Friday, June 30, 2006

We will fight them on the beaches....

So, now that we are getting to see his ears plastered all over our TV screens again, who is this Mark Regev bloke anyway? Officially he is the Chief Propaganda Officer for the Israeli Government, appointed to spew forth on how the righteous Israeli Government is playing its part in the War on Terror. Basically, I just turn off when he is speaking because the smarmy lies are just so revolting that it does my anger levels no good.

The thing that troubles me though, is his accent - yes he has spent time in Australia and the US according to his bio - but I reckon there is a hint of East Joburg in the boytjie's voice. King David High perhaps? Or maybe somewhere in Durbs?. If he grew up in Apartheid SA it would certainly explain how he learnt double-speak so well. Although, if he grew up in Australia, that's not so far off either.

Defending the indefensible is not something that comes naturally to most people; you've got to be a real schizo if you can sleep at night when your day job is lying through your teeth to the world. That probably goes for a lot journalists too these days, as well "embedded" (or should that be "inbedded"?) as they are with only one side of the story that they are reporting on:

"The killing by Palestinian militants of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of a third from an army post close to the Gaza Strip set the scene for Israeli "reprisals" and "retaliation", according to the reports of BBC correspondents in Israel and Gaza yesterday.
We can ignore the weeks of shelling by the Israeli army of Gaza, the firing of hundreds of missiles into the crowded Strip that have destroyed Palestinian lives and property, while spreading terror among the civilian population and deepening the psychological trauma suffered by a generation of children.

We can ignore the deaths of more than 30 civilians, and dozens of horrific injuries, in the past few weeks at the hands of the Israeli military, including three children hit in a botched air strike last week, and a heavily pregnant woman and her doctor brother killed a day later as a missile slammed into the room where they were eating dinner.

We can ignore the blockade of Gaza's "borders" by the Israeli army for months on end, which has prevented Palestinians in the Strip from trading goods at crossing points with Israel and from receiving vital supplies of food and medicines. As a captive population besieged by Israeli soldiers, Gazans are facing a humanitarian catastrophe sanctioned by Israeli government policy and implemented by the Israeli army.

We can ignore Israel's bullying of the international community to connive in the starving of the Hamas-led government of funds and diplomatic room for manoeuvre, thereby preventing the elected Palestinian leadership from running Gaza. So desperate is the situation there that Hamas officials are being forced to smuggle in millions of dollars of cash stuffed in suitcases to pay salaries.

And finally we can ignore the violation of Palestinian territory by Israeli commandos who infiltrated Gaza a day before the Palestinian attack to kidnap two Palestinians Israel claims are terrorists. They have been "disappeared", doubtless to be be held in administrative detention, where they can denied access to lawyers, the courts and, of course, justice.

None of this provides the context for the Palestinian attack on the army post -- any more than, in the BBC's worldview, do the previous four decades of occupation. None is apparently relevant to understanding the Palestinian attack, or for judging the legitimacy of Israel's imminent military "reprisals".

In short, according to the BBC, we can ignore Israel's long-standing policy of unilateralism -- a refusal to negotiate meaningfully with the Palestinians, either the old guard of Fatah or the new one of Hamas -- with its resort to a strategy of collective punishment of Gaza's population to make it submit to the continuing occupation." More...

The Israeli Government has no intention of negotiating with anyone in good faith. If they could exterminate the Palestinians and get away with it - they would. They are damn well trying at the moment. They are not going to rest, even after the last Palestinian has been disposessed, until the greater portion of the Middle East is under their thumb. They are doing this with the aid and abbetance of the Western powers and some serious frikkin' fire-power supplied by American Taxpayers.

Israel is a state that was founded on terrorism. It is a state that thrives on terrorism.

If you want to stop terrorism, stop Israel.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Eyeless in Gaza

Peace does not come through having superior fire-power, it comes from the desire for peace. The Israelis certainly have enough fire-power, but I think they have no desire for peace. The Zionist land-grab in the Middle-East has historically been about expansion and systematic ethnic cleansing.

While the Palestinians may have the desire to live in peace, the Israeli Apartheid State rather seeks conflict over conciliation, provocation over progress and horror over humanity. Essentially on the day that the Hamas led government tacitly recognized the Israeli State, the Israeli response was to wind up the situation by sending tanks and warplanes into Gaza and Syria.

If there is anyone who desires peace in the region, it is most certainly NOT the Israeli government. A long time ago I came to the realization that the actions of the Israeli Government were in the same league as the National Party led regime in SA, but never in the darkest days of Apartheid did the SAAF ever mount airstrikes against civilians, bridges and power plants.

