20 June 2006
I always feel sad leaving Paris. Our most recent visit of a month was the longest continuous time I've ever spent there. My Francophilia did not diminish with more prolonged exposure. Sally has become infected, too.
Our apartment was on the ancient Rue de Temple, just one block from the Hotel de Ville, the dazzling architectural extravaganza that serves as the city hall of Paris. Having been seriously torched by the Paris Commune in 1871, it was rebuilt, replicating the original neo-Renaissance style, complete with 146 statues of illustrious Frenchmen that adorn its façades.
It was there after the July Revolution in 1830 that La Fayette gave the throne to the Duc d'Orleans under constitutional restrictions acknowledging ultimate sovereignty resting with the citizenry. This act ended the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy after Napoleon, the final termination of a dynasty that had ruled France since the mid-15th century. This Duc d'Orleans, thereafter King Louis-Phillipe I, only lasted in power until 1848, when a new generation of Parisian insurrectionarists overthrew him as well, establishing a new republic, declared at the same Hotel de Ville.
The broad open area in front of it is the Place de Grève where, according to Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre Dame de Paris), Quasimodo's beloved La Esmeralda met her fate in 1482. Stroll from there up the Rue de Rivoli past the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde and stand on the spot where Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre all lost their heads, along with a few thousand others during "the Terror" of 1793. Then turn south just across the Seine into the Left Bank neighborhood to visit the house where Karl Marx spent some of his most formative years or the café where Lenin worked as a waiter or Gertrude Stein's place where Hemingway, Picasso, and Joyce hung out, or have an existential coffee at the Deux Magots on Sartre/de Beauvoir Place, or tour the medieval Abbey de Cluny with its Roman baths. Then turn back north on the Boulevard St. Michel, where the main battles of the 1968 student uprising took place, cross over the river via the Ile de la Cité where Julius Caesar camped in 63 BC, stopping in front of Notre Dame, built between 1163 and 1300, where Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804, and you've returned to the Hotel de Ville, having walked a couple of miles, with waves of history washing over you every step. Described as the world's finest outdoor museum, the consistent architectural antiquity of central Paris provides the perfect setting for your stroll.
On our last night in Paris, we made the mistake of visiting our friends Billy and Jean-Luc, a French-American couple together more than 20 years, in their Marais apartment. Billy came to gay Paris from Austin in the 70's "to dance at the Lido in a g-string with a feather up my ass." Along the way, he qualified for a French government pension. We drank a few 1664's, France's best mass beer, while they showed us the new photos of their cute-to-die-for 200 year-old country cottage two hours south of Paris and we played with their cute-to-die-for French bulldogs. The cottage's thick, stuccoed walls and sloping tile roof are set in a bucolic idyll, appropriate subject matter for an impressionist masterpiece. Not a good way to prepare to return to Amerika.
Separation anxiety sets in as the cab to the airport rolls out of central Paris and into the suburbs, where the attractive old housing thins out, replaced by modern, unimaginative, high-rise apartment blocks. These boxes are usually described in grim tones, but they look at least a couple of steps up from public housing in the US, not infrequently with adjacent areas of kitchen gardens, and with very culturally diverse inhabitants.
Entering De Gaulle airport, you're suddenly swallowed up by the concrete, glass and steel modernism distinctive of nowhere and the US-inspired paranoid security apparatus. It's getting painful, but there remain a couple of French frills scattered about the airport to staunch the psychic wounds. You don't have to take your shoes off. Café staff still speak French first and English badly enough to successfully piss off one already angry American dad with very expensive blonde brood in tow when they missed his order in English on the first try. I relished the reconfirmation of my stereotypes. One more double expresso and a copy of "Liberation" and it's a bientot, hopefully not au revoir. Henceforth, speaking French becomes an affectation.
Waves of undesirable change in ambiance increasingly roll over you. The size of the average person increases about 50% between Charles de Gaulle and Bush League International, especially outward. Unlike de Gaulle, Houston's airport has pedestrian safety issues due to overbearing motorized carts for the variously infirm and terminally lazy speeding up behind you and demanding right of way. I pretend I'm deaf. Fox News once again blares its repulsiveness into my reality. Baseball caps are suddenly back in fashion, even indoors, even at night. The airport food court welcomes you with a full blast of Americana, including an imitation Italian food stall with a sign saying "God Bless America" (and fuck everyone else?), run by Mexicans serving processed carbo-fat while defanged R&B hums subliminally. On numerous large flat screens, some golf tournament and a baseball game have replaced the World Cup, where the US team started off by getting ripped 3-0 by a Czech Republic team which then lost 2-0 to Ghana.
Back in the US, I drive, not walk, through the city in my very own car, not a taxi or a bus, and everything looks unaestheticly modern, temporary and disposable. This part of the world has exponentially more and more space devoted to the requirements of large, mechanized, individual mobility devices, which Paris and many other European cities are struggling to restrain. Here these vehicles are typically of an entirely different nature, as there are almost no pick-up trucks, Hummers or maxed-out SUV's in Europe. Gasoline there costs more than twice as much as here, primarily because of taxes that support public transportation and restrain the unfettered growth of car fetishism, forced collectivization unthinkable here. As a result, Paris has highly efficient and overlapping bus, boat, metro, regional computer train and high speed international train systems, not to mention lots of Smart cars.
