Saturday, August 17, 2013

French Automakers’ Biggest Problem? French Consumers

Shoppers at the Citroën showroom on the Champs-Élysées were conspicuous mostly by their absence on a recent weekday
wrote David Jolly some time ago in the New York Times.
Earnest-looking employees outnumbered the lone visitor by at least 10 to 1.

 … Down the avenue at the Renault showroom, business was hardly brisker. 

Only at the nearby Mercedes-Benz showroom, displaying German automotive arts, was there much sign of life. 

The dormant French dealerships signify the main problem facing the country’s auto industry: Consumers in France do not seem very interested in French cars. Or any cars at all, in many cases.
In France, vehicle sales last year were the lowest in 15 years, falling below 1.9 million from a 2009 peak of 2.3 million, according to Georges Dieng, an analyst at Natixis Securities. And even those who are prospective buyers often prefer non-French makes. 

 … In contrast to the United States, where carmakers had a bumper year,    France’s 2012 sales fell by 13.9 percent, outpacing the 8.2 percent decline in the overall European market, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. Industry officials expect another gloomy year in 2013. 

 … The flagging appetite of consumers is a significant economic problem for France. Its auto industry, dominated by Citroën’s parent, PSA Peugeot Citroën, and Renault, directly employs about 220,000 people; thousands more jobs depend on it indirectly. The government, which owns a 15 percent stake in Renault, has called the sector a strategic priority, and plays an active role — some might say actively meddles — in the industry’s affairs

The downturn is not France’s alone. In 2007, before the global financial crisis, the overall European market peaked at just under 16 million newly registered passenger vehicles. Last year, the figure had fallen to just over 12 million, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. 

Wherever the market bottoms out, French automakers, like many European manufacturers, have more factory capacity and workers than they can profitably use. And that may be the case for years to come — especially in France, where the job-cutting plans announced so far by Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroën have been criticized by many analysts as insufficiently daring, even as they encounter fierce resistance from workers and, in some cases, government officials

 … It is not hard to see why young people would have their doubts about the merits of car ownership. For a start, operating a car is an expensive proposition: Gasoline goes for the euro per liter equivalent of about $7.65 a gallon in France, according to the Economy Ministry, more than double the $3.30-a-gallon average the Energy Information Administration reported for the United States in mid-January.

And unlike the United States, where driver’s education classes are often an inexpensive part of the high school curriculum, simply obtaining a driver’s license is a major obstacle. In France, there is a minimum cost of more than $1,600 for classes needed to prepare for the written exam and the even more difficult driving test. Nearly 1.4 million people take the French licensing tests each year, but only 57 percent pass; those who fail often spend thousands more preparing for a retest. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Trauma of Colonialism?

Two rich, glorious civilizations were humiliated and brought to their knees
Manjari Chatterjee Miller writes of India and China in his New York Times column on The Trauma of Colonialism,
their lands lost and borders redrawn, their people forced to endure barbarous cruelty and suffering. Today this bitter remembrance plays out in subtle but important ways in the international arena. 
All fine and good to speak of Asian (as well as African) "sensitivities," "humiliations," and "bitter remembrance" due to "foreign interference", but stirring our heartstrings should not allow us to forget using our brainwaves and remembering some pertinent facts.

Saying, for instance, that
India and China were victims of an extractive colonialism that drained away national wealth
allows us to forget that whatever wealth those regions enjoyed went to the palaces and to the other playgrounds of the kings, the shahs, the emperors, and other members of the various localities' respective aristocratic élites. The truth is that few among the majority of those regions' citizens — the common Han farmer, the common Mughal peon — suffered, or even saw their daily life change drastically (in one way or another), from the "bitter" and "traumatic" "humiliation" of their overlords being foreign-looking white men born in the West rather than members of their own race.

For much of their history, indeed, recent and otherwise, the Chinese at least have suffered far more at the hands of their fellow citizens and of their leaders in Beijing. Remembering, for instance, the (admittedly shameful) Opium War of the 1840s allows the Chinese to forget the 20 million people slaughtered during the Taiping Rebellion 10 years later at the hands of their fellow Chinese countrymen. Remembering Mao Zedong "proudly" declaring that "The Chinese people have stood up" allows us to forget, or to minimize, that never did more Chinese people lose their lives and liberties, that never did more Chinese people endure more "barbarous cruelty and suffering", than under the helm — and because of the policies — of Mao himself.
Westerners would do well to keep these sensitivities in mind
concludes Miller, the author of Wronged by Empire (Post-Imperial Ideology and Foreign Policy in India and China), but that doesn't mean that Westerners (nor indeed Chinese subjects and Indian citizens themselves) should willingly blind themselves to historical facts nor, in certain cases at least, to the hidden agenda of government officials' "principled" outrage.

