Archive for July, 2012

Ibn Kafka, a Moroccan jurist and blogger, has a very good commentary taking to task the attitude of many on the left toward what is happening in Syria. Lefties: please read. Non-lefties may read as well.

(h/t Steve Heydemann)

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Another gaffe from the Mittster, but this one a Kinsley gaffe, where a politician flubs by inadvertently telling the truth. At his fundraiser in Jerusalem the other day—since when do US presidential candidates raise money abroad anyway? can one imagine such an event in Paris?—Romney praised the Israeli health care system, notably for its success in keeping costs down (see here, here, and here). Romney did neglect to mention that the Israeli system is “socialized,” that Israelis enjoy national health coverage more comprehensive than Obamacare and with more governmental regulation, though, as the author of Romneycare in MA, he can’t have been unaware of it. Wonder how they’ll explain this one over at The Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review et al.

Then again, they’ll likely say that if Israel does it, it must be okay, regardless…

UPDATE: Gershom Gorenberg has a good analysis in The American Prospect of Romney’s Jerusalem visit. BTW, the above logo is of the Israeli Ministry of Health.

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As the now old saying has it. A Gallup poll just out has Obama beating Romney 68% to 25% among Jewish voters. The folks at The Weekly Standard and Commentary—who have been diligently portraying Obama as hostile to Israel—must be throwing up their arms in dismay. In the 1984 election pro-Reagan neoconservatives promised to deliver the Jewish vote to the GOP but it didn’t happen. Nor did it in 2004, despite Bush’s indefatigable support of Israel during the second Intifida. And it doesn’t look like it will finally happen this time, and despite Obama’s chilly relationship with Bibi Netanyahu. What is interesting about Jewish voters is how they have become more Democratic over the past two decades, and during which time the Republican party has adopted a virulent pro-Israel rhetoric. From 1968 through 1988, Jews voted two-to-one for the Democratic presidential candidate (except in 1980, when Jimmy Carter got around half the Jewish vote, but with the shortfall going to John Anderson, not Reagan). Republican candidates could count on a third of Jewish voters, even though the GOP did not go out of its way to cultivate them. But from the 1992 election onward Jews have voted for the Dem candidate on the order of 75-80% and despite Republicans falling over themselves in professing eternal love for Israel (not that Democrats haven’t done likewise or that Jewish voters are primarily driven by this issue). I have not investigated in depth the reasons as to why this has happened, as they seem sort of obvious. The drop in the Jewish vote for the GOP correlates almost precisely with the increasing dominance of evangelicals in the party, and on the American right more generally. Political extremism aside, American Jews in their majority—who are urban, educated, and live in deep blue states—do not relate to this segment of American society (and that lives in what really is “flyover country” for most Jews). The cultural chasm is wide. And end time Christian Zionists in Texas and elsewhere down that way are not going to narrow it. So William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer & Co. will just have to continue pulling their hair out after this election.

But even if Jews did shift in significant numbers to the GOP it wouldn’t have an effect on the election—expect maybe in Florida—, as the states where they are concentrated will still vote Obama.

UPDATE: Steve Kornacki at Salon has a piece on Romney’s play for Jewish voters, though says that his Israel trip and hard-line pro-Israel position is also aimed at evangelicals. But Walter Russell Mead, in his blog at The American Interest, argues that evangelicals are the main audience for Romney’s rhetoric on Israel, that “In American politics, taking a strong pro-Israel stand is a way of communicating your commitment to American exceptionalism and to American global leadership.”

2nd UPDATE: Peter Beinhart has a piece in The Daily Beast on how “Romney lost the American Jewish vote by picking Paul Ryan,” in which he makes some of the same arguments as I do above. He cites a study released July 10th by The Solomon Project—that I hadn’t seen—entitled “Jewish-American Voting Behavior 1972-2008: Just the Facts.” (August 14)

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Guns n’ cheese

In America one of these is considered dangerous to one’s bodily integrity, the other is not. Haven’t heard anything from the Tea Party GOP on this governmental intrusion into personal freedom, of the nanny state telling us what we can and cannot eat. Maybe Mitt Romney, who knows France better than any presidential candidate in memory—even more so than John Kerry—, will speak out on the matter… 😀

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Yarmouk, Damascus

There were reports this past weekend—e.g. here—of fighting between the Syrian army and rebels in Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the country and a mere five kilometers or so south of the center of Damascus. I visited Yarmouk two years ago. Here are some of the photos I took.