Here, the urban geography has been developed so as to render almost impossible all alternatives to car addiction.
It's culture shock time. The immigration man stamped my passport and welcomed me back home with a smile. I told him he cannot imagine how happy I am to be here.
17 June 2006
When I read this on Today in Iraq, I knew I had to ask Cervantes to let me post it here. It is an argument that is seldom articulated, and one too easily forgotten in the mess that this illegal, misguided war has become. My thanks to Cervantes and Today in Iraq for granting permission.
I'm going to do something we seldom do here [on "Today in Iraq," that is], and that is to make an extended personal statement -- the reason being that the available reporting on this is so warped that I can't let it stand on its own. The discussion, both here and in Iraq, over Maliki's suggestion of a possible amnesty for resistance fighters who have attacked occupation forces, has been truly Orwellian. People in the U.S., including I am sorry to say much of the Democratic congressional delegation and a good part of the liberal blogosphere and chattering classes, apparently do not understand that the United States attacked and invaded Iraq. The Iraqi army fought back. Ultimately much of it went underground and continued to fight in guerilla mode. There has been no peace settlement. In fact, although as far as I know nobody has pointed this out, the government of Iraq never surrendered.
When a war ends and a peace treaty is signed, combatants return to home, and POWs are released. People who fight against foreign invaders are not terrorists, criminals, or murderers. Obviously, if the new Iraqi government ever wishes to end the insurgency and establish a true national unity government, it must come to agreement with the resistance and bring it into the political structure.
This Washington Post story tells the bizarre story of Maliki trying to maneuver between reality and his American masters. On Wednesday, he gave a press conference, in Arabic, which was televised, at which he said, "reconciliation could include an amnesty for those 'who weren't involved in the shedding of Iraqi blood. Also, it includes talks with the armed men who opposed the political process and now want to turn back to political activity.'" Yesterday, he fired an aide who had, in essence, repeated Maliki's own words to reporters, saying "Mr. Adnan Kadhimi doesn't represent the Iraqi government in this issue, and Mr. Kadhimi is not an adviser or spokesman for the prime minister. It is not true what some of the media outlets, including The Washington Post, have said about the willingness of the Iraqi government to talk with armed groups." Not true, except that Maliki said it himself, on television.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., in the warped Congressional debate on Iraq staged by the Republicans, Republican Senators defended the amnesty idea - which I suppose they have to do since the administration line is that the new Iraq government is sovereign and legitimate -- while Democrats and their supporters attack them for supporting amnesty for "terrorists" who have "murdered" American forces "serving heroically in Iraq to provide all Iraqis a better future." Listen folks -- get this straight. It's a war. That's what happens in wars, people try to kill each other. If Iraqi resistance fighters who attack U.S. forces are terrorists and murderers, then by the precise same standard, U.S. troops in Iraq are terrorists who have murdered tens of thousands of Iraqis. You can't have it both ways.
Cervantes (of Today in Iraq)
16 June 2006
I sometimes get led into these things. I meet people that are way too real. They all know me for what I am - a guy who will work his ass off to help them out.
I am frightened that I can't do this without help. And I don't know too many people who might actually see this vision that I have seen. It is very different to be the one White confidante among the 1000 African Americans.
The White guy who is invited out to dinner, who sits at the table with the rich guys in pin stripe suits and the guys in flip flops at the place that serves the best greasey food in Atlanta. Where the waitress says the collards aren't up to par tonight so stick with the gumbo and hush puppies, and the shrimp is excellent. And everone says grace and they all drink Bud. The waitress even stood with a bowed head, she knew she was in the presence of some really different folks, and I do really mean that.
Morehouse College is a big deal. MLK was here and Andrew Young and the movement, as they say, started here. Which may or may not be true, but the legend has it.
Here is the order that has been given to me this week and I am very serious about this and I do mean this. I have to make a concerted effort to perform this task. Barak O'Bama and the rest of the power brokers who are strong in the East need and want an entry into the West and they see Texas as a stepping stone. I said Houston because of all its Blacks but they said no, they want the young Hispanics to come together with us. We have to do something to dissolve the mistrust that exists between the Black and the Brown, we have to form a coalition, a coalition that would be powerful enough to get something done.
One man, at one of my sessions (and that is going to sound very strange, 'my session') said he is tired, very tired of burying his children, be it from street violence, and now from the Iraq war which is the work of Satan. He is a Baptist preacher from South Carolina. And he is right. It is time to turn the country around. And he said he was 72 and he is too old to pick cotton anymore and too old to march to Washington, but we have to train the new ones to do the work. And they have to be trained well.
But I want to set up a South Texas meeting of NPLC Fatherhood development group for the helping and developing of Fragile Families in San Antonio. We have the national organizations who will cooperate. I am sure we can get Wade Horn on board.
We need a venue. UTSA maybe? Or Trinity or even Seguin? The Convention Center, of course, if it were reasonable. Morehouse and the University of Detroit were gratis to our organization. But I think San Antonio would be the best place to do this. Of course, it wouldn't be free, but the people at the college in Seguin or Texas State could cooperate with the big boys in San Antonio?
Then the second part after we get some funding to get this off the ground is to get jobs. Get people like Toyota and Samsung and so forth to teach the young people what it takes to get a job. Train the youngstere to be able to work and to be able to talk to people in an understandable language.