• Related — Chinese Outrage: Humiliations' Hidden Agenda

Thursday, August 15, 2013

U.S. President Depicted Year After Year as a Chimp, Sometimes Retarded, Sometimes Evil, But Always Sub-Human with Hairy Paws and Tactile Feet

writes Instapundit — with a touch of facetiousness —
Shock: Satirist Depicts the President as a Monkey.
At the link, Bryan Preston proceeds to show which commander-in-chief was lampooned as a monkey — not Barack Obama but Abraham Lincoln (150 years ago). Not Barack Obama but George W Bush (five to 13 years ago).

No Pasarán would know something about depictions of a US president as monkey; over three to four years, NP blogger N-Joe accumulated quite a collection of cartoons from the pen of The Guardian's Steve Bell who did nothing but depict George W Bush as a chimpanzee (or as three or as four chimpanzees), sometimes retarded, sometimes evil (while managing to also mock the Twin Towers, see below), but always sub-human, often with
hairy paws and with hand-like feet, and sometimes quite literally as a chimp or a monkey.

Sample NP post on what Joe called the "throwback propaganda artist":
Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell when not abnormally obsessed with drawing farts, always characterizes President Bush as some sort of sub-human. No matter what the situation, he is cast in the light of a sort of animal without thought or feeling. It isnt even editorializing, its nothing more than hate-baiting of the oldest, most sordid, and pedantic sort.

Unfortunately, although Joe's texts remain, the hyperlinks on the NP posts from 2005 to 2008 are out of date and the cartoons that he linked to are no longer visible. But an idea of Dubya's face, with its elongated monkey mouth, can be seen in Bell's recent cartoon of the opening of the Bush Presidential Library. In any case, Bell's Iraq cartoons and his Dubya cartoons can easily be found through through Google Images
While we're on the subject of the Guardian's Steve Bell, we might as well link to his charming cartoons on the death of Margaret Thatcher. (Oh, but it's all right to demonize a woman when it's one of a conservative bent!)
Incidentally, Steve Bell explained the reason for drawing Dubya as a chimp to the Liverpool Daily Post's Laura Davis:

The only reason George Bush as a monkey worked was because he actually looked like a monkey.
I wonder if it occurs to any leftists that just about any human can be said to "actually" look like a monkey, and that no matter what race they are…
If you feel so inclined, you can hear Steve Bell discussing his caricatures of US presidents from Reagan to Obama at this link… 

As can be seen in this post's very first cartoon, as well as in the one directly below, bathroom humor, from farts to feces through unbelted pants and toilet paper, is generously laden throughout Bell's pieces of work… (Needless to say, depicting the UN banner as TP is not criticism of the United Nations per se, but of the "disgusting" way that Bushchimp allegedly views the international organization and its ineffectiveness in opposing big bad America…)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"It’s like going on safari": A few pointers for tourists in Paris

I thought I’d give a few pointers for tourists
writes Stephen Clarke.
They’re the kind of things I talk about in my books, especially Talk to the Snail, which has a whole chapter about getting served (or not), and Paris Revealed, my insider’s guide to the city. (You see, the self-plugging instinct needed to express itself somewhere.) So here are some bullet points to help visitors avoid taking a hit or shooting themselves in the foot.

First and most importantly, begin every conversation in Paris with a smile and a loud “bonjour”. This will eradicate at least 50% of all known problems. In the evening it’s “bonsoir” of course. Even if the other person doesn’t say it, you should do so cheerily and it will show them that you are a well-meaning and self-confident person, and that kind of person usually has a good time in Paris.

• If you want a latte in Paris, and you aren’t in a Starbucks, ask for a café crème bien blanc. If you want a cappucino, you can try, but it’ll cost you, and you might be better off settling for the simpler  and cheaper “un crème, s’il vous plaît.”

• If you want a small beer, ask for “un demi”. This is 25cl, about half a pint. They might offer you “une pinte” – half a litre – yes the French still love imperial measures, whatever they might tell you. Note that there is no such thing as a “grand demi”. A demi is a demi. The waiter will list the beers and you have to watch out for pronunciation. Kronenbourg is “kron-on-boor”, Carlsberg is “karlsss-bear-k”, Heineken is “ay-nay-ken”. The slightly taster beers on tap are Grimbergen (“greem-bear-gain”), Leffe (“leff”) and Affligem (“aff-lee-game”). Worth a try.

• Have a close look at the wine menu. Sometimes, a bottle of wine is the same price as six glasses, in which case you might as well order by the glass.

• Be aware that soft drinks, including mineral waters, cost a fortune. The French almost force kids to drink coffee and alcohol to save money. If you’re offered water and don’t want an expensive bottle just say “une carafe”. They’ll bring you one. And you can ask for a refill at any time. (The same goes for bread, by the way. You can ask for more at any time – within reason, of course.)