The one below is the main artery around the Yarmouk camp—or, I should say, “camp,” as it is an urban neighborhood on the periphery of the city and that is indistinguishable from other such quartiers populaires. Palestinian refugee camps are never “camps” stricto sensu. They’re referred to as such (mukhayyam in Arabic) for historical reasons and to maintain political pretenses. I wrote about this last year in a post (with photos) on two camps I visited in the West Bank.

I asked my friend in Damascus, who’s Palestinian-Syrian, if she could take me to Yarmouk. She’s lived in Damascus her entire life, save for a few years of higher education in France, and carries a Palestinian refugee document—despite having been born in Syria and to a Syrian mother (outrageous citizenship laws in the Arab states, about which I will write at a later date)—, but had never been to Yarmouk. Not much reason to go out there if one lives in Mezzeh Filla Gharbiyya. So it was a new experience for her too.

Remembering the Nakba.

Fatah martyr Jamal Jamal Hijo, killed in Syria two weeks earlier (and under circumstances unknown to me).

Yarmouk is not an UNRWA camp, BTW. Regular Syrians live there too.

We walked by these two gentlemen (below), who were sitting in front of a shop, and asked if we could talk with them for a few minutes, about Yarmouk, the people who lived there, etc. They willingly agreed, fetching chairs, offering us Pepsi-Cola, then tea, followed by pastries. We spent some 45 minutes to an hour with them. They couldn’t have been friendlier. As I’ve written before, when it comes to hospitality the Palestinians are second to none. The older man was a ’48 refugee—a child at the time, obviously—, the younger one born well after. They’d lived in Yarmouk all their lives, though still considered themselves to be guests in Syria. I said that Palestinians born and/or raised in France or America naturally become citizens of those countries—which they agreed was normal—, so shouldn’t it be normal that they be citizens of Syria, particularly as they speak the same language and have the same culture? The response to that wasn’t too coherent. Their overall rhetoric was mainstream Fatah. Khaled Mashal and other Hamas figures may have been based in Damascus but there were no bearded Hamas types to be seen in Yarmouk. Not a chance.

The place may look poor from the outside but it’s likely not when you get into people’s apartments.

Nice cars.

Back on the main drag.

Heading out…

…and back to the center of town.

While I’m at it, the photo below—taken two days earlier—is of Khaled Mashal’s flat, or so I was told by my well-informed interlocutor. In Mezzeh, if I remember correctly. He doesn’t live there anymore, that we know.

And also while I’m at it, the photo below—taken a few hours earlier—is of the precise spot where Imad Mughniyah was blown up—got his just desserts, as they say—on February 12, 2008, in front of the Iranian Cultural Center (photo above, off to the left in the one below). The crime scene was apparently cleaned up in no time at all, with not a trace the next day. Circulez, rien à voir.

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The Second Amendment

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This is one of the guns James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, used in the movie theater the other night. It is quite simply insane that such weapons should be available for sale over the counter. No civilized country allows this. None, except, of course, the United States. But even in the US it wasn’t always so, not until the political system went off the rails, with the Republican party’s lurch to the extreme right and the quashing by the Blood Lobby, a.k.a. the NRA, of any debate on gun control. I note that the unhinged right, in responding to the Aurora massacre, is hiding behind the sacrosanct Second Amendment and arguing that if the theater-goers had been armed, Holmes would have been neutralized and the massacre prevented. Right. Only in America would mainstream voters of a major party of government offer up such crackpot nonsense and with straight faces to boot.

As for the Second Amendment, it is quite certain that the Founding Fathers, were they around today, would be appalled at the interpretation presently lent to it by the right-wing (and by the Roberts Court’s politically motivated ruling in DC v. Heller). When the Second Amendment was drafted and debated back in 1789, it was quite clear that it referred to organized militias, as Garry Wills definitively explicated and laid to rest seventeen years ago in The New York Review of Books (see article here and follow-up exchange here). The Founding Fathers may have been a bunch of slave-owning white men but, for their time, they were wise men—well, a few of them were at least—and never intended that the Constitution give the right to some wanker to purchase an assault rifle or pack heat in a public place. The American Constitution does have its flaws—some major—but it’s not that wacky of a document.