I met last night at a bar (I am good at that), with a haberdasher from New York - a very rich Black guy who is devoted to the project. We discussed religion, of all things, for an hour or two. They feel they are mandated from God to do this.
There are others, too, who want to work on this, many. We have talked and we have come up with a plan of which I am a big, big part. Why me? Don't ask, but this has got to fly, it just has to and there are a hundred reasons why.
Our youth, Black, White, Hispanic are losing the battle of getting ready for the job market. Yes, 30 percent or so go to college, but 70 percent are under the radar, working for low wages, and they are not meeting their obligations to family. There are 70 percent, 70 percent of the births in this country that are just that. No family, no marriage, not that marriage is the all encompassing answer, but it helps. But to make it all work we need kids with jobs and that whole thing starts at a very young age...middle school, and grade school. We are talking about saving the nation here.
I know that sounds damn stupid coming from a scatterbrain like me, but I need help and I need your input. You might help organize, you can help find the people who you know who have the power to make it work and let me and my people who have the ideas and clout talk to them. We need the Michael Dells and Henry Cisneroses and the San Antonio Spurs, the George Gervinss of the world to move this forward and it is so imperative that it be done now before it is too late.
I went to the church where Martin Luther King was the preacher, I went to the church where they held the service for Correta Scott King. I talked to Denzel Washington. I saw that the movement for a better and stronger America is eroded, it is stagnant and there has to be something done and it has to be done by us. Hell, as I told the men I was with, we are all gray beards, we all marched.
I can truthfully say that. One of my very best friends and I were told to get the hell out of here with a .45 in our faces. We were tear-gassed and chased by the police. We went to Chicago and so on and so forth, so we have a feel for it. We know that there are still Confederate flags flying and there is still that sickness in the country that we delude ourselves into thinking is free.
The Katrina refugees (and I call them that) are not a bunch of freeloaders. They want to rebuild. But they can't. I talked to a large group of them and heard their stories. It was so heart-wrenching that I actually cried with them. These are hard-hearted men who worked for years. They were never rich, they were never what we would consider well off, but they fed their families and paid their rent and had homes and jobs, be it playing a sax at a club or tending bar or cooking hush puppies and catfish. They worked and were content with their place in life; oh, I am sure they wished they might win the lotto, but they were real. Now they are the living dead. It is horrible, horrible, horrible. No society that is as rich as ours should allow this to happen.
It isn't only New Orleans, and it isn't only African-Americans. Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Texas are in the same struggle. Why?
I can come up with a few answers and the people here have a few answers, too. One, of course, is red tape, which is attached to greed.
Have I said enough?
Charles Rangel told me yesterday, when I told him I listened to his speech at the Democratic Convention, that I must have been the only White guy that did. He was joking, but impressed that I had heard every word. I didn't tell him it was mostly by accident, as I was driving to Syracuse, NY, but still I did not turn to another station. He is a smart man, perhaps a tad corrupt, but then who in Washington isn't? He also has a vision and it is becoming the same as mine. Heaven help me now.
There is work to be done. A lot of work. Am I thinking over the top here?
15 June 2006
I'm writing about the situation in Oaxaca. As I write, the capital city is under siege. At approximately 5 a.m. this morning the state police attacked the teachers' occupation of the city center. Though reports are sketchy, it seems that three teachers have been killed, as well as a young girl. The teachers have taken three or four police hostage. A raging battle is underway to control the zocalo, the center of life in Oaxaca, and the heart of the teacher's encampment. In the dawn raid the teachers were forced out, but the local paper, Noticias de Oaxaca, has reported that at 9:30 a.m. local time the teachers, armed with rocks and sticks, re-took the main square. Police are firing tear gas from helicopters right now. Thousands (tens of thousands) of people are involved in running battles in the streets. And there is the fear that upwards of 3,500 federal riot police -- deployed to Oaxaca in the last two weeks by Vicente Fox -- are about to enter the city.
I've just gotten off the phone with friends in the center. They described the scene on the streets this morning at about 7:30 a.m. Hundreds of people crying from the mix of tear gas, smoke bombs and some other pepper spray. The men forming groups to launch the assault to retake the zocalo. Mothers telling their boys to take care of themselves as they fall into line. From the rooftops of the single-story houses you can watch the helicopters flying overhead, shelling tear gas canisters into the crowds. There is a heavy fear, but also, I was told, you could hear the sound of people marching and singing.
As a brief background, you might want to read: http://www.narconews.com/Issue41/article1874.html
The teachers' occupation of the city, known in Spanish as a 'planton,' began 23 days ago. More than 80,000 teachers from every municipality in the state had converged on the capital to press a list of demands for more resources for education. They have had two mass marches, the most recent bringing more than 120,000 people out, the largest demonstration in the city's history. The planton has become an annual event since more than a decade, and I will never forget last year's planton, which happened while I was still living there. For about 10 days the teachers occupied the entire center of town, sleeping on the streets under tarpaulins stretched overhead. They were extremely well organized and the city center was never more alive. The teachers and their families would cook large meals on open fires, play guitar and sing, rest on folded cardboard in the shade. They set up their radio station "Radio Planton" and played music on loud speakers. There were first aid tents, propaganda tents, mass meetings on every corner.
