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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)
R.M.N.
The Beasts (As Bestas)
The Night of the 12th (La Nuit du 12)
Vortex

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

BEST MOVIE FROM BHUTAN:
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (ལུང་ནག་ན)

BEST MOVIE FROM COSTA RICA:
Clara Sola

BEST MOVIE FROM MALTA:
Luzzu

BEST MOVIE FROM KOSOVO:
Hive (Zgjoi)

BEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM KOSOVO:
The Hill Where Lionesses Roar (Luaneshat e kodrës)

BEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM CROATIA:
Murina

BEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM IRAN:
Sun Children (خورشید)

BEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM FRANCE SET IN AND AROUND SÈTE:
My Brothers and I (Mes frères et moi)

BEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM ITALY SET IN CALABRIA:
A Chiara

BEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE SET IN 1980 QUEENS NEW YORK:
Armageddon Time

BEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM NORTHERN IRELAND SET IN 1969 BELFAST:
Belfast

BLEAKEST RUSSIAN COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM NORTH OSSETIA:
Unclenching the Fists (Разжимая кулаки)

BEST ANIMATED COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM LATVIA ABOUT GROWING UP IN THE LATE SOVIET ERA:
My Favorite War (Mans mīļākais karš)

BEST MOVIE SET IN 1980s POLAND ABOUT THE TRUE NATURE OF A DICTATORIAL REGIME:
Leave No Traces (Żeby nie było śladów)

BEST MOVIE FROM ROMANIA AFTER ‘R.M.N.’:
Miracle (Miracol)

MOST ONLY SO-SO MOVIE ABOUT THE CONDITION OF WOMEN IN BULGARIA:
Women Do Cry (Жените наистина плачат)

BEST MOVIE FROM UKRAINE:
Pamfir (Памфір)

BEST SLOVAK MOVIE FROM UKRAINE:
107 Mothers (Цензорка)

BEST CZECH MOVIE FROM UKRAINE:
Butterfly Vision (Бачення метелика)

BEST BELGIAN MOVIE SET IN SCOTLAND:
Nobody Has to Know

BEST BELGIAN MOVIE ABOUT THE ISLAMIC STATE IN SYRIA AND HOW IT RECRUITS ITS TERRORISTS:
Rebel

BEST DECIDEDLY SLOW-PACED BUT NONETHELESS ABSORBING MOVIE FROM TURKEY:
Commitment Hasan (Bağlılık Hasan)

BEST MELODRAMA FROM IRAQI KURDISTAN:
Goodnight Soldier (شەوباش پێشمەرگە)

BEST ALBEIT VERBOSE AND NOT-EASY-TO-FOLLOW MOVIE FROM IRAN:
Leila’s Brothers (برادران لیلا)

MOST BITING SATIRE FROM EGYPT ABOUT A PATRIARCHAL MAN WHO TURNS INTO A CHICKEN:
Feathers (ريش)

BEST SOMALI MOVIE FROM DJIBOUTI:
The Gravedigger’s Wife

BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN ON A FIG FARM IN TUNISIA:
Under the Fig Trees (تحت الشجرة)

MOST AUSTERE MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN ON A FARM IN 19TH CENTURY DENMARK:
As In Heaven (Du som er i himlen)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ON HOW IT CAN HAPPEN THAT PALESTINIAN CITIZENS OF ISRAEL ALSO FIND THEMSELVES UNDER CONDITIONS OF OCCUPATION:
Let It Be Morning (فليكن صباحا ויהי בוקר)

MOST ONLY OKAY MOVIE ABOUT SEX DRUGS AND MUSIC IN THE YOUNGER GENERATION IN ISRAEL:
All Eyes Off Me (מישהו יאהב מישהו)

BEST ANIMATED CZECH MOVIE ABOUT LIVING AS A WESTERN WIFE IN A FAMILY IN POST-2001 AFGHANISTAN:
My Sunny Maad (Moje slunce Mad)

MOST SOPORIFIC MOVIE FROM LAOS:
Goodbye Mister Wong

BEST MOVIE FROM JAPAN ABOUT THE COURTSHIP MORES OF THE JAPANESE UPPER CLASS:
Aristocrats (あのこは貴族)

STRANGEST MOVIE FROM JAPAN:
Plan 75 (プランななじゅうご)

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM SOUTH KOREA:
Decision to Leave (헤어질 결심)

BEST MOVIE FROM SPAIN’S BASQUE COUNTRY ABOUT REPENTANT TERRORISTS WHO ARE GENUINELY SORRY FOR THEIR TERRORIST ACTS:
Maixabel

BEST MOVIE FROM SPAIN ABOUT A GOOD BOSS WHO TURNS OUT NOT TO BE SUCH A GOOD BOSS WITH JAVIER BARDEM IN THE LEAD ROLE:
The Good Boss (El buen patrón)

BEST MOVIE FROM SPAIN ABOUT THE ATTEMPTED COLLABORATION OF EGOTISTICAL PRIMA DONNAS WITH PENÉLOPE CRUZ AND ANTONIO BANDERAS IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Official Competition (Competencia oficial)

BEST BY-THE-NUMBERS HOLLYWOOD MOVIE CELEBRATING THE DOGGED INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING OF AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS WITH CAREY MULLIGAN AND ZOE KAZAN IN THE LEAD ROLES:
She Said

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE IF ONE ENJOYS MOVIES ABOUT CANNIBALS FEASTING ON THEIR PREY BUT WORST MOVIE IF ONE DOES NOT ENJOY MOVIES ABOUT CANNIBALS FEASTING ON THEIR PREY:
Bones and All

BEST NOT BAD INDIE MOVIE ABOUT WHITE PEOPLE MOVING INTO A HISTORICALLY BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON AND THE SENTIMENTS THIS SPAWNS:
Residue

BEST BIOPIC ABOUT A GREAT AMERICAN ROCK AND ROLL SINGER:
Elvis

BEST NOT BAD BRITISH HISTORICAL DRAMA ABOUT A DECISIVE MOMENT IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR:
Operation Mincemeat

BEST SOCIAL DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH JULIETTE BINOCHE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Between Two Worlds (Ouistreham)

BEST POLITICAL DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH ISABELLE HUPPERT AND REDA KATEB IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Les Promesses

BEST POLITICAL DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH LÉA DRUCKER IN THE LEAD ROLE ABOUT A SOON TO BE EX-PRESIDENT OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC SUDDENLY FACED WITH THE IMMINENT VICTORY OF THE EXTREME RIGHTWING CANDIDATE WHO WILL SUCCEED HER:
Le Monde d’hier

BEST DRAMA FROM FRANCE SET DURING THE GERMAN OCCUPATION WITH DANIEL AUTEUIL AND GILLES LELLOUCHE IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Farewell Mr. Haffmann (Adieu Monsieur Haffmann)

