin. Le monde étonné se demande comment le peuple russe a toléré si longtemps un chef qui manifestement le mène à sa perte, qui détruit systématiquement ce qui faisait sa fierté il y a un an encore: l’armée russe, l’empire européen de Gazprom.” The Bolshevik heritage is central to understanding Russia today.

3rd UPDATE: Another must-read piece—and a sobering one—this from Le Monde dated Sep. 30 (and in English on the website): “‘Putin’s war has entered a new and even more dangerous phase’: Russian expert Tatiana Kastouéva-Jean notes that with the organization of local referendums and call for partial mobilization, the head of the Kremlin is continuing to risk a direct confrontation with the West in Ukraine.”

4th UPDATE: See the exceptional article in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs, “The sources of Russian misconduct: A diplomat defects from the Kremlin,” by Boris Bondarev, a career Russian diplomat who resigned in May, while posted in Geneva, to protest the invasion of Ukraine.

Putin’s war – VII

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

And this.

At the seven month mark of Russia’s war on Ukraine, plus a few days, one thing is quasi certain: Russia is not going to win it. Not a chance. As political scientist Olga Chyzh trenchantly asserted, Vladimir Putin will need “nothing short of a miracle to avoid a devastating defeat.” While a few hundred thousand draft-eligible men may succeed in fleeing the country, the Russian army will nonetheless be able to pressgang the quantity of human cannon-fodder it deems necessary to throw at the Ukrainians, but it won’t turn the tide of the war. This will be so as it has become clear since the exhilarating Ukrainian counter-offensive this month that Russia has a terrible army. As Ilya Lozovsky of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project aptly put it:

On the pathetic state of the Russian armed forces—and the far better state of its Ukrainian counterpart—do read the article in The Bulwark from last April (which I missed at the time) by Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling (Ret.), “I commanded U.S. Army Europe. Here’s what I saw in the Russian and Ukrainian armies: The two armies at war today couldn’t be more different.”

Lt. Gen. Hertling, who has been to Russia numerous times and had extensive interactions with his Russian counterparts, is highly informative on the subject. E.g., listen to his Sep. 14th Bulwark podcast discussion on “Russia’s awful army” and see his Twitter threads of Feb. 25, Sep. 21, and Sep. 27, plus his Sep. 27 Washington Post op-ed, “Putin’s recruits are heading for slaughter.”

Hertling’s WaPo op-ed concludes with this:

Which brings us back to how Putin’s 300,000 “reservists” will fare against Ukraine’s NATO-trained army. It is likely those recruits will join units that have recently been traumatized after seven months of combat and already suffer from poor morale. It won’t help that those units have recently been reinforced with prison parolees, ragtag militias from false “peoples’ republics,” and recruited guns from private armies.

The results will be predictable. Putin might continue to send unwilling Russian men to an ill-conceived and illegal invasion for which they are not trained or prepared. But it’s not warfare. It’s just more murder — this time of his own citizens.

The Russian army is terrible in so many ways, not the least in the way it treats its foot soldiers, notably in the violent hazing of conscripts, the general brutality of the Russian military experience, and disregard displayed toward its men.

One doesn’t win wars with armies like this. Thus the Russians’ heavy dependence on massive artillery barrages, reducing cities to rubble, waging mass terror campaigns against civilians, and greenlighting its soldiers to rape, loot, and pillage.

The Russian army has, in point of fact, always been awful, as we are usefully reminded by US military veteran and history buff Thomas M. Gregg, in an essay in The Cosmopolitan Globalist on the August 1914 Battle of Tannenberg, where the Tsar’s army suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Germans. During the Great Patriotic War, when the USSR was attacked by an enemy even worse than they—in the bloodiest military campaign in the history of warfare, when the Hague and Geneva Conventions went out the window—the Red Army sent human waves of prisoners from the Gulag to clear mine fields, who were followed by waves of regular soldiers and with armed NKVD units in the rear, who were there to open fire on soldiers who tried to retreat—a practice that was initiated by the Red Army during the 1918-20 civil war (and when the loyalty of requisitioned tsarist-era officers was insured by holding their families hostage). Whether or not all this was necessary to defeat the enemy, one notes that not even the Wehrmacht treated its own men thusly when the Allies penetrated the German heartland in 1945.