This year, many have remarked that the planton, and the teachers' mobilization generally, has been different. The question is: If the teachers brought 80,000 to the city, who are the other 40,000? I'm not close enough to give a good answer, but what I understand is that the teachers have offered an opening which hundreds of small community groups and social justice centers from around the state have chosen to follow. The past two years under the new PRI governor Ulises Ruis has intensified the level of state repression. Scores of activists in small villages have been killed, hundreds arrested and still in jail as political prisoners. The spike in repression was so great that Amnesty International sent a delegation to Oaxaca in May of 2005 to investigate. It appears that when the teachers marched on the capital three weeks ago, they were joined by tens of thousands of others from the villages in what is becoming a broad movement to depose the governor. Ruis has refused to meet with the teachers, and has managed to pull in his party's promisary notes to about half of the state's municipal mayors, who signed a decree condemning the teachers' action. But there is a palpable sense that the social movements are converging and that something new is underway.
During the past three weeks, the movement has shown a great level of strength and creativity -- occupying the city's airport, smashing the newly-installed parking meters throughout the city center, occupying the toll booths on the main road from Oaxaca to Mexico City -- not to stop the cars, only to stop the collecting of tolls, and the very fact that they have occupied the zocalo has great significance as the new governor, after spending upwards of $100 million to 'beautify' the zocalo, decreed that it was now off-limits for any demonstrations.
Three nights ago, Ruis met with business leaders at a late-night gathering and promised to use the 'mano dura' or hard hand. There were reports that the first 1,500 federal riot police were camped in the nearby town of Tlacolula. This morning the governor appears to have proven himself a man of his word. Some reports have said that the tear gas in the city center is so thick you can't see the hand in front of you.
I have not seen any reports in the US media, BBC etc. There is some information on indymedia's Mexico site, some more on the online version of Noticias de Oaxaca -- both in Spanish. (http://www.noticias-oax.com.mx/) I know that the police have shut down the teachers' radio station, 'Radio Planton,' but as of noon, Oaxaca time, the students' radio station 'Radio Universitario' was still broadcasting and "you can hear the broadcast from every window and door in town." The students themselves have occupied the university, but the latest reports suggest that the police are heading there now.
I'm writing this in the hope that you can help spread the word, and alert others in the network of media to turn their attention to the struggle ongoing.
In solidarity, Charlie Loving
I'm the Decider
by Roddy McCorley
I'm the decider. I pick and I choose.
I pick among whats and I choose among whos.
And as I decide each particular day,
The things I decide on all turn out that way.
I decided on Freedom for all of Iraq.
And now that they have it, I'm not looking back.
I decided on tax cuts that just help the wealthy.
And Medicare changes that aren't really healthy.
And parklands and wetlands, who needs all that stuff?
I decided that none would be more than enough!
I decided that schools all in all are the best
The less that they teach and more that they test.
I decided those wages you need to get by
Are much better spent on some CEO guy.
I decided your Wade, which was versing your Roe
Is terribly awful and just has to go.
I decided that levees are not really needed.
Now when hurricanes come they come unimpeded.
That old Constitution? Well, I have decided
It's "just goddam paper." It should be derided.
I've decided gay marriage is icky and weird.
Above all other things, it's the one to be feared.
Yes, I'm the Decider. I know what is best.
Listen only to me and ignore all the rest.
Or I'll tap your phones and your e-mail I'll read.
Because I'm the Decider, like Jesus decreed!
Yes, I'm the Decider, so watch what you say
Or I may decide to whisk you away.
Cheney and Rummy and Condi all know
That I'm the Decider. They tell me it's so.
Yes, I'm the Decider. The finest alive
And I'm nuking Iran. Now watch this drive!
h/t The Daily Kos
And there's more:
Down by the Pentagon, where the crickle grass grows,
Where for years the insurgents have been in their "last throes"
Old Donald Rumsfeld relaxed and kicked back
And thought of the fine job he'd done in Iraq
But despite Rummy's feelings of omnipotent might
Lots of people were dying, with no end in sight
So several old generals rose up in rage
And their mad diatribes made it to the front page
All of them wanted poor Rummy to quit
Since 'twas under his watch that Iraq went to shit
But just as old Rummy was about to resign
Bush came along and said "You're doing just fine!"
He was tallish and oldish and grayish and chimpy
And his face looked cartoonish, like a Ren or a Stimpy
He rolled up his sleeves, slammed the floor with a "bang!"
And then bellowed out in his fake Texas twang:
"I'm the decider! I decide what is best!
And all my decisions, they come Jesus-blessed!
I don't read the views of the MSM paparazzi
'Cause I need Rummy's help stopping Muslamonazis!
"To all you old generals whose anger won't yield,
Why won't you think of the troops on the field
They want Rummy to stay, they say that they need him
What's wrong with you bastards, do y'all just hate freedom?"
And with that all the critics looked shamed and afraid
For providing bin al-Qaeda with comfort and aid
They wept and covered their faces with bags
And said, "We're sorry for being such traitorous fags!"
h/t Sadly, No!
10 June 2006
One of our group is on a mission to Colombia. She has asked, "Please hold me and the other team member, Audrey Miller, in the light/in prayer, send positive energy, or whatever works for you, as we travel to Colombia May 30-July 13."
To read periodic postings of their activities, visit: Friends Peace Teams.
“Sweet summer breeze, whispering trees, Stars shining softly above...”