BEST THRILLER FROM FRANCE BASED A TRUE STORY ABOUT A FRENCHMAN IN PUTIN’S RUSSIA WHO FALLS AFOUL OF THE F.S.B. WITH GILLES LELLOUCHE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Kompromat

BEST ENVIRONMENTAL THRILLER FROM FRANCE BASED ON A TRUE STORY ABOUT CORPORATE MALFEASANCE WITH PIERRE NINEY AND GILLES LELLOUCHE IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Goliath

BEST DRAMA FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE PITILESS WORLD OF GLOBALIZED CORPORATE MANAGEMENT WITH VINCENT LINDON AND SANDRINE KIBERLAIN IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Another World (Un autre monde)

BEST COMEDY-DRAMA FROM FRANCE ABOUT WORKERS IN AN ENTERPRISE IN THE HAUTE-SAVOIE WHO TAKE ON FINANCE CAPITAL AND WIN:
Reprise en main

BEST HIGH OCTANE THRILLER FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE POLICE INVESTIGATION IN THE DAYS FOLLOWING THE WORST TERRORIST ATTACK EVER TO HIT FRANCE WITH JEAN DUJARDIN AND ANAÏS DEMOUSTIER IN THE LEAD ROLES:
November (Novembre)

BEST DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH VIRGINIE EFIRA AND BENOÎT MAGIMEL IN THE LEAD ROLES ABOUT SURVIVORS OF THE PARIS TERRORIST ATTACKS AND HOW THEY COPED:
Paris Memories (Revoir Paris)

BEST ROMANTIC DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH LÉA SEYDOUX IN THE LEAD ROLE ABOUT A FORTY-SOMETHING SINGLE MOTHER IN PARIS AND HOW SHE MANAGES AN AGING PARENT ROMANCE WITH A MARRIED MAN AND JUST LIFE IN GENERAL:
One Fine Morning (Un beau matin)

MOST TOUCHING FEEL-GOOD BORDERLINE MELODRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH DANY BOON AND LINE RENAUD IN THE LEAD ROLES ABOUT A WORLD-WEARY CAB DRIVER WHO SPENDS A DAY CRUISING THE STREETS OF PARIS WITH A 92-YEAR-OLD CLIENT AS SHE TAKES A FINAL TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE:
Driving Madeleine (Une belle course)

BEST ALMOST AGONIZING-TO-WATCH DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH SARA GIRAUDEAU AND BENJAMIN LAVERNHE IN THE LEAD ROLES ABOUT TWO HOT-SHOT PARIS LAWYERS WHO ARE SO DESPERATE TO ADOPT A CHILD THAT THEY BREAK THE LAW IN THE PROCESS:
The Sixth Child (Le Sixième enfant)

MOST AMUSING FRANCO-ALGERIAN COMEDY WITH KAD MERAD IN THE LEAD ROLE ABOUT A NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING FRANCO-ALGERIAN NOVELIST WHO RETURNS TO HIS HOMETOWN IN ALGERIA AND THE AMUSING RECEPTION HE GETS THERE:
Citoyen d’honneur

BEST NOT BAD DRAMA FROM FRANCE INSPIRED BY THE TRUE STORY OF A FRENCHMAN EXECUTED BY THE FRENCH ARMY DURING THE ALGERIAN WAR WITH VINCENT LACOSTE AND VICKY KRIEPS IN THE LEAD ROLES:
My Traitor, My Love (De nos frères blessés)

MOST WILDLY OVERRATED ROMANTIC COMEDY-DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH SANDRINE KIBERLAIN AND VINCENT MACAIGNE IN THE LEAD ROLES ABOUT A SINGLE MOTHER AND MARRIED MAN WHO HAVE AN AFFAIR THAT MAKES NO SENSE AND DURING WHICH THEY FRIVOLOUSLY TALK ABOUT NOTHING OF INTEREST:
Dairy of a Fleeting Affair (Chronique d’une liaison passagère)

MOST DROLL OFFBEAT ORIGINAL COMEDY FROM FRANCE THAT TELLS THE ACTUAL STORY OF AN EPHEMERAL LONG-FORGOTTEN PRESIDENT OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC WITH JACQUES GAMBLIN AND ANDRÉ DUSSOLLIER IN THE LEAD ROLES:
The Vanished President (Le Tigre et le Président)

BEST MOST ENTERTAINING PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER FROM FRANCE WITH LAURE CALAMY IN THE LEAD ROLE:
The Origin of Evil (L’Origine du mal)

BEST FEMINIST COMEDY-DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH LAURE CALAMY IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Angry Annie (Annie colère)

BEST BIOPIC FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN EXCEPTIONAL FRENCHWOMAN OF OUR ERA:
Simone Veil, A Woman of the Century (Simone, le voyage du siècle)

MOST UNPLEASANT WASTE-OF-TIME OF A COMEDY-DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH PIERRE NINEY AND ISABELLE ADJANI AND THE REST OF AN ENSEMBLE CAST IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Mascarade

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH SAMI BOUAJILA AND ROSCHDY ZEM IN THE LEAD ROLES ABOUT A HAPPY SUCCESSFUL CLOSE-KNIT FRANCO-MOROCCAN FAMILY BUT WITH AN ACCIDENT UPENDING THE FAMILY IDYLL:
Our Ties (Les Miens)

BEST COURTROOM DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH KAYIJE KAGAME AND GUSLAGIE MALANDA IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Saint Omer

BEST NOT PERFECT BIOPIC FROM FRANCE ABOUT A NOTORIOUS POLICE MURDER WITH REDA KATEB AND LYNA KHOUDRI IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Our Brothers (Nos frangins)

WORST MOVIE FROM NETFLIX ABOUT TUMULT IN A BANLIEUE HOUSING PROJECT THAT CAN ONLY COMFORT THE VIEWS OF THE FRENCH EXTREME RIGHT:
Athena

MOST UNDESERVED CANNES FILM FESTIVAL PALME D’OR WINNER THAT WAS NONETHELESS MORE DESERVED THAN LAST YEAR’S PALME D’OR WINNER:
Triangle of Sadness

MOST POWERFUL DOCUMENTARY FROM SYRIA ON THE MARTYRDOM AND SUFFERING OF THE PALESTINIANS IN THE SUBURBS OF DAMASCUS BUT WITH ONE BIG FLAW:
Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege

MOST REMARKABLE DOCUMENTARY FROM RUSSIA OF A PRIVILEGED INDUSTRIAL CITY IN THE URALS WHERE THE WORKERS HAVE A COMFORTABLE STANDARD OF LIVING AND NATURALLY SUPPORT THE SYSTEM:
Kombinat

MOST CROWD-PLEASING DOCUMENTARY FROM GERMANY ABOUT A TURKISH HOUSEWIFE WITH ATTITUDE IN BREMEN WHO TAKES THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT TO COURT AND WINS:
Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush

MOST EXCEPTIONAL THOUGH NOT FLAWLESS DOCUMENTARY FROM UKRAINE ON THE LARGEST SINGLE MASSACRE COMMITTED BY NAZI GERMANY AND WHICH WAS HUSHED UP DURING THE SOVIET ERA:
Babi Yar. Context

BEST MOVIE BY LAURENT CANTET:
Arthur Rambo

BEST MOVIE BY JEAN-PIERRE & LUC DARDENNE:
Tori and Lokita

BEST MOVIE BY PANAH PANAHI ABOUT IRANIANS FLEEING OVER THE TURKISH BORDER:
Hit the Road (جاده خاکی)

BEST MOVIE BY JAFAR PANAHI ABOUT IRANIANS FLEEING OVER THE TURKISH BORDER:
No Bears (خرس نیست)

MOST MOVING PAEAN TO ANIMALS BY JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI:
EO

BEST MOVIE BY HIROKAZU KORE-EDA:
Broker (Les Bonnes Étoiles 브로커)

MOST TONGUE-IN-CHEEK COMEDY-HORROR MOVIE BY MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS:
Final Cut (Coupez!)

MOST ENTERTAINING COMEDY CAPER BY LOUIS GARREL:
The Innocent (L’Innocent)

MOST RIDICULOUS LITTLE MOVIE BY WOODY ALLEN CONFIRMING THAT HE REALLY SHOULD RETIRE FROM MAKING MOVIES:
Rifkin’s Festival

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE BY PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON:
Licorice Pizza

MOST FORGETTABLE MOVIE BY GUILLERMO DEL TORO:
Nightmare Alley

MOST PLODDING MOVIE BY DAVID O. RUSSELL:
Amsterdam

MOST ANNOYING AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MOVIE BY VALERIA BRUNI TEDESCHI:
Forever Young (Les Amandiers)

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE BY FRANÇOIS OZON:
Peter von Kant

MOST INSUFFERABLE MOVIE BY JORDAN PEELE:
Nope

ABSOLUTELY THE WORST MOVIE POSSIBLE BY CLAIRE DENIS:
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..

Inshallah.

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

ROBERT REICH
NOV 25

Friends,

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.

Putin’s war – VI

[update below]

At the six month mark, give or take a few days, of Russia’s war on Ukraine, I am linking to a must-read article that was posted on The Atlantic website on March 26th, but which I missed at the time, “Putin is just following the manual: A utopian Russian novel predicted Putin’s war plan,” by Dina Khapaeva, director of the Russian-studies program at Georgia Tech’s School of Modern Language. The piece begins:

No one can read Vladimir Putin’s mind. But we can read the book that foretells the Russian leader’s imperialist foreign policy. Mikhail Yuriev’s 2006 utopian novel, The Third Empire: Russia as It Ought to Be, anticipates—with astonishing precision—Russia’s strategy of hybrid war and its recent military campaigns: the 2008 war with Georgia, the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the incursion into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions the same year, and Russia’s current assault on Ukraine.

Yuriev’s book, like Putin’s war with Ukraine, is an expression of post-Soviet neo-medievalism, a far-right, anti-Western, and antidemocratic ideology that assigns “Russian Orthodox civilization” a dominant role over Europe and America. Yuriev, a businessman and former deputy speaker of the state Duma who died in 2019, was a member of the political council of the Eurasia Party, which envisions an essentially feudal social order overseen by a political class that rules through fear. Putin and Yuriev knew each other. The Third Empire is rumored to be popular and highly influential in the Russian leader’s circle; one Russian publication described it as “the Kremlin’s favorite book.”

I was made aware of the article from a post in Claire Berlinski’s excellent Substack site, The Cosmopolitan Globalist, in which she advised: “If you read only one article today…make it this one.” Further on, Claire remarked: “If John Mearsheimer and his coterie were aware of this book, perhaps they would have thought twice about confidently advancing the thesis that NATO’s expansion provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

N.B. It takes far less than this article to lay waste to Mearsheimer’s nonsensical Russia-apologizing arguments—the latest his dumb August 17th piece in Foreign Affairs. On the canard of NATO expansion, I highly recommend setting aside 70 minutes of your time to listen to the informative lecture by historian Mary E. Sarotte of Johns Hopkins-SAIS on her book Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate (Yale University Press, 2021), which she delivered on March 23th via Zoom (YouTube link here) to the Kyiv School of Economics.

Regarding those of the Mearsheimer bent, Anatol Lieven, who is normally smart—more so than Mearsheimer, that’s for sure—published a not-very-smart piece last week in Responsible Statecraft, the online magazine of the Quincy Institute, “Six months after Russian invasion, a bloody stalemate, a struggle for peace: The time for settlement is now — before tens of thousands more die and Ukraine has suffered still greater harm.” John Judis favorably posted the piece on his Facebook page, with this comment:

I agree with Anatol’s argument for negotiations, and would only emphasize the point more. Neither the US, nor Europe, nor Ukraine will benefit from the war’s continuation. Probably not the Russians’ either. The Biden administration should have been continually talking to the Russians, but they have made their unwillingness to do so very clear. It’s a complete dereliction of duty.

I responded:

What precisely is the Biden administration, not to mention the Ukrainians, supposed to negotiate with the Russians about? Trying to talk seriously with Vladimir Putin right now, if ever, is akin to calling for negotiations with Germany and Japan in December 1942. Anatol Lieven and those of his POV are bizarrely disconnected from reality on this. The fact is, the only thing to negotiate with the Russians, after their unconditional withdrawal (or expulsion) from territory occupied after February 24th, is the timetable for their departure from the Donbass and Crimea, after which one can talk about the size of their reparations bill ($1 trillion is a good starting point). If negotiations are to proceed on a basis other than this, please enlighten me.

After joking that “[t]here’s an assistant to the deputy job waiting for you in the National Security Council”—to which I joked back that “[i]f I could work remotely from Paris, I’d consider the offer”—Judis replied:

I don’t think the US can “negotiate” at present with the Russians except over Britney Griner, but I think they should have been talking to them all along to see if there were an opening for negotiations. Instead, after assuming the Russians would take Kiev, and then seeing they were repulsed, they indulged this fantasy that Ukraine would “win,” or at the least would knock the Russians out of the top tier of military powers. Biden called Putin a “war criminal,” they made statements that basically turned the war into the US vs. the USSR again. Macron has been much the better diplomat than Biden, but he has no power. Biden’s team is a throwback to Clinton’s initial ineffectual combination of Lake and Christopher, only worse, e.g. Afghanistan withdrawal worse than Somalia.

My riposte:

Biden gratuitously trash talking Putin was indeed not helpful but so long as he continues to flood Ukraine with the weapons it needs, I’ll say he’s doing the right thing. On talking to the Russians, about what apart from drawing red lines and advising them against issuing threats on going nuclear? And Macron’s diplomacy: what did his time-wasting meetings and phone calls with Putin accomplish other than pissing off the Ukrainians and EU frontline states, provoking ridicule in the Russian media, and making him look ineffectual at home in France?