The current atrocities against the Palestinians are not about trying to find some waylaid corporal, this is about besieging the Palestinians and killing them off, whether via bombs or just good old starvation. This is ethnic cleansing. This is genocide. This is a war crime happening before our eyes.

Where is the international community? Why haven't the US and UK invaded Israel and put a stop to a situation far more grave than Kosovo?

Are we OK Now?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Avec le PS, ici bientôt une nouvelle prison

If this was the Rocky Horror Picture Show, it'd just be a "jump to the left", but being France it appears that we are facing a slam-dunk to the right. There is a very interesting article on the WSWS today about the PS's draft election platform for 2007. Horrific doesn't even begin to sum it up; it's as though they are trying to out-right-wing the right wing.

Personally, I don't think that is the correct election strategy at all. Yes, they have identified Sarkozy as the candidate to beat, but trying to make Attila the Hun look like a pinko communist is not the best election strategy at all. Of all the conversations I've had with people one thing is clear; French society does want change - the mistake that the PS is making is that they think people are stupid and will fall for the right wing standards of "Law and Order", "International Competitiveness" and "Anti-immigration". On the ground people do know what is going on - I had a very interesting conversation with some French "youth" the other day and they are "tuned in" but they are on verge of "dropping out" because the political leadership is not listening to them.

People do know what is going on, and they do couch their arguments in terms of globalization and the problems of international capital. If the leadership of the PS wants to play the right wing game, they have already lost, because it will lead to a desertion of voters who will not take them seriously - if people want right wingers, they will vote for the right wing.

That said, I'm no fan of the PS - the word "insipid" doesn't even begin to sum them up. I believe that people do want real change, in a positive way. I've just started reading Freedom Next Time by John Pilger (thanks Sean!), and there is a real global movement of people who are sick of being treated like cattle. No offence to the cows mind you, it's just that we have all these politicians spouting crap all day, every day, and the only one's who are enjoying this are the stockholders in arms companies.

"That's enough! More and more profits, less and less jobs guaranteed, more and more richer shareholders"

Ok Now.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Sub-blog :

In spite of a 1st class public education system, there is a surprisingly large number of geographically impaired French people who don't know where South Africa actually is.

If is say I am from "Afrique du Sud", they respond by saying "Yes, but where in Africa?" - to cut a long story short, all I have to do is say the single word: "Springboks".

Instantly, misunderstanding turns into a discussion of long duration. I am not a particularly sporty person, but I do enjoy the odd game of football and rugby. Living as a stranger in a strange land though, I have found that it is beneficial to know what's going on in the world of sports, as it is a "currency" of conversation, and I have become far more knowledgeable about football and rugby than I was back at home.

With the Rugby World Cup coming to France next year, I have started a new blog along with a couple of my chinas. It's more about sports than anything else and you'll find it under the "appellation d'origine contollée" (AOC) at

The fun part is that I get to play with WordPress too - a damn fine blogging app.

OK Now. And maybe OK later.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Airbus bunfight crashes French Parliament

PARIS, France (Reuters) -- Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin sparked uproar in the French parliament on Tuesday when he accused the Socialist leader of cowardice in a debate over an industrial crisis at Europe's leading aerospace company.

Socialist party members stormed out of the National Assembly and weekly questions were suspended after de Villepin launched a virulent assault on leftist leader Francois Hollande, who had challenged him over shock delays to the Airbus A380 superjumbo. More...
Dominique ended up calling Francois a "coward" and it all nearly descended into fisticuffs if it wasn't for the Parliamentary stewards stopping the whole scene disintegrating into a good barney.

Apparently there is a bit of a backstory to this one though - the co-chief of EADS is busy defending his rather large sales of shares in the company before the recently announced delays as an "unfortunate coincidence".

My my. Now when does the word "coincidence" also include "large stock sales by [Noel] Forgeard, three of his children and other top EADS managers in mid-March"?

He claims he didn't have a crystal ball and that his actions were purely transparent. Yar right bru - if you believe that I have a bridge to sell you in the Sahara.

Monday, June 19, 2006

FBI says, “No hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11”

On June 5, 2006, the Muckraker Report contacted the FBI Headquarters, (202) 324-3000, to learn why Bin Laden’s Most Wanted poster did not indicate that Usama was also wanted in connection with 9/11. The Muckraker Report spoke with Rex Tomb, Chief of Investigative Publicity for the FBI. When asked why there is no mention of 9/11 on Bin Laden’s Most Wanted web page, Tomb said, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Usama Bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.” More...
What the hell is going on here? I commented on this back in April, and I am glad to see that someone else has picked up on the issue. The whole world is being lied to here and we must all demand that the US withdraws from Afghanistan and Iran now and is confined to barracks on home soil until we get to the bottom of what really happened on 911.