And then there’s the wretchedness of public discourse in Russia, of its utter depravity, with this being an entirely representative example:

As for Putin’s psychotic rantings on going nuclear and other blood-curdling threats, these do have to be taken seriously, because he’s Putin and, as I have already asserted, Putin=Hitler, but IMHO and FWIW, it’s extremely unlikely. Putin says he’s not bluffing, except that he is. He cannot decide on one fine day to launch a tactical nuclear weapon strike out of the blue and by simply pressing a button. Such nukes have to be physically moved and with protocols followed, and with many persons involved, including generals who are in contact with their American counterparts. The Americans would know what Putin is up to well ahead of time and, as Biden has already made clear, the US response would be commensurate with the Russian action. If it looked like Putin were literally on the verge of going nuclear, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, RT Erdoğan, and even Abdelmadjid Tebboune would get on the phone with Putin and warn him not to do it. If he did it anyway, he would be abandoned by the entire planet save Aleksandr Lukashenko, Bashar al-Assad, and Kim Jong-un. And that would be for starters. IMHO and FWIW, Putin would step back from the brink, even if the Ukrainians were to liberate territory the Russians have just annexed.

Putin will also step back from the brink as he has numerous other weapons at his disposal (conventional and asymmetric) to wreak even greater death and destruction on Ukraine, as well as inflict potentially serious economic damage on Europe (the Nord Stream attack being a taste of what is likely to come). And one may be sure that Putin will do these things and then some.

The bottom line: Russia is a terrorist state that must be punished. The only possible stance of the West is that spelled out by Nicolas Tenzer in this Twitter thread.

C’est tout.

UPDATE: Two articles on different aspects of the demographic question: “The demographic impact of Russian mobilization,” posted in The Cosmopolitan Globalist, from Monique Camarra’s EuroFile; and “Why Ukraine matters to Russia: The demographic factor,” by Bruno Tertrais, posted last February on the Institut Montaigne website.

2nd UPDATE: Four articles in Foreign Affairs: “All the Tsar’s Men: Why mobilization can’t save Putin’s war,” by Lawrence Freedman (Sep. 23); “Putin’s Roulette: Sacrificing his core supporters in a race against defeat,” by Andrei Kolesnikov (Sep. 30); and, in the September-October issue, “Ukraine Holds the Future: The war between democracy and nihilism,” by Timothy Snyder; “The World Putin Wants: How distortions about the past feed delusions about the future,” by Fiona Hill and Angela Stent.

3rd UPDATE: The National Interest has a piece dated April 22 by Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, which merits reading because of the identity of the author, “Would Putin’s Russia Really Nuke Ukraine? If a nuclear strike killed 10,000 or 20,000 innocent Ukrainians, how would the United States or NATO respond?”

4th UPDATE: The Moscow Times has a must-read report (Sep. 30) by journalists Farida Rustamova and Maxim Tovkaylo, “Putin Always Chooses Escalation.” And JAMnews has a remarkable reportage (Sep. 27) on Russia’s Fourth World corruption, “‘The letter Z is on every third car’ – how a Russian traveled from Moscow to Tbilisi.”

Queen Elizabeth II, R.I.P.

Credit: BBC

She was the queen of England during my entire lifetime—and as a mid-Boomer, I’m not young—so how can I not have an R.I.P. post on her? Not being British or having ever lived in the UK, I did not have particular feelings one way or the other toward her or the royal family, and paid little attention to the scandals and tabloid stories over the years regarding members of the latter (Margaret, Charles & Diana, their sons et al). But while I never lived there, I’ve visited England some twenty-five times in my life (always staying with relatives or friends), know the history and politics, love London, and cannot imagine the place without the monarchy. If there were a referendum on abolishing the monarchy and I could vote in it, I would vote against. In this regard, I’ve been somewhat irritated by the torrent of negativity, if not invective, on social media since Thursday by non-Brits—mainly lefties, though not all—toward the queen and British monarchy, including by academics whom I otherwise respect. Qu’est-ce qu’ils en ont à foutre?

