Archive for August, 2012

This is—no joke—the title of a serious little book on Clint Eastwood published in France earlier this year (if you don’t believe me, see here), which I was reminded of this morning after hearing the news reports of Eastwood’s skit at the RNC last night (which fell flat, so it seems). The book, which I have admittedly not read, is authored by former Cahiers du Cinéma critic Stéphane Bouquet and takes up a matter that I have been puzzling over for many years now, which is Eastwood’s outsized reputation and popularity in France (Télérama—the French TV Guide for lefties—called Bouquet’s book “un bon fucking livre“). Americans have this cliché about the supposed French love for Jerry Lewis—a notion that exists only in the American imagination (and that I have written about here)—but it really is the case when it comes to Clint Eastwood, whose films invariably receive stellar reviews from Paris critics and are box office hits from Dunkerque to Perpignan.

I first became aware of the French Eastwood phenomenon in 1995, with the release of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’, which French critics praised to the high heavens, calling it a chef d’œuvre almost on a par with ‘La Règle du jeu’ and ‘Citizen Kane’, and whose gushing sentiments were shared by the film-going public (US reviews were mostly positive, though some were tepid, indeed mixed). Personally speaking, I thought the pic was cringeworthy schlock. I likewise found ‘Million Dollar Baby’ schlocky, disliked ‘Changeling’, and gave the thumbs down to ‘Gran Torino’. French audiences—including friends and family—loved all, needless to say (and particularly ‘Gran Torino’, which was systematically applauded at the end in Parisian salles obscures).

In his book, Bouquet, who is not a fan of Eastwood, seeks to understand and analyze why his films so resonate in France. In an interview in January, he thus explained

 L’idolâtrie partagée tant par le public que la critique est un phénomène typiquement français, c’est vrai. Malgré son image de conservateur, Clint Eastwood s’est construit une figure mythique d’anti-héros, ou plutôt de héros résolument anti-macho et anti-raciste. Tous ses films accueillent des gens appartenant à des minorités défavorisées. Il va jusqu’à recueillir dans son propre corps de transplanté cardiaque le cœur d’une femme appartenant à la communauté latino. En ce sens, Eastwood apparaît comme une figure de réconciliation nationale, auxquels les Français sont sensibles.

For the French, Clint Eastwood in effect incarnates l’Amérique qu’on aime… The French, in their majority, like America, or at least admire it, and when America gives a less than positive image, Clint Eastwood, via his films, brings that positive image back. The fact that he likes France in return also helps.

I don’t dislike all of Eastwood’s films, il faut le dire, at least those he directed (as an actor, he’s one-dimensional, sans intérêt). I thought ‘Mystic River’ and ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ were excellent and liked ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ (which was a hoot), ‘A Perfect World’, and ‘Flags of Our Fathers’. ‘Play Misty for Me’ was creepy but not bad as a film. ‘Unforgiven’ was entertaining, as was ‘Invictus’. I never did see ‘Bird’ and deliberately skipped ‘J.Edgar’. As for Eastwood’s politics, who cares?

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Grand old Marxists

Timothy Snyder, the brilliant historian of Central and Eastern Europe, has a great post on the NYRB’s blog on how Paul Ryan’s intellectual idols, Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek, were strikingly Marxist in their way of thinking.

The irony of today is that these two thinkers [Hayek and Rand], in their struggle against the Marxist left of the mid-twentieth century, relied on some of the same underlying assumptions as Marxism itself: that politics is a matter of one simple truth, that the state will eventually cease to matter, and that a vanguard of intellectuals is needed to bring about a utopia that can be known in advance. The paradoxical result is a Republican Party ticket that embraces outdated ideology, taking some of the worst from the twentieth century and presenting it as a plan for the twenty-first.

Snyder notes the economic determinism of the Hayek-Randians (which, when expressed by Marxists, was labeled “vulgar Marxism”)

Romney provides the practice, Ryan the theory. Romney has lots of money, but has never managed to present the storyline of his career as a moral triumph. Ryan, with his credibility as an ideas politician, seems to solve that problem. In the right-wing anarchism that arises from the marriage of Rand and Hayek, Romney’s wealth is proof that all is well for the rest of us, since the laws of economics are such that the unhindered capitalism represented by chop-shops such as Bain must in the end be good for everyone.