Nothing less is sufficient anymore.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Résultats médiocres pour le CNE

Just to follow-up on the question of the CNE, which is still law here in France despite the CPE being withdrawn, is that the CNE has not been a driver for creating employment.

A new study has revealed that only 10% of the contracts signed can be considered as "new" jobs. The remainder reveals that people have lost access to the higher status CDI or CDD jobs as employers have simply taken advantage of the weaker employement conditions of the CNE to have more "disposable" employees. These employment conditions aren't even in line with internationally accepted standards.

The official claptrap of how the CNE and CPE were supposed to create more employment is plainly a load of bollocks. For those people who want to work and have to accept precarious employment conditions which make getting a bank account or renting a flat even more difficult as is the case when you are under a CNE contract.

What I still don't understand is how some employees can be more equal than others?

South African Youth Day

This is the official quote from a SA government website as to why June the 16th is a public holiday:
Previously known as Soweto Day.

In 1975 protests started in African schools after a directive from the previous Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as a language of instruction in secondary schools. The issue however, was not so much the Afrikaans as the whole system of Bantu education which was characterised by separate schools and universities, poor facilities, overcrowded classrooms and inadequately trained teachers. On 16 June 1976 more than 20 000 pupils from Soweto began a protest march. In the wake of clashes with the police, and the violence that ensued during the next few weeks, approximately 700 hundred people, many of them youths, were killed and property destroyed.

Youth Day commemorates these events.

This doesn't quite sum up one of the most important days in South African History. It took another 20 years after this day in 1976 for the process of change to really become apparent.

Click here for more information on the 1976 uprising.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Warm Beer and Cold Women

It's the heart of Saturday night when Tom walks through the door, pulls up a chair and asks me whether "I want to grow up?"

"Of course not!" I say, "Where do you think we are?"

The simple answer is that we are in The Houses of Parliament. The long answer is that it's another Cock & Bull Story. Either way, the beer is cold and the women are hot - but hey this is France isn't it?


Look; one of the things I love doing is producing websites and I've thoroughly enjoyed creating a site for my mates Jon and Sara who've opened two english pubs here in Bordeaux. That's small caps "english'' 'cos I ain't english, but hey, if you are ever here in BDX and fancy a pint of beer, then I say go to The HOP or The Cock.

Creating a website can be likened to giving birth, and this week I've been so focused on getting this site live that I haven't had the chance to properly update this here blog. None the less, here is the product of my labour:

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Bravery of Being Out of Range

Remote satellite control live video game killing newsmedia-fuck-fest.

There are some people who only understand the "language of violence". Al Zaqarwi may or may not have been one one of those people. We actually know very little about him. George W. Bush, on the other hand, is definitely one of those people. Unlike many others, George has never actually been on a battlefield. Wars are dirty things by nature, but there is something honourable in face-to-face combat for those who haven't read Master Sun Tzu's "Art of War".

My proposal is that we that we section off an old nuclear test site, say for instance in the Nevada desert or one of those South Sea Islands that are unihabitable beyond all recognition, as a "ring for combat". Whenever George and one of his ''opponents" want to duel it out, with whatever comes to hand, we send them off there. Dropping two 500 pound bombs on a family home in a village in Iraq is not combat; it's just awful.

We could even make it a real reality TV show; Survivor for the 21st century and film the whole lot for posterity to show to future generations just how inane our conception of "war" has become.

Are you livin' for love?

More at The Truth Will Set You Free: Scene from ‘Zarqawi killed’ - TAKE TWO

I am ashamed

The more that I read online about the "rendition" Khalid Mehmood Rashid by South Africa makes my blood boil - this is not the kind of South Africa I fought for. The editorial in the M&G sums up my feelings entirely; this case is an affront to our democracy and constitution.

This is not the kind of government that I voted for.

We of all people should know better than to particpate in this "global war on terror" shit driven by Team America. How on earth am I supposed explain such an inconsistency to people here in France?

I am truly ashamed.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Hanging out in Guantanamo Bay

Three people took their own lives today rather than being disappeared for eternity into an American gulag, in Cuba, of all places. Detention without trial is an abominable practice and it's truly bizarre in this age that the US has been able to get away with this crap for so long.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Jacana Events at Cape Town Book Fair

For those of you who are going to the book fair, Caro sent this along...