Litha, the Summer Solstice, fifth spoke on the Wheel of Life, reaches Austin on Wednesday, June 21, 2006. Lady Moon is in her fourth quarter in Taurus and Lord Sun enters Cancer at 7:26 a.m. The two Solstices and Equinoxes are major events (quarters) as measured by the 8-spoke Wheel. The other four spokes are designated as “cross-quarters” and considered to be lesser rituals, even though some observers of the rituals associated with the Wheel rank Halloween as a major festival. If you choose to invite friends and neighbors to share your observance of this festal occasion, the information offered here is likely to prove useful.
Colors associated with the Summer Solstice are white, red, and yellow. Wear these colors and encourage your guests to do likewise. Your meal should include red and yellow fruits and vegetables. Since this is a Fire Festival, if at all possible, hold your festivities outdoors and include a fire of some kind. Foods cooked over an open flame are most appropriate for this celebration, so consider grilling or barbequing some of your meal. While we think first of meat when the word “barbeque” is mentioned, veggies also grill quite nicely. Skewers of yellow squash, ripe bell peppers, and onion chunks can compliment the fajitas and shish kebab, rounding out the menu while showing the appropriate colors for this day and honoring the fruitfulness of our gardens. This festival is one where food may be shared, so divide the leftovers among your guests. Sharing fire, however, is taboo, as is sleeping away from home.
Fourth quarter moons are quiet times when we review our accomplishments and begin to consider what the next things are that need doing. Fourth quarters of the moon are also the best times to weed a garden and put an end to things rather than to perform rituals for prosperity or increase. You and your guests may choose to make or draw representations of things you wish to eliminate from your life and burn them in your fire. For example: if you desire to stop smoking tobacco, draw a cigarette and surround it with the “no” symbol of a red circle with a red diagonal line drawn through it; burning this piece of paper reinforces your resolve to quit and could make the process go more easily.
Include your pets in your festivities. This is a celebration not only of humans' work but also animals' work. Not all of us live on a farm with workhorses, goats, or chickens, but many of us keep cats to deter rats and dogs for security alarms as well as companionship. Let your animals join you and your friends and be sure to waft some of the smoke from your fire over them as well as the human attendees. Use a feather, preferably one you have found, not bought, to direct the smoke.
There is much garden-energy associated with this spoke of the Wheel. It is a time to bless your garden, whether vegetable, herb, or flower. Your guests may assist you in this project by walking barefoot clockwise around your garden, singing and strewing rose petals. As part of your blessing, remember the fairies and leave them items that can be used in their own celebrations: a tiny cup of herb tea placed on a pretty leaf on a pretty, flat rock in a secluded corner of your garden with a wind-chime hung above; sparkly crystals; a small cookie; a fragrant flower. By remembering and honoring fairy-energy, you are also generating good will with entities that can help your garden to grow better and more beautiful.
French government is similar to that in the US in that it has three branches, executive, legislative and judicial. The executive, however, is divided between the president, who is elected to five-year terms, and a prime minister, who is appointed by the president. Quoting Wikipedia, "The President has a degree of direct executive power, but most executive power resides in his appointee, the Prime Minister. The President's choice for Prime Minister must have the confidence of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament; also the Prime Minister is always from the majority party in that house." Presidential elections occur in two stages. In the first, candidates from many different parties participate. The second round is a runoff between the two who receive the largest votes in the first round. In recent French history, control of the executive has alternated between the Rassemblement pour la Republique (which I will refer to as the Gaullists, although that shorthand characterization may be becoming less accurate over time) and the French Socialist Party.
Sharply contrasting with the US, almost all positions of leadership in French politics are held by lifelong professional politicians, specifically graduates from the elite Ecole National de Administration. The French would never think of electing a president who is some amateur not specifically trained to be a politician and with many years experience in various political offices.
The last presidential election in 2002 was a fiasco for the left. Because the left splintered into several different parties in the first round, the two principal right-wing candidates made the runoff. The incumbent, Jacques Chirac (Gaullist), won the first round, but with less than 20% of the vote. Second place went to Jean-Marie Le Pen of the extreme right Front National, with policies similar to US Republicans plus anti-semitism and a militant dislike of immigrants, i.e., fascism. He received just less than 17% in the first round. The Socialist Party candidate in 2002, Lionel Jospin, ran third; less than 1% behind Le Pen. Several parties to the left of the Socialists garnered significant support: Workers Struggle - 5.72%, The Greens - 5.25%, Revolutionary Communist League - 4.25%, Communist Party - 3.37%, Left Radical Party - 2.32%, among others.
The first-round results produced great shock and dismay on the left and massive street demonstrations against Le Pen. In the second round, Le Pen received only 1% more of the vote than he had in the first round and Chirac won with a massive landslide of over 82% of the vote. This occurred despite Chirac being widely considered a corrupt, vacillating, gladhanding politician with few if any principles. Chirac has muddled along through his tenure with approval ratings below George W. Bush at his worst, receiving his highest acclaim for standing up to the US in the rush to war in Iraq. It should be noted that the supposedly right-wing French Gaullists like Chirac support policies well to the left of US Democrats. In fact, almost the entire French political spectrum is to the left of the US political spectrum.