• Never break the two rules of a French café. Don’t order a coffee at the bar then go and sit down. There are two different prices, and two different tills, for these orders. And don’t go to a table laid for lunch or dinner and order just a drink. You’re wasting everyone’s time.

• At a café you can go and sit at any free table (while obeying the above rule). In a restaurant, always find a waiter or waitress and ask. There might be a waiting list or reservations.

• Don’t try to order until everyone has decided what they want, or has prepared the key questions that will help them make their decision. Waiters are busy and haven’t got time to stand about while people um and er.

• Don’t mention the word “végétarien”. It will only cause unnecessary panic. They’ll usually have something veggie without realizing it. If not, simply ask for one of their salads “sans le jambon” or “sans le poulet” (without ham or chicken). Just don’t try and be swanky and go off menu. You’ll only annoy the chef.

Tips. On most French menus there’s a 15% service charge, so tips aren’t compulsory. For a drink at the bar of a café, leave 10 cents. For a sit-down drink, 50 cents or a euro is fine. For a good lunch or dinner in an ordinary café or restaurant, three or four euros is OK. In a smarter place, you’re going to have to leave paper money. Up to you how much you want the waiter or waitress to love you.
So there you have it. It’s like going on safari. You don’t provoke the lions, do you? Obey the rules and you will get excellent service, unless you come across a real rogue beast who short-changes you or brings you two litres of beer when you only wanted 25cl. In which case, avoid confrontation by complaining calmly, as if you’re an old hand at all this; don’t go there again; and make sure via Twitter or elsewhere that everyone else knows about the danger.

The biggest dangers in Paris aren’t the waiters, anyway. They’re the pickpockets and bad drivers. But that’s another story…

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In America, We Learn from Le Monde, Most of the 39 Million African-Americans Do Not Have an ID to Vote

Quoting Barack Obama is of course (mais naturellement!) how Louise Couvelaire starts her Le Monde article on Racism, the Return of [America's] Old Demons, an article in which we learn that "most African-Americans do not have" an "ID to vote."

Most of the 39 million black individuals in the United States go through life without an ID?!?!

How then blacks — famously — influenced, say, the elections of 2008 and 2012 is not for Le Monde to explain.

While discoursing on the Jim Crow laws, moreover, Louise Couvelaire does not mention that nobody, black or white, is preventing blacks (however many or however few blacks without IDs there are) from getting an ID, nor how easy it is to obtain a simple ID (whether you are black or other, and whether for voting purposes or for other reasons).
Epine dorsale du Voting Rights Act (loi sur les droits électoraux), la loi avait mis fin aux pratiques destinées à empêcher les Noirs de se rendre aux urnes (tests d'écriture, de lecture, taxes, interrogatoires arbitraires dont les Blancs étaient exemptés). Récemment, elle a aussi permis d'empêcher le Texas de procéder à un redécoupage électoral et d'exiger des électeurs qu'ils présentent une carte d'identité pour voter (la plupart des Afro-Américains n'en possèdent pas).
Needless to say, we are treated to a photo of a distressed Obama, profoundly mortified (Barack Obama, qui s'est dit "profondément déçu") with the racist country he must live in.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Howard Zinn, "that fiery author… with an extraordinary destiny… in the service of the oppressed" bla, bla, bla

For the famous author of Histoire populaire des Etats-Unis, writing was a sensible object only insofar that it was put in the service of the oppressed.
Martin Duberman's laudatory biography about Howard Zinn has been translated to French, where Howard Zinn, une vie à gauche (Editeur Lux) receives an equally laudatory book review from the newspaper of record, i.e., Le Monde and Marc-Olivier Bherer — "that fiery-natured author… with an extraordinary destiny… in the service of the oppressed… who was a veritable actor of our times' History" etc, etc, etc…
L'austérité d'un tel personnage pourrait décourager le biographe, d'autant qu'il a pris soin de détruire les éléments les plus personnels de ses archives. Martin Duberman, historien et ami, a néanmoins tenté dans Howard Zinn, une vie à gauche, de raconter l'homme qu'il a connu. Dans la première biographie – en français – de ce bouillant auteur se dessine un portrait de militant au parcours extraordinaire.

 … Howard Zinn, comme le rappelle Martin Duberman, a en effet choisi d'être un véritable acteur de l'histoire. D'abord à Atlanta, où il enseigna, de 1956 à 1963, au Spelman College, une université noire. Il y prit conscience de la violence de la ségrégation et aida ses étudiants à s'organiser. Un engagement qu'il poursuit encore ailleurs dans le sud des Etats-Unis. Mais c'est véritablement la guerre au Vietnam qui sera le combat de sa vie.