Click on the image to see the full programme

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Citadel of the Sun

Sister Indica flags me down
I stop and say hello.
We chat, lively at first
But then she asks me some personal questions,
For which I have no answers.
I peer into the inner void
And become afraid

I hitch a ride into the ghettoes of my mind,
The driver smiles a toothless grin
And asks where I am from;
And then where I am going;
To the citadel of the sun.

Steel forged across the sky
Vertigo over the river
This narrow passage is life itself,
A chasm on both sides.
Later we walk on white sands
And talk of the seeds of our darkness.

We spend the night at an inn
On the banks of a river,
Where pirates and slavetraders
An empire built, but now dwindled.
We meet Sister Indica at the river's edge,
And laughter is restored.

A lamb is slaughtered
For the funeral feast.
The blood drains away on the concrete,
A ritual sacrifice at the hands of men.
The fire is lit and the flesh burned,
Charred and cleansed,
Life begins again.

We stand in the street outside,
The gates of Babylon locked before us.
Gyrating amongst the new tribes,
Chanting over the steady drums,
The prophesy is freedom
From the cells of our dark night.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Review : Secret Histories by Emma Larkin

Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese teashop by Emma Larkin
Reviewed by Sean Badal

Being an avid Orwell votary, I tend to grab anything with Orwell’s name on it. Why, I even bought Orwell’s Victory by that well-known “leftwing” intellectual Christopher Hitchens – though I have to say, like all his recent pontifications from his Washington Eyre, it was a load of crap. The amazing thing is, in the US, they think he’s the “natural heir” to Orwell. All I can say is, “my arse”. Excuse my French.

The last couple of years have been spectacularly good for Orwell fans. The 25th of June 2003 was the centenary of his birth and a number of excellent biographies have been published. My favourites were D. J Taylor’s brilliant Orwell: The Life, and Jeffery Myers’ Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. I also recently succumbed (Sonia being the equivalent of Yoko One to Lennon fans or Isabel Arundel to Burton obsessives) and read The Girl in the Fiction Department, a pathos-laden heartbreaking account of the somewhat miserable life of Sonia Orwell by her friend, Hilary Spurling. It was, I have to admit, a sad and utterly compulsive read.

Emma Larkin’s book seems, at first glance a flimsy excuse for a historiography into George Orwell. At times, her overwhelming desire to attach Orwellian significance to all kinds of minutiae seems contrived and artificial. All this is worth the ride however. What Larkin does effectively is take the reader directly into the dark heart of Burma, or Myanmar, as it is known these days.

Orwell himself pretty much had a love-hate relationship with colonial Burma. In 1922, the nineteen-year old Orwell went to Burma to serve as an officer of the Imperial Police Force for five years. Whilst he may have, by many accounts, behaved as a typical British officer, there is no doubt that his experiences there shaped his anti-colonial sentiments. Two of my favourite Orwell essays are Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging. Anyone who has ever read these essays will never fail to understand the sheer impact of Orwell’s deceptively simple narratives and the manner in which he shows how colonialism degrades both the conquerors and the conquered.

Orwell’s first novel was Burmese Days, an overblown turgid weepie of a novel that is, quite frankly, unreadable, but the experiences of Burma obviously lingered. (In Burma the joke is that Orwell wrote not just one novel about the country, but a trilogy comprising of Burmese Days, Animal Farm and 1984).

Just how Orwellian Burma has become is quite clearly elucidated by Larkin. The generals that run the country via the State Peace and Development Council (yes, that’s the name of the army) have a tight grip on Burmese society that is to a degree unimaginable to the rest of us – even when compared to the depredations of the current Chinese setup (China of course being one of the junta’s most fervent supporters - funny how you don’t hear China as part of the Axis of Evil. Mmm.., let’s see, that couldn’t have anything to do with the millions of Western dollars being poured into the Chinese economy?

There is a quote in the book from an unnamed Burmese official that would have been quite funny if it weren’t so nightmarishly real for the Burmese people.

“Truth is true only within a certain period of time. What was truth once may no longer be truth after many months or years.”

It could have come straight out of 1984. As a matter of fact, I may have to check….

Title: Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese teashop
Author: Emma Larkin
ISBN: 0719556953
Publisher: John Murray - 21/3/2005

DJ Taylor's books for Orwell-lovers,,1127339,00.html
Critic, biographer and novelist DJ Taylor is the author of Orwell: The Life which has won the Whitbread biography.