I assume one read or heard late last month about Vogue magazine’s cover story on Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska and the brouhaha that followed, including the inevitable Twitter storm. An insidious son of a bitch artist and educator named Adam Broomberg posted this ill-tempered reaction on his Facebook page:

This is everything that is wrong with the world and how dangerously photography can intersect with it. The idea of a conflict zone as a backdrop for an @annieleibovitz shoot for @voguemagazine is vile. Posing the “First Lady” against a destroyed airplane in which people presumably died. Depicting a politician as an iconic hero without any nuanced understanding of their function and complicity in this 155 day old brutal war. A superficial glossy depiction of a hero in the Hollywood mould. The whole way this conflict has been covered (from the hierarchy of empathy we witnessed in the way white refugees were embraced) to the “cowboy and Indian” genre analysis of the actual conflict. Somehow deep down I think these pictures confirm our need for for a binary understanding of the world as good and evil, for an outdated model of male heroes with their female enablers. All the while the faceless and for now nameless youth die daily. Don’t get me wrong I’m not in any way supporting Putin but this shoot feeds into all the toxic heteronormative patriarchal ideas that make war inevitable.

Editor and writer Idrees Ahmad struck back with this excellent response, also on Facebook:

I’ve seen more than a few sharing posts like [Adam Broomberg’s], so I feel compelled to speak.

The “professor” whose post has gone viral is one of the many tankies, Trumpists and edgelords more outraged by a photoshoot than by the wholesale destruction of Ukraine by an invading force. He finds these pictures “vile” because he believes they don’t acknowledge Zelenskyy’s “function and complicity” in the invasion of his own country. (What?) He is also troubled by the moral clarity with which most people have denounced Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. More interestingly, he ends by suggesting that while Putin is bad, wars are really caused by “toxic heteronormative patriarchal ideas” represented by photos like these. (What?!?)

Now to the pictures. These are part of a photoshoot Annie Leibowitz did of Ukraine’s first family for a story about Olena Zelenska’s courage. If you have any doubts about the Zelenskyy’s courage, read Simon Shuster’s detailed report in Time magazine about the first days of the invasion, when a forty-mile long Russian invasion force was at the gates of Kyiv and western intelligence had warned Zelenskyy that an assassination team had been dispatched to take him out. But the Zelenskyy’s—both husband and wife—defied their own advisors and resisted pressure from foreign allies asking them to flee. They stayed in Kyiv, and remained at the presidential palace. The symbolism was important. Zelenskyy understood the devastating effect his flight would have on the country’s morale. Since then, Zelenskyy has made repeated forays to the frontlines to boost morale and show gratitude.

People are blaming the Zelenskyy’s for doing photoshoots while the country is burning. What they don’t get is that it is precisely Zelenskyy’s media strategy that has kept Ukraine from dropping off news coverage. Audiences in the west find it hard enough to maintain their interest in conflicts their countries are directly involved; to most of them Ukraine is a remote place. And attention is of the essence for Ukraine, whose military resources are limited, unlike Russia’s. Zelenskyy has been translating that attention into tangible military support. He has excellent military leaders handling the war; his role is to ensure they have the means to resist a superior invading force. For this he has used every available avenue to lobby for support. He has kept world attention from flagging. Through his personal courage and a clever media strategy, he has turned what everyone had predicted would be a quick rout into a disaster even bigger than Afghanistan for Russian forces.

So there is nothing—I repeat, nothing—wrong with these photos. And yes, Zelenskyy and his wife have set an example of leadership that should be celebrated.

Excellent, like I said.

UPDATE: The Portside website—whose subtitle is “Material of Interest to People on the Left”—has a partial response to the comment below by my friend Pythéas Frog (not his actual name, bien entendu), “How will the war end? A precise answer requires precise questions,” by Boris Kagarlitsky, a Moscow-based Marxist theoretician and sociologist, and who was a political dissident during the Soviet era.

Le communautarisme

[mis à jour ci-dessous]

Ce week-end je parlais politique avec un vieux ami, ici à Paris, qui est un partisan intransigeant du modèle républicain français et de la laïcité de combat, ce qui donne lieu depuis longtemps à des échanges animés entre nous. Au cours de notre discussion, il s’est inévitablement lancé dans une dénonciation du communautarisme, qu’il considère, comme tous les Français qui utilisent ce terme, comme un fléau, voire un danger pour la République, et qui l’obsède, de son propre aveu. Il a été assez surpris lorsque je lui ai appris que le terme ‘communautarisme’ – néologisme omniprésent dans le discours politique et journalistique mais dénué de valeur scientifique – n’existait pratiquement pas dans la langue française avant les années 90, et qu’on ne le trouve pas dans mon exemplaire du Petit Robert acheté en 1996. Il a été tout aussi surpris quand je lui ai dit que le mot ‘communautarisme’ ne se traduit pas en anglais : il n’y a pas d’équivalent en anglais, ni dans aucune autre langue à ma connaissance. C’est une notion uniquement française, et purement idéologique.

J’ai dit à mon ami que je lui enverrais quelques liens sur la question, que j’ai posté dans une mise à jour d’un post de AWAV il y a six ans, sur l’hystérie du burkini. Voilà :

Le 24 septembre 2016, Sylvain Bourmeau, de France Culture, a eu une excellente discussion d’une demi-heure avec le sociologue Fabrice Dhume-Sonzogni, intitulée “Le communautarisme, cette chimère toxique,” dans l’émission ‘La suite dans les idées’ de France Culture qu’il anime. Le résumé : “Au terme d’une longue enquête, le sociologue Fabrice Dhume montre comment le mot épouvantail ‘communautarisme’ n’est précisément que cela : un épouvantail planté au milieu de notre espace public.” C’était la première fois que j’entendais un tel argument en France sur la notion bidon de ‘communautarisme’ – un mot de code pour les expressions identitaires ethno-confessionnelles des musulmans (il n’est jamais appliqué à aucune autre ‘communauté’ en France issue de l’immigration) – et Dhume-Sonzogni disait presque exactement ce que j’ai dit depuis que ce néologisme a pris son essor dans le discours public français dans les années 90. Écoutez-le ici.

L’occasion de l’entretien avec France Culture était la publication du livre de Dhume-Sonzogni, Communautarisme : Enquête sur une chimère du nationalisme français, préfacé par Eric Fassin. Si on ne peut pas lire le livre, voir l’article de Dhume-Sonzogni, “L’émergence d’une figure obsessionnelle : comment le ‘communautarisme’ a envahi les discours médiatico-politiques français,” sur le site académique TERRA-HN (juillet 2013).