Opposition to US imperialism is consistent with the concept initiated in the 1960's by General de Gaulle, an incredibly prescient man who initiated the concept of a multi-polar world power structure. This became the French response to the bi-polar conflict, the Cold War, which dominated world affairs during that era. Thus, he withdrew France from NATO and created an independent nuclear armed military. This independence has been a cornerstone of French foreign policy ever since. However, Chirac has on numerous occasions sought to suck up to the US on issues he regards of relatively minor relevance, such as overthrowing the democratically elected Aristide government in Haiti.
The next French presidential election is in May of 2007, less than a year away. How is it shaping up? The various left-of-the-Socialists parties still have ambitions, but it is reasonable to predict that there will be a phenomenon on the left in France similar to the abdication of the Green Party to the Democrats in the US in 2004, so that the left doesn't get excluded from the runoff as in 2002. There also remains the fear that Le Pen has gained support because of the inflamed immigration issue and could make the runoff again, although he'll probably never get more than 25% of the total vote. However, Jospin, the 2002 Socialist Party candidate, was considered tired and weak. That will very likely not be the case in 2007. There have also been splits on the extreme right, with Le Pen protogeés thinking it is time for their aging tradtional leader to step aside in favor of new blood. Hence, it is fair to assume that the next election will again end up in a run off between the Gaullists and the Socialists.
The Gaullists have a race on their hands for the nomination between the current prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, and the current Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy. De Villepin was badly discredited earlier this year by his proposal of the pro-capitalist economic "reforms" that led to massive street demonstrations, which forced him to back down. Sarkozy distinguished himself to the right by taking a very hard line against the rioters in the suburbs last November, going so far as to publicly call them scum, and is considered a highly combative conservative. For the left in the US, the basic issue is whether the next French president will continue to steer a course independent from the US in foreign affairs. Sarkozy is the most likely candidate to move closer to an alliance with the US and he is the most likely candidate for the Gaullists. My friends here describe him as "worse than Blair." Sarkozy represents the Americanization of France, removing restraints on market capitalism and cutting existing socialist benefits.
By far the most popular Socialist Party candidate at this point is Ségolène Royal. The growth of her popularity has been described as "meteoric" over the past year. A recent poll conducted by the pro-Socialist Liberation newspaper gave her a huge lead over any other potential Socialist candidate when people sympathetic to the Socialist Party were asked who would be their best candidate. Her current office is roughly equivalent to a US governor and she is "married" to Francois Hollande, head of the Socialist Party, who is also considered a potential presidential candidate. Actually, they were never legally married, but they have been together about 30 years and have four children. This is not seen as a relevant political factor. She is regarded as elegant and articulate, a perfect incarnation of the "caviar socialists." She has advocated controversial proposals within the Socialist Party that are considered to the right of traditional socialist positions. For example, she has criticized the extension of the 35-hour work week to small employers. She also proposed, as an alternative to prison, mandatory community service projects run by the military for delinquent youths and the reduction of state benefits for the families of recidivist delinquent adolescents. The latter made it into the Socialist Party platform. She is clearly trying to portray herself as tough on crime to counter the use of that issue by the right. She is, therefore, seen as somewhat Hillary-esque within the French context, although her positions on virtually everything are far to the left of Hillary's.
The Socialist Party just came out with its platform for 2007 and it is more binding on candidates than are platforms of American political parties. It was characterized as moving both right on crime and left on economic issues; "one of the toughest law-and-order platforms ever put forward by a leftist party in France." Its principal economic element was an increase in the minimum wage by more than 23%, from 1,218 euros to 1,500 euros (about $1,900) a month by 2012. Based on that 35-hour week, that works out to about $12.50 an hour. Other elements of the platform include the re-nationalization of the power giant Electricité de France, plans to build 120,000 housing units a year for the poor and establishing the right to lifelong free education to retrain workers.
At this point, no one knows who would win a race between the Socialist Royal and the Gaullist Sarkozy. The eleven months before the election is a political lifetime. But for leftists in the US and worldwide, a lot rides on the outcome. France has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and a veto there that is an important tool to help restrain US aggression. It also has prestige and influence beyond what its economic or military power might warrant. Although Spain and Italy have gone to the Socialists in their most recent elections and Blair continues to weaken in England, Germany lost its Social Democratic government. A Sarkozy victory in France is hardly out of the question and would be a disaster. The election will be decided on domestic issues and, perhaps, the gender of the candidates. A Sarkozy victory would also very likely be highly divisive within a French society which has a long history of popular militancy.
A wildcard is the Muslim vote, heretofore largely insignificant, although they make up almost 10% of the population, the largest Muslim population in any Western European country. Despite their numbers, out of 555 members of the French National Assembly, none are Muslims. There are reports of new voter registration efforts taking place among them. Sarkozy has few admirers there.
David Hamilton from Paris
08 June 2006
TREATY ON THE NON-PROLIFERATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Signed at Washington, London, and Moscow July 1, 1968
Ratification advised by U.S. Senate March 13, 1969
Ratified by U.S. President November 24, 1969
U.S. ratification deposited at Washington, London, and Moscow March 5, 1970
Proclaimed by U.S. President March 5, 1970
Entered into force March 5, 1970
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
The "crisis" over Iran's supposed attempts to acquire nuclear weapons technology is a fraud. In the first place, there is no evidence that Iran is doing it; only US-sponsored allegations and EU efforts to placate Bush while pushing him toward diplomacy. On the other hand, there is indisputable evidence that the US is very much in violation of Article VI above. The US has never taken a single step toward disarmament of its nuclear weapons arsenal, an arsenal that includes more than 5,000 nuclear bombs and the vehicles required for their transmission to designated targets. This is many times larger than the number of such weapons that would trigger a "nuclear winter" and cause the end of most life on Earth, including the human species. It isn't very hard to see the real danger, except for the American media. Thus, any article about Iran's potential violations that does not mention those of the US is pure propaganda.