The problem with this sort of economic determinism is that it is Marxism in reverse, with the problems of the original kind. Planning by finance capitalists replaces planning by the party elite. Marx’s old dream, the “withering away” of the state, is the centerpiece of the Ryan budget: cut taxes on the rich, claim that cutting government functions and the closing of unspecified loopholes will balance budgets, and thereby make the state shrink. Just like the Marxists of another era, the Republican ticket substitutes mythical thinking about the economy for loyalty to the nation.

In arguing with a fanatical right-wing Republican back in the mid-90s I remember telling him how he reminded me of the Marxists of my college days (and which included myself), in that he had an explanation for everything and an opinion on everything and anything the slightest bit political. Snyder makes the same observation

Like Marxism, the Hayekian ideology is a theory of everything, which has an answer for everything. Like Marxism, it allows politicians who accept the theory to predict the future, using their purported total knowledge to create and to justify suffering among those who do not hold power.

On the matter of Hayek, Bruce Bartlett has a column in the NYT explaining why he is, in fact, a problematic intellectual reference for Ryan, as Hayek was not opposed to mandatory social insurance schemes (which I have pointed out more than once on this blog). Read it here.

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Paul Ryan: liar

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

I did not see Paul Ryan’s speech last night—which aired after 4 AM chez moi—and have no intention of catching it on the Internet. Several commentaries today have pointed out the brazen falsehoods Ryan recounted. Jonathan Cohn in TNR, who called Ryan’s rhetoric “positively galling,” scrutinized five of them.  In addition to grossly distorting Obama’s record and demagoguing things he said (“you didn’t build that” blah blah), the Republicans are lying about their intentions if elected, notably in regard to Medicare. It’s the only way they can win and they know it.

Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast, who was equally appalled by Ryan’s demagoguery, offered this

Analysis of the fact that Ryan can lie the way he does requires the skills of a psychologist. All I can say is that we’re in new territory—a Republican trying to own a Democratic issue, and doing so on the basis of a couple of lies so blatant that he’s practically saying to the Democrats and the media: “Fuck you, come and get me. You can’t touch me.”

Will the Dems get him? I think they will. Well, I certainly hope they will.

UPDATE: Johathan Chait in New York magazine has an on target commentary on “Paul Ryan’s large lies and one big truth.” This passage nails it

I have been writing about his dishonesty for three years. I have the equivalent of a master’s degree in Ryan lie-ology. I’ve heard many of his lurid fantasies innumerable times and I haven’t got it in me to go through it all again — his deep dishonesty largely reflects the fundamental gap between the radicalism of his agenda and his need for public acceptance.

Ryan and his ilk know that if they are honest about their agenda and tell it exactly as it is, they will have no chance of being elected. So they are dishonest and they lie. Will they get away with it? Chait thinks they might. Call me naïve but I don’t think they will.

2nd UPDATE: Joan Walsh slammed “Paul Ryan’s brazen lies” in Salon. And Steve Kornacki, also in Salon, explained how Ryan “gets away with BS.”

3rd UPDATE: Kevin Drum of Mother Jones examines “Paul Ryan’s grim vision for America.”

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A Washington friend sent me this NYT op-ed by Lee Siegel from last January, in which Siegel asserts that “Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.” My friend said that he was reminded of the op-ed while watching the GOP convention in Tampa last night. Siegel is spot on, IMO.

In this vein—but with a different approach—, David Frum speculated in The Daily Beast on what goes on “inside the mind of a Republican delegate.”

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The real Romney

I normally do not deign to read David Brooks but as his latest column is currently the NYT’s most emailed article, I decided to take a look at it. It’s quite good, actually. And funny.

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He’s a Republican.

I’ve been on vacation the past week in a beautiful part of France, where the weather has been particularly hot (high 90s F/mid-high 30s C), with air conditioning only in the car, and not regular access to the Internet. Life (and blogging) will be back to normal next week.