It would be interesting to know how American right-wingers explain the numbers in the image below. Even when taking population into account, the second most homicidal country on the list, Canada, has a gun murder rate one-seventh that of the US. If any right-wingers out there want to try to explain this one, to give it a stab, as it were, I’m all ears.

UPDATE: The Atlantic has a piece on “A land without guns: how Japan has virtually eliminated shooting deaths.” In the conclusion it mentions “Tunisia, which had the lowest firearm ownership rate in the world…when its people toppled a brutal, 24-year dictatorship” last year. BTW, firearm ownership was also very low in Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia in 1989. Do the gun nuts out there have any thoughts on this?

2nd UPDATE: Ezra Klein has a post in WaPo on “Six facts about guns, violence, and gun control.” Note in particular numbers 2, 4, and 5. As for n°3, the reason for it is kind of obvious I think. (July 24)

3rd UPDATE: In a NYT op-ed, Michael A. Black, a 30-year Chicago police veteran, says that an armed America is not necessarily a safe America. (July 26)

4th UPDATE: Likewise on the NYT op-ed page, Iraq war veteran Andrew Jensen says that the domestic American arms race is a race we can’t win. He points out, among other things, “that there isn’t a single example of a concerned bystander with a concealed-carry permit who stopped a mass shooting” since concealed carry laws have been enacted in the US. He also observes that

There will always be violent loners. If they don’t kill with guns, they’ll find some other way to do it. Semiautomatic weapons, however, are what enable them to shoot dozens of people in a movie theater.


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I just learned that Alexander Cockburn died. Just seven months after his onetime confrère and fellow US-based British pundit-polemicist Christopher Hitchens. As I wrote a sort of tribute to Hitchens back then, I suppose I should write one for Cockburn too. I was a fan of Cockburn back in my gauchiste days and followed his writings closely, from 1979—when I first started to read him in The Village Voice—to 1984 or ’85, when I ceased to be a fan. I then came to despise him and for all sorts of political reasons, most notably for his defense of the Soviet Union and, in the 1990s, of the Serbs during the wars in the former Yugoslavia (for this, I wanted to punch him in the face). Unlike with Hitchens I didn’t see Cockburn’s writings too often over the past decade, as these mainly appeared on his flaky, ultra-gauchiste CounterPunch website, of which I am definitely not an habitué, though have seen it every now and then over the years, mainly when a gauchiste friend or two hurls a link from it at me. But Cockburn, like Hitchens, remained a great writer and despite his politics—when it comes to polemicizing with style, Brits are superior to Americans—, and took sensible positions on a few issues. And to his credit, I suppose, he rubbished the 9/11 conspiracy theories, which are no doubt adhered to by a sizeable number of his readers (not to mention CounterPunch contributors). (But then, anyone who gives the slightest credence to 9/11 trutherism seriously needs to have his or her head examined). The last piece I read by Cockburn was his farewell tribute to his frère ennemi Hitchens, which I thought was amusing and spot on. Too bad Hitchens isn’t around to write a tribute in kind to Cockburn.

UPDATE: A New York friend, who is well-known in progressive intellectual circles there, has written the following to me:  “I stopped reading AC a long time ago. It was disgraceful that Counterpunch began publishing the likes of Israel Shamir, whose forthcoming piece apparently ‘reveals’ that the Dreyfus Affair had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.” (July 22)

2nd UPDATE: Ronald Radosh, who used to be a leftist—but hasn’t been for a long time now—, has an anti-tribute to Cockburn, whom he didn’t like too much… (July 24)

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One more massacre

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I posted a commentary by Adam Gopnik several hours ago, on Obama, Romney, and Adam Smith. Here’s another, this one on the Aurora massacre. Gopnik is angry at America’s insane gun culture and rightly so. Money quote

The truth is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly “made him” do what he did; but we know how he did it. Those who fight for the right of every madman and every criminal to have as many people-killing weapons as they want share moral responsibility for what happened last night—as they will when it happens again. And it will happen again.

The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia. Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue. Does anyone even remember any longer last July’s gun massacre, those birthday-party killings in Texas, when an estranged husband murdered his wife and most of her family, leaving six dead?