In addition, it is virtually certain that the US aided Israel in acquiring nuclear weapons, in clear violation of the treaty's Article I. Israel, India and Pakistan (and Cuba) have all refused to sign the treaty, but we hear not a word of complaint from the US government about their blatant violations and refusal to sign the treaty.
This is an obvious effort on the part of the Bush administration to develop a justification for war against Iran and foster anti-Muslim sentiment. Further proof of this motivation is their demand to bring the alleged Iranian violations before the UN Security Council, where it is preordained that either China or Russia will veto the US initiative. This will allow the US to again declare the UN ineffectual, thereby giving it a specious rationale for a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
But Iran is a large, powerful and ancient country with a population that will rally to its defense. And the US has no army available to attack Iran on the ground and will have no military allies other than its sycophant and fellow treaty violator, Israel, for its aggression. Furthermore, an attack on Iran will doubtless trigger a Shiite uprising against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you are surprised at the extent of the demonstrations inspired by the cartoons depicting Mohammed, try to imagine the worldwide Muslim response to a US-sponsored attack of Iran.
So what can the dolts who run this place be thinking? Do they really want "the clash of civilizations" between the Muslims and Christians? I, personally, have no dog in that fight and would like to excuse myself from the consequences. On the other hand, having Christian and Muslim fundamentalists killing each other off might not be such a bad idea if one could find a safe vantage point - perhaps Scott's favorite, Costa Rica, wouldn't be downwind.
My friend Dale would say that they want these wars because they raise oil prices through the roof. If you want to understand them, think about the Exxon/Mobil and the Halliburton bottom lines. Another possible explanation is that they really believe God is on their side and the resulting apocalypse might bring on "the Rapture," thus sparing the Christians from having to deal further with those pesky non-believers. Myself, I'm dismayed. Are they stupid or crazy or apocalyptic or greedy imperialists or all of the above? Regardless, it's another wonderful example of testosterone run amuck.
07 June 2006
We took a 24-hour excursion to the country home of Gilbert Shelton and his wife, Lora. It's a little more than an hour southeast of Paris on a slow train from Gare de Lyon in an idyllic village so small it's only on the most detailed local maps. There is no commercial activity in the village, just a cluster of ancient houses, including one very grand chateau and a little pre-gothic church. The one recently-built home had to be built so as to conform to the existing housing. The village is in a shallow valley covered by forests and wheat fields, with poppies blooming along the edges. The nearest small city is 10 kilometers away and out of sight over the ridge. The area was the scene of considerable fighting between the French and the Germans in both world wars. Rusting ordnance is regularly uncovered as fields are plowed.
Their house itself is 18th century. Although somewhat remodeled during the 11 years they have lived there, it retains its original character. It is surrounded by gardens of vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruit trees and is enclosed by a moss-encrusted rock wall. Gilbert has plans to grow a giant pumpkin there. We had the quintessential French lunch on the terrace, accompanied by the bottle of Chateauneuf de Pape we had brought as a gift.
Then it was off to another nearby cute-to-die-for village where they were holding an art competition at the principal local chateau to benefit some local cause. The chateau's current owner explained to us how the extensive gardens had been originally designed by Le Notre, who had also designed the gardens at Versailles. Much of it had grown over since the original work had been done. The chateau itself had been partially destroyed in the Revolution, but had been rebuilt by the family of the present owner. He explained that the property had only been owned by his family since 1848, "at the beginning of the Second Empire." The competition was quite informal, with children and adults, amateurs and professionals participating. Gilbert did a pen-and-ink drawing of a forest scene centered around a straight row of poplars lining a stream that runs through the property. The chateau is only open to the public this one day a year and many neighbors were frollicking on the lawns and among the rows of antique roses. Sally and I appeared to be the only non-locals.
Gilbert continues to publish his cartoons. His current cast of characters centers around a modernized Freak Brothers-like rock band called "Not Quite Dead." He says that copies of his recent work may be available at Oat Willie's. He's not sure. Lora works in Paris as a publishing agent for English-language books being translated and published in French. They also have an apartment in Paris and Gilbert has a studio nearby that he is in the process of converting into an art gallery. He urges Austin artists who want a Paris show to get in touch. It will only cost them a few thousand euros. He'll supply the wine and cheese.
They have now lived in Europe for more than 20 years and have no plans to return to the US, even temporarily. "There isn't much back there for me," says the surprisingly understated Gilbert. He adds that they are currently boycotting the US. When asked under what circumstances he might end this boycott, he said, "When I can fly with my nail clippers in my pocket." Don't count on that happening anytime soon.
The save-the-world topic is a set of arguments that improves in quality after the first few salvos get us past our shorthand versions and inspire us to defend and extend our thinking. Here are some contributions from my perspective.