1. Orwell: The Complete Works, Volume XI: A Kind of Compulsion, 1903-1936 by Peter Davison
Professor Davison spent 15 years on his 20-volume collected works. This volume is recommended as a sample of his painstaking scholarship and meticulous footnotes (these have to be read to be believed!) all set down with the lightest and most enthusiastic of touches.

2. Orwell: A Literary Life by Peter Davison
See above for my opinion of Peter Davison. This is a 'literary' study rather than the full chronological Monty. Later biographers, myself included, have thanked God that Professor Davison didn't choose to go the whole hog.

3. Orwell at Home by Vernon Richards
The best-known (and best-executed) file of Orwell photographs were taken by his anarchist chum the late Vernon Richards at Orwell's Islington flat in the winter of 1946. This collects all Richards' snaps - some of them rarely seen - together with Richards' obituary of Orwell and essays on Orwell's anarchist leanings by Colin Ward and the late Nicholas Walter.

4. New Grub Street by George Gissing
Gissing was England's best novelist, according to Orwell, and a decisive influence on his work. New Grub Street, first published in 1891, is a tremendously gloomy account of the late-Victorian literary marketplace (ominously enough, its hero - like Orwell - dies of lung trouble) and an obvious forerunner to Orwell's own Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936).

5. Infants of the Spring by Anthony Powell
The first volume of Anthony Powell's four-part memoir, To Keep The Ball Rolling. Powell was one of Orwell's greatest friends, and kept a close eye on him for the last 10 years of his life. This contains one of the best sketches of him ever written, including a deeply weird account of our man, invited to inspect Powell's infant son John, absent-mindedly leaving a nine-inch Bowie knife in the cradle.

6. George Orwell: A Memoir by Tosco Fyvel
'Tosco' (TR) Fyvel worked with Orwell on Tribune in the 1940s and succeeded him as the paper's literary editor. This memoir is full of beguiling biographical asides, and is particularly interesting on Orwell's occasionally ambiguous attitudes to Jews and Jewishness. In particular, Fyvel's criticisms of a Tribune piece seem to have convinced Orwell of his anti-semitic tendencies and encouraged him to make amends.

7. The Girl in the Fiction Department by Hilary Spurling
Spurling's memoir of her great friend Sonia Brownell, who married Orwell as his second wife across his death-bed in late 1949. The title refers to Julia in Nineteen Eighty-Four, for whom Miss B may have been a model. Spurling is horribly partial (many observers rated Sonia as a gold-digging drunk) but her grasp of milieu and motivation is first-rate.

8. Orwell: A Life by Bernard Crick
Authorised by Sonia who died, shortly after it appeared, wishing she had never countenanced it. Quite why remains a mystery, as this is groundbreaking stuff, to which all subsequent biographers have endlessly to refer.

9. The Unknown Orwell by Peter Stansky and William Abrahams
Not countenanced by Sonia, but apparently the goad that provoked her into sponsoring Crick. Thoroughly researched and, even now, turning up many a hare that later scholars have yet to chase.

10. Eric and Us by Jacintha Buddicom
Long out of print but an entertaining childhood memoir written by a neighbour of Orwell's (whom she knew as 'Eric Blair') from his teenage years in Henley-on-Thames. Orwell's youthful poetry is much quoted and there are some salutary slaps at the myth of his unhappy childhood ('a happy smiling boy' Ms Buddicom retrospectively pronounced).

*** Once again, many thanks to Sean for providing this book review.

La Tragédie du Président: By Franz-Olivier Giesbert

An extract from La Tragédie du Président: Scènes de la Vie Politique By Franz-Olivier Giesbert

On May 7, 1995, when Jacques Chirac was elected President of France, a wave of joy spread across Paris as the victor drove through the city in his old Citroën CX.

M Chirac’s supporters held a party in the Place de la Concorde, although the man himself went off on his own. He visited his friends, the millionaire businessman François Pinault and his wife, Mayvonne, and then he disappeared with his latest female conquest.

However, he emerged from the election a changed man. There was no jubilation on his face or in his voice as the 22nd President of the French Republic, in his first official speech, called for a “vigorous, impartial, self-disciplined state that is careful about the use of public money — a state that does not isolate those who govern from those who have elected them”.

It is almost cruel to recall those words, given that Chirac has left the state exactly where he found it — not vigorous, impartial or self-disciplined.

As he has aged he has turned into the personification of the decline of France and the powerlessness of the country’s authorities. His is a very French story, set against a background of bluster and U-turns.