But nothing changes: the blood lobby still blares out its certainties, including the pretense that the Second Amendment—despite the clear grammar of its first sentence—is designed not to protect citizen militias but to make sure that no lunatic goes unarmed. (Jill Lepore wrote about the history of the Second Amendment in The New Yorker recently.) Make sure that guns designed for no reason save to kill people are freely available to anyone who wants one—and that is, and remains, the essential American condition—and then be shocked when children are killed.

Only in America, Gopnik says, in the Western world at least. American exceptionalism at its least admirable.

UPDATE: James Fallows in The Atlantic writes about “the certainty of more shootings.”

2nd UPDATE: Rick Schmitt in Mother Jones describes how the Blood Lobby, a.k.a. the NRA, “pushed the right to pack heat anywhere.”

3rd UPDATE: David Weigel in Slate asks if “a brave citizen with a concealed weapon [could] have prevented the Aurora shootings.” Answer: no.

4th UPDATE: Bill Moyers and Michael Winship have an excellent piece in Salon, where they observe that “the NRA has America living under the gun” and that “the arsenal of democracy has been transformed into the arsenal of death.”

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Adam Gopnik has a spot on commentary in The New Yorker on the GOP’s making hay of Obama’s Roanoke speech the other day. The GOP and right-wing commentators understand well the context of Obama’s remarks—and that they are deliberately taking them out of context—but in a tough campaign and with Romney on the defensive on account of Baingate and his tax returns, c’est de bonne guerre I suppose (then again, maybe it’s just pure demagoguery). Gopnik, referring to an article of his on Adam Smith, says that

Smith, as I wrote, does not think that “government is the problem”; he thinks problems arise when the rich are able to make the government take their side. A healthy sovereign state is what serves the public against the producers… It isn’t just that a free market can survive regulation; it’s that the free market is the product of regulation, regulation designed to protect the public from the kind of arrangement that, let’s say, allows people with undue influence on the government to have a lower tax rate than people who don’t. This makes Smith, as I wrote, a firm believer in public goods: his state has an obligation to build roads and schools, establish an army, build bridges and highways, and do all the other things necessary for a sane polity in which the market can function naturally. Everyone should pay for them, and the rich should always pay more than others.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Gopnik concludes his fine piece with this

So the view that the President was articulating the other day in the “that” speech wasn’t even a mild and “acceptable” form of social democratic reproach; it was the root foundational view of the free market as its greatest apostle imagined it. So don’t apologize, Mr. President, and don’t explain. Say it again! What you were articulating were the principles on which the free market, and with it this republic, is built. And that … is … that.

Yes, no need for Obama to explain himself. All he needs to do is keep hammering away at the S.O.B.s.

In this vein, the great Paul Krugman has a home run column today on the “Pathos of the Plutocrat.” C’mon Mitt, release those tax returns. Show us the goods. Just do it.

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This is the (ill-chosen) title of a 50 minute reportage I watched this evening on LCP (French C-Span), on the situation of women singers and dancers in Cairo today, with the surging Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, not to mention the ambient social conservatism. Dismaying, to put it mildly. A far cry from the Egypt of the 1950s and ’60s, alas. See the report here (en français).

Le bon vieux temps…

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Family Ties

The New York Times’s Opinionator page has a wonderful blog called Borderlines, which is about maps. The posts are all by map-lover and connoisseur Frank Jacobs, who also has a blog called Strange Maps: Cartographic Curiosities. I’m a lifelong map aficionado, so am bound to like blogs like these. The Borderlines post today is about the invisible borders of family types in Europe. Observing the existence of numerous invisible cultural borders—e.g. linguistic, culinary—, Jacobs writes that

some cultural categories are more persistent than the fading diversity of language. Research conducted in 2007 paints a pretty strange, and surprisingly tenacious, set of borders across Western Europe. Its subject? “An often overlooked institution, the family”: some academics had “noted strong patterns of family structure, with clear regional variations and persistence over time and linked them to significant social and economic outcomes.”

The research considered family types based on two criteria. One, the relationship between parents and children. If children flee the nest at an early age, the family type can be said to be “liberal.” If they stay at home and under the authority of their parents long into adulthood, even after having married themselves, the relationship can be classified as “authoritarian.” Second criterion: the relationship among siblings. If they are treated equally (in inheritance law, for example), the relationship is classified as “equal,” but if one child is favored (the firstborn son, say), the relationship is “unequal.”