 I don't mind being seen as unpatriotic. It's true, and I look forward to the day when national patriotism seems as quaint as Texas patriotism does today. One of the main contributions we can make to American political discourse is to push the idea that America and Americans have no special rights, and that we should be willing to abide by the rules that we want others to follow (and perhaps even let them help decide on the rules). The irony is that this idea is fully compatible with American traditions about equality before the law, due process of law, and democracy, which remain powerful and useful political ideals in spite of the serious shortfalls in their application. The most pressing problem with the neocons is not so much that they are thieves (so are the European ruling classes), but that they are vigilantes. Even bourgeois law offers evolutionary potential, and keeps the peace in a coarse way.
 Americans are not all that different from others, even if our flaws are particularly obvious just now. Greed and generosity, ignorance and wisdom, and fear and hope are prominent in all societies, often mixed in the same individuals. Many conservatives I know are painstakingly honest, excellent parents, and generous with their time and money within the boundaries they draw. Their fear (of other races, lifestyles, or countries) is partly from provincial ignorance, but also often reflects a sober awareness of the dangers of the world. While I agree that we shouldn't waste political energy trying to convert the neocons, we should use every opportunity to encourage our compatriots to expand the boundaries of their community and to show by example how one can live large and more lightly at the same time. This is why the hippy-ness and feminism of the 60's has had more cultural impact than the leftism. But one thing leads to another, and once people get used to a large world successfully shared with diverse others, most of them lose interest in conquest.
 A critical factual issue where I differ from many who have spoken is the question of how limited the resources of the world are. The assumption by many on both the left and the right is that sharing resources fairly would leave everyone much poorer than middle-class Americans are right now. I see this as profoundly incorrect – instead (if we can manage to make it through the next decade or so without irretrievably poisoning ourselves), we are on the verge of science-driven productivity increases from computers, genetics, and nanotechnology that will dwarf those of the industrial revolution. Much of this progress will take the form, exemplified by electronics, of greater utility combined with much smaller cost and resource usage (including much less energy). While I do not deny the danger of some fatal stumbles from this increased power, anyone who wants to shape the future needs to realize that this is the way things are going – we all are going to be rich or dead, not mostly at subsistence while fighting about how big to make the ruling class.
 There is a vital political message here – we no longer need to steal from poor countries to live well. We can also afford to produce things cleanly, with no net environmental impact. In fact, we will all live a lot better if there are no poor countries, as few poor people as can be contrived, and fully sustainable production processes for all human needs. How well America's children and grandchildren live will depend much more on how quickly we make this transition than on how much oil we can grab. I don't pretend that this tech-optimism analysis will placate the truly greedy, as is shown by their pathological pursuit of wealth (and tax cuts) even after they have more money than they can effectively use. It also will not replace the need for a vanguard whose desire for a fair world comes from the gut rather than an intellectual analysis. But this analysis will encourage those who would like to see a fair world but who lose their nerve because they are afraid that the price of that world would be poverty for themselves or their children. We need to show them that their fear should be in the opposite direction.
 I'm not an unbridled optimist, and see the tunnel as well as the light at its end. In particular, I see three places where this future is at substantial risk. Unsurprisingly, Bush is spectacularly wrong at all three. Each risk is a sector that is worthy of as much political work as we can manage or inspire.
[a] The environment – even with the much greater capability for remediation that I expect to see soon, we are being wildly reckless on greenhouse emissions (runaway positive feedback is a distinct danger) and self-destructive on air pollution by poisonous substances. We may luck out and get through this with only moderate damage, but major disasters could disrupt things enough to get us stuck in authoritarian poverty.
[b] Feminism – one element in my optimism is the decrease in population growth that prosperity has been shown to cause in every modern culture that has experienced it. This in turn is largely a consequence of improved status of women in the culture (generally accompanied by less oppression of gays and lesbians). Any successful attempt to return women and children to being valued primarily as possessions could set off population growth that would absorb the wealth increase. While I doubt that feminism can be reversed in the current developed countries, Bush's encouragement of religious fundamentalism and attacks on birth control in the underdeveloped world are clearly having tragic consequences, and could conceivably lead to eventual conquest of the low-birth-rate cultures by high-birth rate ones.
[c] Property – the shift (exemplified by computer software and entertainment items) of economic value toward tiny-cost-to-copy information and away from costly-to-replicate stuff is steadily undermining the already-shaky moral foundations of the concept of property. The US response has been to adopt and expand draconian "intellectual property" laws and to attempt (with some success) to force the rest of the world to follow them. This is the mechanism to ensure that the head start that the US and Europe have on the world will widen rather than narrow as other countries develop. Probably we can depend on Brazil, China, and India to lead a repudiation of patents at some opportune moment, but this will be easier for them to do if people in the developed countries cooperate in discrediting them.
Enough already. Now let's hear from the Luddites.
06 June 2006
The Last Spring
This is the last spring for these few remaining vacant lots
down south of the river.
The signs are already posted:
“AVAILABLE!” and “COMING SOON!!”
The college even wants to turn the old golf course,
home to deer and coyote still,
into more cookie-cutter condos.
Five years ago, the creek was home to herons and big turtles.
Fifty years ago, this was all farmland and open woods.
Next year, it will be clear-cut, under construction, civilized, gone.
The small rains we had last week
have decked the woods in color.
A big mesquite, on the only corner without a gas station,
is covered in yellow flowers.
Does it know that this is the last spring?
Is its bright display a desperate bid for attention,
a vegetative cry for help?