Voir également l’excellente recension (31 octobre 2016) du livre de Dhume-Sonzogni par Philippe Blanchet, qui enseigne la sociolinguistique à l’Université Rennes 2 et est membre de la Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, “‘Communautarisme’: attention aux retours de manivelle !,” sur son blog de Mediapart.

À lire aussi est le post du blogueur Ossman Zamime, “Vous avez dit ‘communautarisme’?,” dans Mediapart (6 mars 2016).

Bonne lecture !

MISE À JOUR: J’ai parlé du communautarisme dans un article que j’ai publié en 1997 dans Third World Quarterly, “On Islam in the West and Muslims in France: views from the Hexagon,” qui peut être téléchargé ici. En le relisant, je réécrirais quelques passages ici et là, mais je pense que l’essai tient bien la route 25 ans plus tard.

[update below]

I was invited by the London Review of Books to write a 1,000 word post on the election results for the LRB blog, which, after the usual editing, went up this evening under the title “Unpresidented.”

As I was limited in how much I could write—perhaps thankfully so—I couldn’t develop certain points or say everything I wanted to, notably in mentioning some of the deputies—newly elected or reelected—who will be entering the National Assembly. In the post, I wrote that “despite Mélenchon’s caudillo-like domination of his party, [La France Insoumise] has several high-profile, media savvy personalities, who will be an outspoken opposition force in the Palais Bourbon.” For those interested in the French left and intrigued by the NUPES, they are: Manuel Bompard (JLM’s anointed successor to his Marseille constituency), Adrien Quatannens (JLM’s protégé, age 32 but looks younger, and who, à la Olivier Besancenot, talks as fast as a rocket), Sophia Chikirou (JLM’s Significant Other, who spent a few months in the US in 2016 following the Bernie Sanders campaign), Danièle Obono (Franco-Gabonese, longtime gauchiste militant, and lightening rod for the Valeurs Actuelles and Printemps Républicain crowd), Eric Coquerel (JLM right-hand man), Raquel Garrido (Franco-Chilean, lawyer by training, with a well-known in-your-face style), Alexis Corbière (Raquel G.’s trash-talking spouse; an LFI heavyweight), Clémentine Autain (my personal pick for LFI presidential candidate in 2027), Mathilde Panot (president of the LFI group in the National Assembly), and Manon Aubry (who heads the LFI group in the European Parliament). I’ve been particularly impressed with LFI rising star Clémence Guetté, who coordinated Mélenchon’s presidential program (with which I am rather less impressed).

And then there’s the loudmouth François Ruffin, whom I normally can’t stand but developed a certain respect for after seeing his 2021 co-directed documentary Debout les femmes! (Those Who Care), which follows his parliamentary road trip, as it were, with REM deputy Bruno Bonnell—an entrepreneur prior to 2017—as they investigated the working conditions of overworked, low-paid, female domestic care providers, and which led to the two successfully sponsoring legislation to increase their pay and improve those conditions. An inspiring film about two parliamentarians from opposite sides of the aisle (or hemicycle)—radical left and libéral centrist—collaborating in a good cause, and coming to like one another in the process.

À propos, how can one not feel pleasure and satisfaction by the victory of the NUPES-LFI’s Rachel Keke, the first-ever cleaning person elected to the French National Assembly.

It’s too bad that boulanger Stéphane Ravacley (NUPES-EELV), who staged a hunger strike to stop the deportation of his Guinean apprentice, didn’t win his race; likewise with Nicolas Cadène (also NUPES-EELV), a proponent—one of the few these days—of a liberal, tolerant conception of laïcité. It was nice, however, that Aurélien Taché (NUPES-Divers Gauche, ex-REM), also a strong proponent of laïcité apaisée, was reelected. And how very nice it was to see Jean-Michel Blanquer and Manuel Valls bite the dust in the 1st round!

Nice as well was the election of the NUPES-EELV’s Julien Bayou and Sandrine Rousseau, the latter for, entre autres, defeating the macroniste incumbent, who headed the pro-China lobby in the AN. As for the PS, of its 31 deputies (of which 27 NUPES) elected on Sunday, the only ones with any name recognition outside their constituencies are Olivier Faure (who has reinforced his position as party first-secretary), Boris Vallaud, and Jérôme Guedj (who happily sent Amélie de Montchalin packing). The rebuilding of the PS will take some time.

One macroniste I was content to see win (vs. a NUPES-LFI) is Clément Beaune, the ministre délégué for Europe in the Élisabeth Borne government. His May 6th tribune in Le Monde rubbishing Mélenchon’s nonsense on Europe was much appreciated, as was his refusal to equate the NUPES with the extreme right RN (whose 89 deputies I will have something to say about later). Too bad there aren’t more in his camp like him.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Voilà an interesting data-driven analysis of Sunday’s vote:

IPSOS projection 17 June 2022

Two days to go, after which there will be no more elections in France until 2024 (European parliament) and then 2026 (municipal). As the results of last Sunday’s 1st round have been ably analyzed for Anglophone readers by Arthur Goldhammer here and here, and, in a rather sour take, by John Lichfield here, I don’t have to do so myself. One piece on the election that has been receiving attention, as it was published as a guest essay in The New York Times, is by the Marseille-based, decidedly left-leaning American journalist Cole Stangler, who informed readers that “Something extraordinary is happening in France,” that extraordinary something being the Jean-Luc Mélenchon-led NUPES, on which I opined in my post last week. Just about every reaction I’ve seen to the essay on social media has been a gushing thumbs up to Stangler’s enthusiastic assessment of the NUPES, including by a journalist-writer friend here in Paris, to whom I sent my own reaction in a private message. Quoting myself:

Hi M—. Commenting on your reaction to Cole Stangler’s op-ed, he’s smart and well-informed, and I’m in general sympathy with his views, but he’s wildly over-optimistic as to the prospects for the Nupes and simply wrong on many points. If the Nupes wins a majority of seats and Mélenchon is appointed PM – neither of which will happen, but assuming they do – this would be terrible, indeed disastrous, for France, Europe, and ultimately for the left. The Nupes’ economic program is, pace Thomas Piketty & Co, pie-in-the-sky, i.e. it’s nuts, and JLM’s views on geopolitics are unacceptable. A French PM who is not fully committed to materially supporting Ukraine against Russia – and reiterating France’s commitment to NATO – is not in anyone’s interest apart from that of Vladimir Putin. A Macron-Mélenchon cohabitation is totally impossible. I hope the Nupes does well on Sunday and it’s nice to see Macron knocked off his Jupiterian pedestal, but I’m nonetheless hoping that the Ensemble coalition wins a narrow majority. The last thing France and Europe need at this economic and geopolitical conjuncture is instability at the summit of the French state.