He then proceeds to enumerate the five distinct family types in Europe. This sounded very familiar to me, as I had read all about it back in the ’90s, in the work of French social scientist and public intellectual Emmanuel Todd, who pioneered the typology. Todd began his research on the question in the early 1980s—as described in the single volume reprint of his two main books on it—, after having been struck by the near perfect coincidence between parts of Europe where the Communist party was electorally strong and a particular type of peasant family structure, that was both authoritarian and egalitarian. Todd advanced the hypothesis of a necessary link between the anthropological basis of a society and its ideological superstructure. The typology of family systems he developed—integrating the level of authoritarianism in the parent-child relationship, the degree of equality in the relationship between brothers, matrimonial exchange and the status of women—enabled him to explain the diversity of ideological and economic destinies in Europe—and then the whole world—, both between societies and within them.

Todd was advancing an overarching structural argument to Explain the world, in the same way as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and all sorts of mega-works on the economy. I thought it was a fascinating argument—and which I discussed at length at the time with one academic friend (no one else I knew was familiar with Todd’s work)—though didn’t know what to make of it. Though compelling it did seem a little deterministic and I wondered about the accuracy of Todd’s descriptions of the family structures of countries other than France, which were mainly based on secondary sources. Also, the English translations of his books on the subject (published by Blackwell, long out-of-print) received mixed reviews in the relevant academic journals (in sociology, anthropology, and history; I read them all). Most of the reviewers were skeptical of Todd’s mega-claims, though none outright rubbished his argument so far as I remember. Todd’s a big wheel in France but non-French scholars pay little attention to him (and despite his doctorate from Cambridge), so he isn’t well-known in Anglo-American academia (and I don’t think in most of Europe either). His public intellectual side irritated as well—irritated me, at least—, with his sometimes flaky political views (generally left souverainiste) and obsessions, and shoot-from-the-hip media punditry. Todd is smart but a nut, when not a crank.

But now I see that Todd’s arguments on family structure do indeed underpin Frank Jacobs’s post, which is based on an academic paper he cites by Gilles Duranton, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, and Richard Sandall (economists and geographers in Canada and the UK), published by the College of Europe in Bruges. The paper

examines the association between one of the most basic institutional forms, the family, and a series of demographic, educational, social, and economic indicators across regions in Europe. Using Emmanuel Todd’s classification of medieval European family systems, we identify potential links between family types and regional disparities in household size, educational attainment, social capital, labour participation, sectoral structure, wealth, and inequality. The results indicate that medieval family structures seem to have influenced European regional disparities in virtually every indicator considered. That these links remain, despite the influence of the modern state and population migration, suggests that either such structures are extremely resilient or else they have in the past been internalised within other social and economic institutions as they developed.

So it looks like Emmanuel Todd may have been on to something after all. The PDF of the paper is here.

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So says Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast. Money quote

The GOP has no moderate faction anymore. It’s a rump amalgamation of plutocrats and the people who service their air conditioning.

Read his analysis here.

One thing Obama and the Democrats have going for them is demography, as Ruy Teixeira and others have been arguing for years now. Teixeira did so again last month in The New Yorker here.

Yesterday Paul Krugman had a typically excellent column in the New York Times on how Mitt Romney’s personal history is of central importance in the campaign and that Obama is absolutely right to be hammering him on it.

And on a matter that is not directly political but that has obvious political implications, the NY Times had a lengthy and remarkable report the other day on the widening class divide in the US in regard to marriage and children born and raised out-of-wedlock. Some 41% of births in the US nowadays occur outside marriage, up from 17% three decades ago. I find this figure stunning. By contrast, births in France outside traditional marriage are around 55% today—though this figure may include couples in a PACS—, compared to 42% in 2000. So the US today is where France was only a decade ago. But in France this is mainly a social choice and carries no cultural stigma. In the US the reasons are economic. It will be interesting to hear the moralizing, free market fundamentalist American right explain this one away.

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the darkest day in contemporary French history. What to say about it that hasn’t already been said? Probably a lot, in fact. One may repeat that the Nazis could have never carried out the operation without the willing collaboration of the French state. If René Bousquet et al had refused the German requisition orders, the deportations would have likely never happened.

The French police and SS, hand in hand.






A not bad feature-length film on the Rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv, ‘La Rafle‘, came out two years ago but has inexplicably not opened in the US. The DVD (subtitled) may be obtained via Amazon Canada and UK.