M Chirac has never put his calls for a “modest state” into practice, at the Elysée Palace, where he lives and works, or anywhere else. He believes that one has to do what is right. For him, that means always consuming the best wine and the finest champagne. In the 11 years of his reign the budget of the President’s office has increased from €3.3 million to €31.9 million (£22 million).

He has lived for too long in a virtual world, far removed from reality. Since 1977, when he became Mayor of Paris, he has always been fed and housed like royalty — although, with him, “housed” is a relative concept.

For years Jean-Claude Laumond, his chauffeur, would wait almost every evening to take him off in the Citroën CX. From 8pm onwards you could contact M Chirac only through M Laumond, a cheerful character with a great, open laugh; an ace behind the steering wheel as he drove at breakneck speed through the capital.

The President’s wife, Bernadette, hated M Laumond, and it is easy to understand why. The chauffeur and her husband made an odd couple and their conspiratorial ways left no doubt that they were off for a good time on their nocturnal rounds.

As soon as her husband became President, Mme Chirac launched a campaign to get rid of M Laumond. For two years she was unsuccessful. Then, in 1997, on the night that Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in the Alma tunnel in Paris, the Minister of the Interior could not reach the President on the telephone.

Mme Chirac blamed M Laumond. After this and other similar incidents, Mme Chirac won the backing of her daughter, Claude, and claimed the head of the man nicknamed “the chauffeur of pleasures”. M Laumond was banished.

Mme Chirac has hinted that she thought about leaving her husband at one stage. But she stayed with him because, she said, she had a good dose of determination, tenacity and perseverance.

Regarding her marriage to M Chirac, she said: “My father told me, ‘You are his centre point’, and events have proved him right. My husband has always come back to his centre point. Anyway, I've always warned him: the day that Napoleon left Josephine, he lost everything.”

M Chirac is happy to confirm her thesis. “We men are like the Cro-Magnon people of prehistoric times,” he once told me. “We're always hunting and wenching. But, at the end of the day, we always go back to our caves. For my part I need this cave to feel at ease with myself. Without it I would be as unhappy as could be.” He cannot do without his wife. He calls her often, five or six times a day, sometimes more.

When he cannot reach her immediately, he wants her news from the secretary, the chauffeur or the attending police officer. Then he tells someone to fetch her. Wherever she is, she must answer him. M Chirac is an ogre who swallows everything gluttonously: men, women, ideas, kilometres, romances, defeats, scrapes and, of course, food.

He eats enough to feed the Indian Army, starting with a breakfast fit for a siege. But by 10.30am, he requires more sustenance.

So he has a snack of pâté or cold meat sandwiches, complete with pickled gherkins. A four-course lunch follows, then more sandwiches for tea before, finally, a four-course dinner.

“I have to feel full up,” this great gullet said. That is why he particularly likes old-fashioned dishes, such as calfshead with ravigote sauce.

This is all washed down with five or six beers a day. As he does not mind punch, either, he sometimes has one too many. But he always sleeps it off with great dignity.

M Chirac believes that he is “condemned to eat without stopping. When I’m hungry, which happens several times a day, I become aggressive and even belligerent”.

The tragedy of his presidency is that the brave hussar of the 1970s and the 1980s has developed into a placid character with no ambition other than to be liked. The head of state has adopted a policy of paternalistic, social conservatism and has never wavered from it. He wants to be the father of the nation and is determined not to cause anyone any trouble.

A few days after M Chirac’s centre-right supporters had suffered an historic defeat in the 2004 regional elections, François Fillon, the Minister for Social Affairs, told him: “If we were beaten . . . it is because we don’t have a clear line and we seem to be making up policies from day to day.”

M Chirac gave the minister an icy stare before delivering his traditional speech on the social fragility of France. “Don’t forget,” he said. “The unions can block everything at the drop of a hat.”

It is impossible to persuade him otherwise, and that, perhaps, is M Chirac’s greatest failing. The man who used to change with the wind is now stuck in a rut. When he has an idea, he cannot get it out of his head.

His rigidity can even be comical, as demonstrated by a story told by M Fillon about the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, the pride of the French Navy.

"There’s a problem, Jacques,” M Fillon once said to M Chirac. “The Charles de Gaulle was built on the cheap. It has a cruising speed of 27 knots, when our other aircraft carriers can reach 32 knots.”

“That’s wrong,” M Chirac said. “I ordered the Charles de Gaulle myself and I know it can go at 32 knots.” M Fillon checked with the commander-in-chief of the Navy, who confirmed the maximum speed of 27 knots. He then informed the President.