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In my post yesterday on the Amiens riot I linked to a report from the ground in Mediapart, in which the residents of the cité pointed the finger at the police—specifically the BAC and CRS—and its behavior, but also contrasted this with the agents of the Gendarmerie Nationale, who earned praise from the residents—adults and youths—for their comportment during a recent two-week patrol of the cité. Now Le Monde, in a dispatch from Amiens, echoed Mediapart’s report, of the cité residents being angry at the police—BAC and CRS—and its “cowboy” behavior, and making favorable reference to the agents of the Gendarmerie. Here’s the report, with noteworthy passages highlighted

“Ce soir-là, ils sont venus nous provoquer comme des cow-boys”
LE MONDE | 15.08.2012 à 14h11
Par Faïza Zeroual

Dans le quartier de la Briquetterie à Amiens-Nord, les stigmates des violences des nuits des 12 et 13 août sont encore visibles. Les cadavres de poubelles fondues collent au bitume. La salle de musculation a été incendiée, tout comme l’école maternelle Balzac, dont les fenêtres sont condamnées par des planches. Ici et là, des voitures calcinées ou du mobilier urbain dégradé. Mardi 14 août, quelques habitants sont réunis autour du kiosque, sous les arbres, et la tension est palpable. Un adolescent trouble ce calme fragile en traversant l’esplanade sur sa mini-moto.

Le quartier est en ébullition depuis le début du mois d’août. Mais la situation s’est brutalement dégradée après des incidents survenus lors d’un repas de deuil organisé dimanche par la famille de Nadir, 20 ans, mort jeudi 9 août dans un accident de moto. Assise dans le salon familial, la soeur de Nadir, Sabrina, 22 ans, raconte comment cette cérémonie a été troublée par les forces de l’ordre :“Nous étions tous réunis sur la terrasse de la maison de ma grand-mère lorsque les CRS sont arrivés. Tout l’après-midi, ils rôdaient ici, mais nous n’avons pas fait attention à eux.”

Les policiers contrôlaient un jeune homme qui conduisait en sens interdit. “Le contrôle a été très agressif. Mon père et mon oncle sont sortis pour leur demander de partir et de respecter notre deuil. Puis ça a dégénéré, la brigade anticriminalité nous a gazés avec des bombes lacrymogènes alors qu’il y avait des femmes et des enfants.”

L’un des invités montre sa blessure à la tempe, une bosse rouge et bleue, à la suite, assure-t-il, d’un tir de flash-ball. Les allées et venues des amis, de la famille, sont incessantes dans cette maisonnette au milieu des tours. Tous confirment la version de la famille. Fatma Hadji, la mère de Nadir, ne décolère pas. “Avec les gendarmes mobiles, tout se passait très bien. Ce soir-là il n’y avait pas lieu de faire un contrôle. Ils sont venus nous provoquer comme des cow-boys.”


Les quartiers d’Amiens-Nord sont fragiles, ce qui a justifié leur classement dans les quinze zones prioritaires de sécurité, annoncées par Manuel Valls, le 4 août. Amiens-Nord est aussi une zone urbaine sensible (ZUS) et rassemble les critères des quartiers en difficulté : dans les ZUS de la ville le revenu fiscal moyen est inférieur à 9 000 euros, le taux de chômage dépasse 24 %, et la part des ménages non imposables tourne autour de 63 %.

Mme Hadji retrace en quelques phrases la vie de son fils. Il travaillait dans la restauration et aimait passer du temps dans la salle de sport incendiée. Elle reconnaît qu’il a eu affaire à la justice. Mais jure-t-elle, il s’était assagi.

Mardi, Mme Hadji et sa fille ont été reçues par Manuel Valls, le ministre de l’intérieur à l’Atrium, l’antenne de la mairie de quartier au coeur d’Amiens-Nord. Une rencontre décevante et “injuste” : “C’était un dialogue de sourds. Les forces de l’ordre ont commis l’irréparable, mais il n’est pas question pour le ministre d’y toucher. Il oublie la nuit de dimanche. On a été gazés comme des sauvages, comme des bêtes.”