The best books in English on the general subject are by Susan Zuccotti and Michael Marrus & Robert Paxton.

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The New York Times Opinionator page has an interesting commentary by Andy Martin on the experiences of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in New York City after the war, and more generally on their contrasting sentiments about America. I like this passage in particular

At Vassar [Camus] gave a lecture on “The Crisis of Mankind” and was dazzled by the spectacle of “an army of long-legged young starlets, lazing on the lawn.” But he was preoccupied by what he thought of as the “American tragedy.” The tragedy of the students was that they lacked a sense of the tragic. For Sartre the tragic was the mechanization and objectification of the human. For Camus, the tragic was something more elusive: whatever it was, it was missing in America.

I don’t know if it was Camus who first made the observation about Americans not having a sense of the tragic (Tocqueville maybe?), but I’ve been saying it for a while. I no doubt picked it up from some French thinker. Andy Martin, who teaches at Cambridge University, has a new book outThe Boxer and The Goal Keeper: Sartre Versus Camus. I’ll definitely have to get this one, maybe propose it to my reading group. Several years ago we read Jean-François Sirinelli’s very good history of the lifelong relationship—and decades-long political conflict—between Sartre and Raymond Aron, Deux intellectuels dans le siècle, Sartre et Aron. It’s almost a cliché nowadays—at least for those of my generation and older—to say that in my youth I would have sided with Sartre but now I’d be with Aron. But it’s true. On almost every issue of political disagreement between the two—with the possible exception of May ’68—Aron was right and Sartre was wrong. And with the possible exception of Algeria, it was likewise with Camus and Sartre.

UPDATE: See the New York Times article (March 24, 2016), “Albert Camus, Stranger in a Strange Land: New York,” on “Camus: A Stranger in the City,” a monthlong festival in NYC of performances, readings, film screenings and other events celebrating the 70th anniversary of his visit to the city.

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You’re So Bain

A musical tribute à la Carly Simon to the financial accomplishments of Mitt Romney. Brilliant. Watch/listen here.

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Bastille Day

The Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Elysées: I said it last year and I’ll say it again: Greatest parade in the world. Vive la France !

Thankfully it didn’t rain on Hollande’s parade today.

Never thought I’d see Christiane Taubira and Yamina Benguigui up there.

Really impressive the parachutist act. I would never try such a thing myself.

Today they jumped out over the Champs-de-Mars, guiding themselves into the Place de la Concorde. Winds were strong.

These pics weren’t all taken on the same July 14th (and definitely not by me) but one gets the idea.

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[update below]

Last week I had a post on “The crime in Timbuktu,” where I rhetorically asked why a couple of thousand American and/or French special forces couldn’t just go in and clean the Ansar Eddine fanatics outta there. My question, I will readily admit, was not entirely grounded in reality, as I know well that such an intervention is not in the cards. I was getting carried away in my emotion at the destruction of Timbuktu’s shrines. The US is certainly not going to send troops to some country most Americans have never heard of and to save historical patrimony in a town hardly anyone has ever been to (on my one trip to Mali I got within 500 km or so of Timbuktu; it’s not easy to visit even when one is in that country). Earlier this week Le Monde had an analysis by Africa specialists Patrick Gonin and Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos on why an outside intervention in Mali would be exceptionally difficult. France, the ex-colonial power, is intensely distrusted by Malians, ruling out any intervention on its part (anti-French sentiment is strong in most former French colonies in west and equatorial Africa, as anyone who has spent time in the region will quickly pick up on). It is not likely that the United Nations will act, as what is happening in Mali does not undermine world peace, nor does it (yet) seriously threaten stability throughout the region. And the humanitarian crisis provoked by the conflict is not (yet) such that the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) principle can be invoked. Neighboring African states could intervene with the benediction of the UN, as they did in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, but these operations were not brilliant successes (and with Nigerian and other troops participating in the pillage of Liberia). An American intervention is not even mentioned, as it so out of the realm of possibility.