The left-wing political scientist Philippe Marlière, who teaches at University College London, had a pertinent Twitter thread yesterday that I have taken the liberty of translating into English (via DeepL; original French here):

I came to the United Kingdom with a very French and ideological view of the British monarchy: it was the absolute evil, or almost. I have since nuanced this point of view. 1/

The monarchy is not a regime I support. I am a socialist (in the generic sense of the term). Monarchy is based on notions that I reject: privilege, heredity, expensive pomp and the maintenance of a conservative order. 2/

But with time, I realized that monarchy is, from a political point of view, a regime that is certainly not worse than the French republican monarchy where an elected individual has exorbitant powers. The 5th Republic is undemocratic and dangerous. 3/

The British monarch has political powers, but they are limited. The tradition is that the monarch is politically neutral, above the fray. The power is in the government, which itself depends on parliament. 4/

Queen Elizabeth, 96, who reigned for 70 years, is a product of this conservative elite, but she has performed her role as head of state with dedication and without making waves. No one knows what the Queen’s political views are. 5/

Elizabeth II is a moral conscience who keeps quiet and lets elected politicians govern. Her role is to hold the nation and the Commonwealth together and to symbolically represent the country abroad. 6/

This is why monarchists love her, and non-monarchists (including myself) respect her and even feel a form of empathy for her action. 7/

The Queen has sometimes appeared brittle and distant (Diana), but at other times, she has found the words and gestures to bring the British people together. Her Christmas messages were surprisingly modern, inclusive and multicultural! 8/

Her successor, Charles, 73, has no such aura. Like his father, Philip, he is a gaffer and has eccentric views. He will probably try to use his little constitutional power to intervene in political debates. 9/

For this reason, he will polarize, outdo everyone and may undermine the institution of monarchy. The monarchy is indeed tolerated as long as the monarch lets the government govern and leaves the British people alone! 10/

This is why the disappearance of the Queen worries here and creates a very uncertain situation from a constitutional point of view. Charles will never be respected and loved as his mother was. 11/

Très bien.

On the question of constitutional monarchy vs. republic, European states that have the former—in addition to the UK: Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden—are hardly less democratic or more inegalitarian than those that are republics. As for the cost of monarchy (constitutional)—the most valid argument against it—I learned from a commentator today that financially supporting the monarchy costs British taxpayers £88 million a year but that the monarchy yields the British treasury some £2 billion annually, via tourism and other receipts. Dont acte.

My view, not to mention knowledge, of Elizabeth and the royal family evolved after watching the Netflix series The Crown, the subject of which—if one has been living in some remote corner of the globe with no streaming or internet and has thus not heard of it—is the life and times of Elizabeth and the royals, from Elizabeth’s childhood years to (so far) the early 1990s. I’d been hearing about the series since its first season in 2016 but wasn’t much interested in it until the pandemic and successive lockdowns, when, after yet another recommendation—there was a lot of series-watching in those far-off days—I decided to check it out. And lo and behold, I binge-watched all four seasons. It is a terrific series—one of the best I’ve seen—and that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone.

I’ll make just three brief comments about it. First, the acting is superb and with the change in the casting of the main characters beginning in season 3 (notably Claire Foy to Olivia Colman for Elizabeth), which is initially jarring, working well (and making obvious sense). Second, the depiction of the royals as a borderline dysfunctional family, whose members, all playing roles assigned to them, are dissatisfied with their lives, if not deeply unhappy: not being a royals-watcher, I had no idea, at least not the extent of it. They’re just people, like everyone else. Third, and above all, the series is a saga not only of the royal family but also of Great Britain and the world beyond in the latter half of the twentieth century—of a changing society and how the royals changed with it. For this alone, ‘The Crown’ is well worth watching.

There have been remarks and criticisms of historical inaccuracies here and there, though which are inevitable in a dramatization of the sort. E.g. while the queen did dance the foxtrot with Kwame Nkrumah during her 1961 state visit to Ghana, it did not arrest that country’s increasing embrace of the Soviet bloc. And though the limerick contest at the 1965 White House state dinner for Princess Margaret, hosted by LBJ, certainly didn’t happen, it’s a priceless scene nonetheless.

Season 5 will be released in November. I’ll no doubt binge watch.

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