The NUPES’ economic program has been endorsed by over 300 economists—mostly left-wing Keynesians, including, as alluded to above, Thomas Piketty, Julia Cagé, Gabriel Zucman, and Dominique Méda, whom I normally hold in high regard. Normally. I’m not so sure about this one, though. The NUPES program has been negatively evaluated—severely so—by the libéral Institut Montaigne, which is normal, but also by Terra Nova—a think tank that has been close to the Socialist party—in a report authored by a 1990s economic adviser to President Mitterrand (for a two-minute commentary on the Terra Nova report by the libéral economic journalist Dominique Seux, go here).

Alexander Hurst, a Paris-based American journalist, trenchantly commented on the NUPES program, as spelled out in the above affiche, on Twitter:

If this were the US, where government spending is 46% of GDP, I’d say, ok sure. “Price caps” and “everyone gets more money!” is insanity in a country where gov share of GDP is already 62.5%. Hope y’all are into massive shortages of everything and unemployment like ya never seen.

This is fantasy land. There is no way to finance that much additional spending unless you have massive growth. And you won’t get massive growth inside a single market with mobility of people and capital by restricting prices and hiking corporate taxes, you’ll get big unemployment.

Which is obviously why LFI is Frexit-sans-le-dire.

And if you think THAT’S a good idea, well…

On his dynamic and informative Facebook page, Guillaume Duval, former editor-in-chief of the left-wing Keynesian Alternatives Économiques, likewise reacted to the NUPES affiche (translated by Deepl and edited by me):

(…) I would like to tell my FB friends that, for my part, I do not believe at all that the NUPES coming across as a Santa Claus and making all kinds of promises is appropriate for the period or is of a nature to increase the credibility of the left and its ability to become a majority in the country.

Between the ecological crisis and the war in Ukraine, all French people know that times are bound to get tougher and that we will have to be very selective and targeted in terms of public action.

The kind of display we see on the affiche is, in my opinion, likely to be interpreted by the French people either as the fact that the NUPES is out of touch [à côté de la plaque] and lives in an alternative reality, or that it takes them for fools [se fout de leur gueule] and that once elected it will, as usual, adopt a completely different policy than the one put forward during the campaign. And in both cases the result will be negative for the left…

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

A few comments.

First, on the 1st round’s record-breaking low turnout rate for a legislative election (47.5%), which has provoked much commentary (and over-analyzing) by pundits and pro forma hand-wringing by politicians, though which was predicted and expected—and seriously, why would it be otherwise? Turnout in these elections has been steadily declining since the 1997 élections anticipées (68%), and accelerating since the advent of the quinquennat in 2002. It is, in point of fact, not reasonable to call voters to the polls four times over a ten week period and expect them to maintain a high level of interest and mobilization—and particularly to elect deputies most voters have barely heard of, if at all, and to a weak parliamentary body the election to which is a mere afterthought to the all-important presidential race that preceded it. If the powers-that-be in France want to increase voter turnout, they could at minimum do away with the quinquennat (for a non-renewable sextennat) and constitutionally proscribe the holding of presidential and legislative elections within a six month period. Adopting proportional representation for at least half the seats in the assembly would also be in order.

Second, it has been asserted by numerous pundits and politicos over the past five days that the NUPES, which won 25.7% of the vote, underperformed not only the left’s collective presidential total (31.9%) but also the total tally of votes for the left in the calamitous 2017 legislatives (28.3%); so, ergo, the NUPES’ score does not signify that the left is on the rebound. This is not right, for the simple reason that there were many candidates from small non-NUPES formations that are on the left or perceived as being so. If the votes of divers gauche (PS dissidents, PRG), divers écologiste, and extrême gauche are added to the NUPES score, the total left tally reaches 33.2%. The left is still weak compared to what it was a decade ago (43.8% and 48.7% in the 2012 presidential and legislative 1st rounds, respectively) but the decline has been reversed.

Third, a ridiculous polemic has been initiated this week by panicked macronistes and others on the right—and echoed by media pundits, including some who should know better—that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has long been tagged as a member of the gauche radicale—situating him to the left of his erstwhile PS comrades of the gauche réformiste—is, in fact, way out there on the extrême gauche, along with Olivier Besancenot, Arlette Laguiller & Co. A mirror image of the Le Pens and FN on the extrême droite: anti-republican and infréquentable. This is poppycock. The extrême gauche in France has consisted exclusively of Trotskyist and now extinct Maoist sects to the left of the Communist Party—which has never carried the extreme left label BTW—that do not seek to elect candidates to office or seriously participate in the institutions of “bourgeois democracy,” and whose principal historical inspiration is the Bolshevik Revolution—the early actions of which included the shuttering of parliament and establishment of a one-party state. This is rather clearly in contradiction with fundamental republican principles, thus placing the extrême gauche beyond the republican pale. None of this applies to JLM, who, after a few years in his 20s as a Trot—a rite of passage for young French lefties of his generation—joined the PS and became an acolyte of François Mitterrand, citing Jaurès far more than Marx and the French Revolution far more than the Russian. And his La France Insoumise has actively participated in the work of both the National Assembly and European parliament—quite unlike deputies of the FN/RN to the two bodies. Case closed.

I have a few more points to make—on the Ensemble alliance, the FN/RN’s score and prospects (which are unfortunately good), and a few interesting NUPES candidates—which I’ll maybe add as updates.

À suivre.

This legislative election campaign has been, as Arthur Goldhammer aptly put it, the strangest in recent memory, or at least the most surprising. Since the advent of the quinquennat in 2002, the coincidence of the presidential and legislative elections, and the fateful decision by the gauche plurielle government of the time to flip the electoral calendar—so that the election to the National Assembly would follow the presidential (by five weeks; this time by seven)—the newly elected (or reelected) president of the Republic has been all but guaranteed a legislative majority—and with his power vis-à-vis the parliament reinforced in the process. The alignment of the electoral calendars, and with the presidential coming first, has thus rendered legislative elections—which had previously been rather important—an afterthought in the wake of the all-important presidential contest. And, it may be added, with the newly elected National Assembly even more subservient to the executive than in the past.

It was assumed after Emmanuel Macron’s landslide reelection on April 24th—due far more to a vote against his opponent than an affirmative vote for him—that his centrist/center-right electoral coalition, called Ensemble!, would win an easy victory in the June legislatives. There has never been the slightest threat from the extreme right in this sort of election—the Front National winning all of 2 seats (of 577) in the 2012 legislatives and 8 in 2017—and all the less so this time as Marine Le Pen, who is feuding with Éric Zemmour, rejected any electoral pact with EZ’s Reconquête. And with the failure of Valérie Pécresse’s candidacy, there would be no serious challenge from Les Républicains. As for the fragmented left, La France Insoumise, despite Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 22% on April 10th, could not realistically hope to win significantly more than the 17 seats it did in 2017 were it to contest the legislatives solo; and in the absence an electoral pact, the PS, EELV, and PCF risked failing to win the 15 seats required to form a parliamentary group, if not being wiped out altogether. That Macron’s electoral pole—headed by the vaporous entity he founded that passes for a political party—was banking on a comfortable victory without seriously campaigning, or proposing any sort of program to the electorate spelling out what it wished to do over next five years, laid bare, among many other things, the perversities of the quinquennat and France’s electoral system.