 … Ces épisodes forment un palpitant récit que Martin Duberman tâche de compléter en faisant aussi revivre l'intellectuel. Il en dresse un portrait sans concession, rappelant les raccourcis employés par Howard Zinn dans son histoire des Etats-Unis, ainsi que les nombreux oublis commis. L'oeuvre, parue en 1980, n'est pas aussi révolutionnaire qu'on a pu le croire. A la même époque, de nombreux autres historiens ont également choisi de s'intéresser aux oubliés du récit officiel.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"In France, there is an awful economic and social climate": 1.6 million Frenchmen living abroad

In France, there is an awful economic and social climate
says one French expatriate to Elise Vincent as the Le Monde writer publishes a full-page article on the economic crisis leading to 1.6 million Frenchmen living abroad, most of them under 40 and with a good education (five years of studies above the high school diploma), and as the newspaper of reference publishes an editorial, François Hollande's Forgotten Promise to the young.
Solenne a le profil classique des 1,6 million de Français qui vivent aujourd'hui à l'étranger. Comme la plupart d'entre eux, elle a moins de 40 ans et elle est qualifiée (bac + 5). C'est ce profil qui alimente le plus l'émigration . En février, une étude du cabinet Deloitte – l'un des plus grands cabinet d'audit et de conseil – a révélé que 27 % des jeunes diplômés voulaient travailler hors de France, contre 15 % en 2012.

Pour autant, les experts ne parlent pas encore d'émigration massive. Plutôt d'un frémissement. Contrairement aux idées reçues, pour Solenne comme pour beaucoup de ceux partis avant elle, la morosité du marché français n'est pas la principale raison de départ. "Est-ce que je serais restée s'il avait été plus facile de changer de boulot en France ? Non", assure-t-elle. Solenne rêvait d'ailleurs de toute façon. Mais elle concède : sans la crise "sans doute que j'aurais réfléchi autrement"...


Avant de se décider à tenter sa chance au Canada, Solenne occupait un poste de chargée de communication à l'Institut français. A Montréal, elle sera propulsée directrice de la communication d'un centre de danse. Son salaire y gagnera. Elle aura des horaires plus tranquilles et pourra se loger dans une jolie maisonnette au lieu d'un T3. Son compagnon, ingénieur à la RATP il y a encore trois mois, l'y attend déjà.

\Avec un départ prévu le 5 août direction la Chine, Raphaëlle, urbaniste, et son conjoint, instituteur, sont dans la même situation. Avec les mêmes stress liés au largage des ultimes attaches affectives et administratives : dire au revoir à la famille, aux copains, trouver à qui louer leur T2 bis sur Seule différence, ce couple de Parisiens se lance dans l'aventure avec leur petite fille âgée de 2 ans et demi.

"On ne sait pas si on reviendra", lâche d'emblée Raphaëlle, 32 ans. Son conjoint a trouvé un poste dans une école franco-chinoise dans le centre de Shanghaï. Elle pense trouver à monnayer d'une façon ou d'une autre ses services d'urbaniste. Là encore, les effets de la crise ont pu être un "accélérateur", pense Raphaëlle, mais le couple avait dans tous les cas des prédispositions à l'expatriation : ils ont passé respectivement cinq et quinze ans de leur enfance à l'étranger.


Effet de génération ? La fragilité de l'économie française est par contre clairement un moteur chez Nadia et Reda, fraîchement diplômés de leur école de commerce. Agés de 23 ans et 22 ans, ils ont chacun achevé, le 13 juillet, deux ans en alternance en entreprise : Nadia au service marketing d'IBM France et Reda dans une start-up spécialisée dans le développement digital. Pour eux, partir est une évidence. Reda dit même n'avoir fait "aucune recherche en France".

  … Mais l'une des raisons qui poussent Nadia et Reda à aller voir hors de France pour une durée qu'ils ont du mal à planifier réside aussi dans les origines marocaines de leurs parents. Même si Reda ne sait pas très bien où classer ce sentiment dans la hiérarchie de ses motivations à l'expatriation, prévue d'ici à l'automne, il résume pudiquement : "Il y a en France un climat économique et social nauséabond..." "Une xénophobie et une islamophobie", ajoute-t-il quand on lui demande de préciser.

Son entourage est un peu désarçonné. Les parents de ce jeune homme d'1 m 80, au bouc et à la moustache soignés, sont agents d'entretien. Ils sont arrivés en France à l'âge de 12 ans et 27 ans. "Pour eux, c'est forcément un peu bizarre de me voir partir, surtout dans ces régions", avoue Reda qui, bon élève, a aussi fait deux ans de classe préparatoire en lettres au lycée Masséna de Nice. Si ses parents avaient des ambitions pour lui, "c'était plus aux Etats-Unis".