Lors de la visite du ministre de l’intérieur, une centaine de personnes s’est massée aux abords de l’Atrium. Les jeunes sont remontés, peu enclins à parler. L’un d’eux, amer, raconte les contrôles de police incessants, le sentiment de ne pas être respecté, le manque de dialogue avec la police, l’absence de perspectives, le chômage…

Nawel, une amie de la famille qui “considérait Nadir comme son fils”, est consternée par les scènes de violence : Ceux qui ont brûlé la salle de musculation ce ne sont pas nos jeunes. Ils y sont tous abonnés car il n’y a rien d’autre pour eux.”

Les jeunes des quartiers alentours se sont greffés aux affrontements. Amiens-Nord est régulièrement sujet à des pics de tension. En octobre 2010, une dizaine d’habitants avaient caillassé les policiers pendant une nuit, sans raison précise, ou connue. Un an plus tôt, en mai 2009, ce même quartier avait déjà été le théâtre de violences après la mort d’un jeune motard pourchassé par la police. En février, une voiture de la police municipale a été incendiée, puis un second véhicule a subi le même traitement, et une quinzaine d’habitants du quartier ont affronté les policiers à coup de projectiles.

Aujourd’hui, Fatma Hadji ne croit pas que ces troubles vont s’apaiser : “La France va bouger. On n’est rien ici. Les jeunes sont déjà mal dans leur peau, ils n’ont rien à perdre”, prophétise-t-elle. Mardi soir, 250 agents étaient déployés sur le terrain pour tenter de ramener le calme à Amiens-Nord.

Faïza Zerouala

The contrast between the services of the Police Nationale (BAC, CRS)—which come under the authority of the Ministry of Interior—and the Gendarmerie Natonale—a paramilitary police force under the exclusive tutelary authority of the Ministry of Defense until 2009—is striking. This reminded me of Mathieu Kassovitz’s fine 2011 film ‘L’Ordre et la morale’, that reenacts the 1988 Ouvéa hostage crisis in New Caledonia and where a distinction was made between the behavior of the regular military (bad) and that of the Gendarmerie (good). I will come back to this at a later date (perhaps when I get around to writing about Kassovitz’s film). What Mme Hadji said above about the meeting with Manuel Valls is revealing. Valls is certainly more than aware of the “cowboy” behavior of the police—and of its share of responsibility in provoking the clashes—but, as interior minister, he can hardly acknowledge it publicly, or even privately to a citizen. It is a difficult and delicate matter for a government minister to take on the corps of fonctionnaires under his authority. Or, rather, under his temporary, fleeting authority, as ministers come and go but the corps de l’État remain (and collectively they know their corps and its tutelary ministry better than just about any minister). Valls has already been backpedaling on the Ayrault government’s proposal to have the police issue a récépisée to any person subjected to an identity check (see here), as the reaction of the police syndicats to this was negative in the extreme.

One of the cité residents interviewed in the dispatch said that the torching of the gym facility during the riot could not have been the doing of the youths in the cité, as they are all members and users of it, further adding that youths from outside the area came to participate in the clashes. This has been reported in numerous riots over the years: of gangs of youths from other cités—and who are often rivals of the youths in the cité where the clash with the police is occurring—rushing to participate in the bedlam, but also to settle scores and commit arson in an area that is outside their territory. Another factor. A reportage in the 11 March 2010 issue of Le Monde—following a violent incident in a cité in Epernay—focused on the outsized responsibility for a lot of the violence, vandalism, and arson of small groups of sociopathic youths—sometimes only a dozen youths in number—that are at the margins even in the cité, not to mention society at large. The youths, the Le Monde report specified, are mainly of black African origin, all school dropouts (often with only an 8th or 9th grade education) and unskilled, unemployed for the most part, and come from homes where the father is absent and the mother has several children in her charge. For these youths, acts of violence and vandalism are less an inchoate expression of rage against the system than a simple engagement in violence and vandalism for the sake of it, or in a surenchère with other gangs, and whose action is fueled, as it were, by gangsta rappers (which has become a French musical sub-genre). For Americans, this will sound familiar. One thing is for sure. In view of the economic situation in France, the problems in the cités are not going to go away any time soon. And governments—of the left or right—will continue to have no good idea of what to do about them.

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