“We could have left it there," M Fillon said. “But that’s not like M Chirac. When we met, he grabbed my arm and said to me, “Listen, the Charles de Gaulle will go at 32 knots . . . There’s no doubt about it. I know what commanders-in-chief are like. They’re all liars’.”

After years of listening to discordant voices and retreating into his own clan, Chirac hears only what he wants to hear. The result is that he does not hear anything about anything.

He should have reformed the French social model, but he was happy to put it into deep freeze on the fallacious pretext that the whole world dreamt of having the same thing.

But why would the world be jealous of a system in which one person in ten has no work and one in five no training, where job insecurity runs alongside one of the highest unemployment rates of any developed country?

It is a social, economic and moral failure, but apparently it does not trouble the conscience — or the digestion — of the President. Through cowardice as much as blindness, he persists in following policies that have led the country to ruin over the past 20 years.

As his reign nears its end, M Chirac has few people around him. You can count his friends on one hand, as the number of guests invited to the birthday party his daughter organises for him demonstrates each year. You only ever find celebrities that he has bumped into at cocktails, with glass in hand, such as the singer Johnny Hallyday, the comic Muriel Robin, the entertainer Patrick Sébastien or the actress Michèle Laroque.

If it were not for his grandson, Martin, whose drawings the President piles up on his desk at the Elysée, he would be devoid of family and friendship.

The Elysée is nothing more than a great empty palace, where the President is cut off from everything. Each meeting is a torture, and so is each outing.

M Chirac knows that he is scrutinised by everyone and, despite his attempts to camouflage his troubles, he cannot hide the mixture of lethargy and sadness that invaded his brain after he suffered a minor stroke last September. He struggles to find his words, so he is never separated from his crib sheets.

The President has finally realised that he is not immortal. For a long time he thought that he could always master the elements. He even claimed to have supernatural healing powers. One day, for example, he learnt that the wife of Xavier Darcos, who went on to become Overseas Co-operation Minister, had cancer. The President asked to see her "alone for a quarter of an hour with her baby”. After the meeting he told Darcos: “I acquired from my father a gift that enables me to know whether people are in good health merely by shaking their hands. Your wife is saved.”

That is M Chirac through and through: a believer, fatalistic and rustic. He is superstitious as well. He has spent his life doing everything in his power to help the sick, rushing to be by the bedside of the dying, kissing the dead on the forehead.

His own turn has come. He is waiting for it sadly, with legs that are shaking, not out of fear but out of tiredness at the end of such a long journey.

· La Tragédie du Président: Scènes de la Vie Politique, 1986-2006, by Franz-Olivier Giesbert, is published by Flammarion

Friday, June 02, 2006

When the police riot

"GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Jun 1, 2006 (AP)— Thousands of Palestinian police officers joined a protest over unpaid wages Thursday, firing in the air and smashing windows. It was the most violent demonstration yet against the Hamas-led government.

The unrest came as the Islamic militant Hamas debated whether to agree to the idea of a Palestinian state next to Israel, including implicit recognition of the Jewish state, or face a national referendum. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given Hamas until the middle of next week to decide." More...
Israel, the US and the EU have provoked this crisis in the Palestinian territories and the blood is going to be on their hands. If there ever was an axis-of-evil it is the concerted efforts of these three to deny the Palestinians their rights. Israel is a pseudo-state that was born out of terrorism. It is also a racist theocracy that is armed to the teeth with nukes and god knows what else because apparently he sanctions all of this. Hells bells and buckets of shit, if we were ever lacking a rogue state as an example, then we could always have Israel.

Just how many UN resolutions have been defied and vetoed here? I've lost count.

The Palestinians need to wake up fast and realize that they are being played off against each other in a classic "divide and rule" ploy - the real issue is the illegitimacy of the Israeli occupation and the theft of Palestinian land.

Their enemy is neither Hamas nor Abbas.

But why on earth is Team America and Team Europe supporting this insanity?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Unemployed youth clash with police in Paris suburbs

No matter what your political affliation might be, some of the best English language of reporting of French politics comes from the World Socialist Web Site. Although not limited to just France or any single issue, the WSWS has a knack for providing excellent news and analysis from around the globe in a number of languages. Far more so than anything else you might read which is normally sourced from Reuters or AP. It is an excellent site and I am reproducing the full article here, which is not something I normally do, but it provides a lot more depth and background to what I have been covering over the last few days, if not months.

Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s interior minister, has deployed hundreds of extra police to outlying Parisian suburbs after two nights of conflict between unemployed youth and the authorities.