Mélenchon’s masterstroke in forging the NUPES and incessantly proclaiming that it aimed to win an outright majority—and that Macron, henceforth in a cohabitation, would have no choice but to appoint JLM prime minister—has, needless to say, upended the scenario. Not too many predicted in the aftermath of the presidential election that the parties of the left would go into the legislatives united behind single candidates—and with polls predicting that the left could win up to 200 seats, if not more—or that the left would suddenly occupy center stage in the media’s political coverage. After endless months in 2021 and into this year of Zemmour and the extreme right dominating the media’s attention, it’s a breath of fresh air to see the left and its issues, whatever one thinks of them, back in play. The left has finally gotten its act together, as it were.

Left-leaning France-based Anglosphere observers, e.g. the smart journalists Harrison Stetler and Cole Stangler, have been gushing over the NUPES and its prospects. C’est normal. Loosely quoting the excellent analysis of the NUPES by the UK-based political scientist Philippe Marlière in AOC (also posted in Mediapart), JLM, a powerful orator well-known to all, led a vigorous, inspired presidential campaign, in which he provided a detailed political program easily accessible to voters, made ingenious use of new technologies, and demonstrated, as in previous campaigns, an exceptional ability to rally crowds and generate enthusiasm (matched in the campaign only by Éric Zemmour). For this, he was rewarded with 22% of the vote on April 10th, compared to the cumulative 8.7% of the subsequent three left candidates (whose parties are now part of NUPES). In short, if it weren’t for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French left would simply be out of the picture on the national level.

All this being said, I cannot entirely partake in the lefty enthusiasm over NUPES, precisely because of JLM, a personality for whom my dim views are longstanding and well-known to AWAV readers. In his essay, Philippe Marlière took care to mention JLM’s “erratic temperament” and “disqualifying positions,” particularly in the geopolitical domain. For many moderate left voters, myself included, the latter is the ultimate deal-breaker when it comes to casting a ballot for JLM or other LFI candidates. A few points about NUPES and my skepticism as to its longevity.

First, the NUPES—which, it must be emphasized, is an electoral pact and nothing more—was negotiated in a mere 13 days and under duress for the parties sitting across the table from JLM and his LFI acolytes. Compare this to previous left alliances—1936 Popular Front, 1972 Common Program, 1997 Gauche plurielle—which were negotiated over a much longer period of time and in a more consensual atmosphere. The NUPES is, in effect, a shotgun marriage between reformist and radical left parties that are deeply divided on fundamental issues.

Second, on negotiating under duress, the PS, EELV, and PCF had no choice but to deal with JLM on his terms and accept his final proposals—which, for the PS, were quite humiliating, notably accepting that it would be allotted a mere 70 constituencies (30 or so deemed to be winnable), with no PS candidate thus present in over 500. How far the once venerable French Socialist party has fallen. But Olivier Faure & Co had to swallow their pride and take the deal, as without it, the PS would be sending far fewer than 30 deputies to the newly-elected National Assembly.

Third, the ability of the PS, EELV, and PCF to form their own parliamentary groups is key to the NUPES deal, and all are likely to cross the threshold for this. Once the groups are constituted, LFI will have no leverage over the other NUPES constituents or any way to impose discipline—and all the less so as JLM, who is not running for reelection, will not be present in the Palais Bourbon.

Prediction: the NUPES, like most shotgun marriages, will not live a long life. It won’t last to the next election. EELV and a reconstituted PS will rebuild, perhaps in alliance, and as their combined electoral potential is as great as that of LFI—and particularly a post-Mélenchon one—they will inevitably assert their independence.

There is much more to say about this, of course. I’ll continue with it after tomorrow’s results.

Putin’s war – V

An old stateside friend and faithful AWAV fan has been asking me when I’m going to have another post on Russia-Ukraine, as it’s been over two months since the last one. I would have had more were it not for the election season in France, which will thankfully conclude in eleven days, as I have remained riveted to the unfolding events—and with my outrage at Russia’s Hitlerian dictator as tenacious as ever. So in response to my friend, I will offer links to a selection of pertinent articles and Twitter threads I have archived.

A couple of comments. First, on asserting that Vladimir Putin = Hitler, I do not exaggerate. There is no reductio ad Hitlerum here. Sure, Putin may not (yet) have embarked on an outright genocidal campaign in the part of Ukraine that Russia has conquered—though some will argue that he indeed has, or is close to it—but everything else about him and his action–not to mention that of the barbarian hordes that is a.k.a. the Russian army—is pure post-1938 Third Reich. Second, there seems to be no limit to Putin’s evilness. When he is not pulverizing whole cities into rubble, sending the barbarian hordes to rape, loot, and pillage, and creating one of the world’s gravest refugee crises in 75 years—or, rather, while he is doing these things—he is brandishing the specter of worldwide famine in choking off Ukraine’s farms and agricultural exports. Russia’s holding Ukrainian grain hostage—or outright stealing it—is being widely reported (and is a lead story in France today). Le Monde’s grand reporter Luc Bronner had a lengthy must-read report last month, “War in Ukraine: storm warning in the world’s breadbasket,” in which we (or at least I) came to understand the centrality of Ukraine in feeding part of the world’s growing population. This passage is noteworthy:

The crisis is major because the crops produced and sold by Ukrainians in recent years have continued to grow. In ten years, the volume of exported grain has tripled. In 2021, this represented 12% of the world market for wheat, 16% for corn, 18% for barley, 20% for rapeseed and 50% for sunflower. “In a decade, Ukraine has made the greatest progress in agricultural yields in the history of mankind,” notes Romain Desthieux, former head of MAS Seeds in the country, one of the key players in the European seed market.

Everything was in place for the spiral of food dependence on Ukraine to grow. “Last year we produced 106 million tons of grain, the largest harvest in our history. Of this volume, we estimated that 70 million tons would be exported,” explains Nykolay Gorbachov, president of the Ukrainian Grain Association (UGA), a powerful lobby for the sector. The main destinations for Ukrainian wheat include Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan. Among the most dependent are Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen – countries that are already fragile.

These raw figures tell the story of the extraordinary transformation of a Soviet economy into an ultra-performing agriculture, three quarters of which is internationally oriented, served by the quality of the land, a favorable climate and the geography – millions of hectares on almost entirely flat terrain. Taking advantage of the fluidity of the capitalist system, investors from all over the world have been attracted by the profitability of Ukrainian agriculture.

And then there’s this:

That Vladimir Putin, who without doubt found Ukraine’s agricultural success—and consequent economic power—to be absolutely intolerable, would seek to wreck this: this alone qualifies him as the worst war criminal of our era.