As for the deliquescent Malian state itself—and which has been in conflict with the Tuareg secessionist movement in the north (Azawad)—, it does not presently have the ability to drive the Islamists out. But Gonin and Pérouse de Montclos conclude that the situation could eventually change in favor of the government in Bamako

D’ores et déjà, il paraît très peu probable que les Maliens puissent revenir au statu quo ante. A défaut d’une indépendance de l’Azawad qui ne serait reconnue par personne, et surtout pas par les pays voisins, une forme d’autonomie régionale devra sans doute être négociée en vue de construire un nouveau contrat social et national. A l’heure où les combattants du MNLA  [Mouvement national pour la libération de l’Azawad] sont en déroute, c’est peut-être paradoxalement l’intransigeance des islamistes qui permettra au gouvernement malien de regagner “les coeurs et les esprits” des Touareg en les convainquant que le pouvoir éloigné de Bamako vaut mieux que la dictature de proximité des fous de Dieu.

In the meantime, all one can do is weep for Timbuktu.

UPDATE: Francis Ghilès and Bill Lawrence have a good analysis (en français) in Slate Afrique from earlier this week on “how to save the Sahel.” The situation in Mali could indeed destabilize the whole region, including the Maghreb. Armed intervention would only worsen the chaos, they argue. Europe does need to intervene but as a disinterested mediator—something the French, at least, have never been. On peut toujours changer; il n’est jamais trop tard…

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Yesterday I had a post on the deranged right-wing demagoguery on Obama being a “socialist,” in which I linked to an NYT op-ed by Milos Forman. A couple of weeks ago the NYT’s Paris correspondent, Steven Erlanger, had a news analysis asking precisely what it means to be a socialist today. The response:

Not very much. Certainly nothing radical. In a sense, socialism was an ideology of the industrialized 19th century, a democratic Marxism, and it succeeded, even in (shh!) the United States. Socialism meant the emancipation of the working class and its transformation into the middle class; it championed social justice and a progressive tax system, and in that sense has largely done its job. As the industrialized working class gets smaller and smaller, socialism seems to have less and less to say.

Into the article he quotes BHL

“There are no more socialists — if they were honest they would change the name of the party”…Socialism “evokes the nightmare of the Soviet Union, whose leaders named themselves socialists.” Today, [BHL] maintains, European socialists are essentially like American Democrats — there has been no ideological left in France that matters since the effective demise of the Communist Party, which was “the true ‘exception française.’”

Maybe BHL read my blog post from last month, where I argued that the French equivalent of the American Democratic party was the PS. On the PS still calling itself “socialist”—and the Communist party “communist”—, of clinging to the symbol, this is a sign of how conservative and tradition-bound the French are. When I teach American undergraduates about the French left, I sometimes tell them that if they meet a member of the PS and want to make him or her uncomfortable, they should ask the simple question “what makes the PS socialist?” Isn’t socialism about the nationalization of industry, class struggle, and all that? (And if they really want to watch someone hem and haw, they should put the same question to a PCF militant about communism). The French Socialists did indeed believe in these things not so long ago. E.g. the party’s platform after WWII contained all sorts of references to Marxism, though with a vigorous defense of parliamentary democracy. Voilà a party poster from just after the war

One may read on the red flags the following: Purge [of German collaborators], For Peace, Reconstruction, Protection of Women and Children, Secularism, For Youth, For the Elderly, Works Committees, Against the Black Market, Defense of Farmers, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Reform of the Bureaucracy…

Hardly revolutionary, even for the time…

And below, revolutionary-looking Socialist militants cheering François Hollande’s victory on May 6th in front of party HQ

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Many on the unhinged American right seem to think so. Really bizarre. Milos Forman, who knows of what he speaks, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times expressing offense at the right’s delirious fantasies

…I lived in Czechoslovakia from my birth in 1932 until 1968. The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched [from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”], telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not.

Now, years later, I hear the word “socialist” being tossed around by the likes of Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and others. President Obama, they warn, is a socialist. The critics cry, “Obamacare is socialism!” They falsely equate Western European-style socialism, and its government provision of social insurance and health care, with Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism. It offends me, and cheapens the experience of millions who lived, and continue to live, under brutal forms of socialism.

Forman goes on to describe the really existing socialism such as it was in the pre-1989 eastern bloc. Not that they will but Limbaugh, Hannity, and the rest of that miserable lot really should apologize to Obama for their abject demagoguery. And to Milos Forman too.

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Alexandria diary

Adam Shatz reports from Alexandria on the Egyptian elections, in the latest issue of the LRB. Smart and insightful, as usual from Adam.

In case one missed it, Adam had a lengthy piece in the January 5, 2012, issue of the LRB, “Whose Egypt?,” that I somehow forgot to post on at the time.

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