No “off-ramps” for Putin, no taking care not to “humiliate” him, no arrogantly telling Ukrainian leaders that they “will have to make the painful territorial decisions that any compromise will demand.” Putin must lose this war. And Ukraine must win it.

The problem in Russia of course goes beyond Putin. That country is going to need a serious de-Nazification campaign at some point down the road. On n’en est pas là.

Project Syndicate has a must-read interview with Adam Michnik, who epitomizes Poland’s liberal spirit and has met Putin several times, on “Putin’s historic blunder.”

Also a must-read is an interview with Greg Yudin in the website Analyse & Kritik, “A fascist regime looms in Russia.” It begins:

Greg Yudin is a philosopher and sociologist at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. Two days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, he anticipated quite exactly what would happen, in an article for Open Democracy. Greg Yudin is still in Moscow; he was hospitalized by security forces during a protest in the days after the war began. Yudin has long warned against Putin’s aggressive claim to power, which makes a military confrontation with NATO increasingly likely. In the interview, he describes the power mechanisms by which Putin’s system is based, the rapid transformation of Russian society into a pre-fascist order and the prospects for the anti-war movement.

Here are a few Twitter threads I deemed worthy of saving (click on the name):

Maxim Eristavi, co-founder of the Ukrainian news outlet Hromadkse International, offers an 84 tweet thread on the grim history of #RussianColonialism.

Emma Burrows, a TV news producer formerly based in Moscow, “travelled 8 hours out of Moscow, almost to Belarus, to a tiny village to interview the parents of a 22-yr old Russian soldier killed in Ukraine…[which] helps explain Putin’s Russia & the power that comes from controlling information.”

Volodymyr Yermolenko—Ukrainian philosopher, analyst & journalist, and chief editor at Ukraine World—attempts “to understand why Russians hate and dehumanize Ukrainians so much, which is a way to understand one of the major causes of this war.”

Valeriia Voshchevska of Amnesty International says: “Russian colonialism in action right now in 2022 in occupied #Ukraine. Yes, it’s happening right now. Russian colonialism is not just a thing of the past. Today, Russia is engaging in colonial practices in occupied Ukraine. Here’s what’s been happening.”

Stas Olenchenko, founder and writer at Ukraine Explainers, says: “The language context of Ukraine can be a tricky topic for any outsider. In this long and personal thread, I’ll illustrate the relationship between Ukrainian and Russian languages in Ukraine using my family’s history. I’m a bilingual Ukrainian raised in a Russian-speaking family in Kyiv.”

Mart Kuldkepp, Estonian professor of history at University College London, “would like to make some critical points about blind spots that frequently prevent us from correctly assessing the nature and likely outcomes of Russia’s war against Ukraine.”

Tom Nichols says that “[i]n forty years of studying #Russia the thing I always struggled to get my arms around is that this remarkable and immense nation, a source of cultural and scientific genius, is also so riven by ignorance and insecurity that it is incapable of living in peace with the world.”

À suivre.

I’ve been in Berlin for the past week and generally away from the laptop, thus the absence of AWAV’s take on Emmanuel Macron’s appointment of Élisabeth Borne to Matignon and the subsequent announcement of her government—all the picks being Macron’s, of course. The most noteworthy, indeed astonishing, one—I let out a loud “wow!” when I learned of it—was that of Pap Ndiaye as Minister of Education, which is a pretty important ministry in the French government—the minister having a million or so (heavily unionized) fonctionnaires under her/his tutelary authority, plus responsibility for some 13 million schoolchildren and students. Pap Ndiaye is well known to all those of a social scientific/humanities academic and/or left-wing bent, as a brilliant academic specialist of race in France, but also in the United States, and as director since March 2021 of the Museum of the History of Immigration (for which he was profiled in The New York Times here). He is also, from a political standpoint, the polar 180° opposite from his predecessor, the decidedly rightist Jean-Michel Blanquer, who served the full five years of Macron’s first term—making him the longest serving education minister since literally the 1860s—who will be best remembered for having embarked on a maniacal campaign—for which he enjoyed the wholehearted support of Macron and the entire political class save part of the left—against “wokisme,” “islamo-gauchisme,” the inevitable “communautarisme” and other nefarious ideologies from the Anglo-Saxon world seen to pose an existential threat to the French educational system, if not to France tout court—and this while the educational system is in the midst of major crises (low salaries, declining standards, inequalities among schools, an impending shortage of teachers, to name just a few). Blanquer even went so far as to sponsor an academic-sounding conference on “wokismeat the Sorbonne this past January.

As for what the apparent Anglo-Saxon-inspired ideologies in question are, the sharp, definitely woke Paris-based American journalist Cole Stangler nailed it.

He could have added that if you believe that racism is a problem in France and you’re white, that makes you a “wokiste.”

Macron’s appointing Ndiaye to succeed Blanquer is, as political scientist Frédéric Sawicki tweeted, akin to him hypothetically replacing Bruno Le Maire at Bercy with Thomas Piketty. As for Macron’s motivations, certain pundits have speculated that he’s reconnecting with the American-style political liberalism of his 2017 campaign, which he forgot about once elected. Others see an opportunistic triangulation to the left in view of the upcoming legislative elections and the unexpected challenge posed by the Jean-Luc Mélenchon-led NUPES (which I will weigh in on next month, before the election). It has been reported that Macron’s Africa policy advisers told him that naming Ndiaye to a high-profile ministerial post could help repair France’s presently damaged standing in its former African colonies—where an effective anti-French Russian propaganda campaign has been at work.

Whatever the case, Ndiaye’s appointment has caused a collective freak-out on the hard and extreme-right—with Marine Le Pen, Éric Zemmour, and Bolloré media talking heads leading the charge—but also the Printemps Républicain crowd and other extreme centrists. Jean-Michel Aphatie captured the reaction well.

Ndiaye gave The Brookings Institution’s annual Raymond Aron Lecture last June 24th, titled “Black Lives Matter and the antiracist movement in France,” which may be watched on YouTube here. As it was moderated by my friend Camille Busette—the director of Brookings’ Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative—I made sure to watch it live on Zoom. A very good lecture and discussion.

From 2008, here’s a 12-minute interview with Ndiaye on France 24’s English service, on the occasion of the publication of his best-known book, La Condition noire: Essai sur une minorité française (which Ndiaye’s detractors have certainly not read, even if they say they have).

Edwy Plenel links to a few videos of Ndiaye here.

For the record, another interesting Macron/Borne appointment is that of the Franco-Lebanese Rima Abdul-Malak as Minister of Culture. As she has not been a public personality, I didn’t know a thing about her but she was apparently greatly appreciated in the world of culture as a cultural adviser at the Élysée and, before that, at the Paris city hall (she has also been the French cultural attaché in New York). The leftist political scientist Philippe Marlière, for one, gives her the thumbs up.

Dont acte.

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