The centres of Montfermeil and Clichy-sous-Bois were the sites of the bitterest clashes between youth and police since three weeks of rioting in urban suburbs across France in the fall of 2005. Reports indicate that the conflicts were sparked by the provocative actions of the local police and repressive “law-and-order” measures proposed by Montfermeil’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) mayor, Xavier Lemoine. The Gaullist UMP is the party of French President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Interior Minister Sarkozy.

Tensions have heightened in Montfermeil, a suburban town 15 kilometres east of Paris, since early April when Lemoine enacted measures banning teenagers aged 15 to 18 from travelling unaccompanied in groups larger than three between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., and requiring those younger than 16 to be accompanied by an adult in public. The measures were overturned in the courts after protests by civil liberties groups.

The immediate spark for the disturbances appears to have been arrests on May 29 carried out in connection with an assault on a bus driver in Montfermeil. According to reports, Mayor Lemoine was present when the assault took place and personally intervened. He later identified some of the suspects.

Some reports cite the arrest of a young man, while others state that the conflict was provoked by the arrest of a Malian woman immigrant on the Bosquets estate whose son was wanted in connection with the incident on the bus. Police reportedly dragged the woman down some steps in front of family members and children.

That night, youth burned cars on the Bosquets estate, which houses one-third of Montfermeil’s population and is 50 percent immigrant. Some 100-150 youth, some armed with baseball bats, fought riot police for more than four hours. Nine police were reportedly injured in the clashes.

A dozen cars, including one police vehicle, were torched. Buildings were petrol bombed and the windows of the town hall were smashed, after which the youth moved on to the mayor’s house, which they pelted with bricks. Lemoine told reporters that the youth chanted, “The mayor is a son of a bitch.” Police shot rubber bullets into the crowd to disperse the young people.

The next night there were disturbances on a smaller scale in the neighbouring Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, including an attack on the local police station. Four police officers were reportedly injured.

The area was the flashpoint of last year’s rioting, when two youths, Zyed Bena and Bouna Traore, were electrocuted while fleeing from the police. At least 13 youth were arrested Tuesday, including 18-year-old Muhittin Altun, who had survived electrocution in October during the same police chase that ended in the deaths of Bena and Traore. Altun was accused of throwing a rock at a police car, but his lawyers have rejected the claim.

Altun, alongside investigating magistrates, had been due to visit Wednesday the electricity substation where his two friends had died and he had suffered severe burns. “He was arrested in front of his home,” his lawyer, Jean-Pierre Mignard, explained. “We are stupefied that his arrest is taking place a day before a critical judicial proceeding.”

The measures being imposed against youth on the local estates are part of a battery of repressive actions by the UMP government. The pledges made to address the social causes of last year’s riots have come to nothing, while Sarkozy has utilised the disturbances to advance his campaign for the UMP’s 2007 presidential nomination on an anti-immigrant, “law-and-order” platform.

Prior to this week’s disturbances, Sarkozy was seeking legislation to give local mayors greater powers to deal with unruly youth, thereby encouraging Lemoine’s actions in Montfermeil.

The interior minister has appeared alongside the local police and promised to clamp down on any further violence. “I will not allow disorder anywhere in the Republic,” he told the police in remarks broadcast by the media. “You must continue to fight delinquency; we are going to really go for it... French people want security, the hooligans must be punished.”

Sarkozy rejected any criticism of the police, saying that “by battling delinquency, we have upset some of the delinquents.” He raised the question of changing a 1945 law which protects children from adult punishments and announced “initiatives soon so that the question of minors will be posed before French society.”

The latest eruption of violence on the outskirts of Paris testifies to the extreme social tensions in the city’s impoverished suburbs. The predominantly Arab, black and immigrant areas are marked by mass unemployment, as high as 60 percent for young people in some districts. Residents face widespread police racism and brutality.

The French government seized upon last year’s rioting to further its own agenda. Promises by President Chirac and Prime Minister de Villepin of more jobs and better living conditions for residents of the suburbs were used as the pretext for an assault on the conditions of all French workers and youth.

Villepin’s proposed “First Job Contract” (CPE), which was to permit companies to fire young workers without cause, was justified on the basis that the measure would encourage employers to hire unemployed youth from the working-class suburbs. The CPE was withdrawn in April, after a three-month protest and strike movement developed in opposition to the legislation.

However, the government retained the “Equal Opportunity Law,” which it also passed in response to last year’s riots. The “Equal Opportunity Law” contains a raft of reactionary measures, including a de facto reduction in the minimum working age and permission for employers to have 15-year-olds perform night work. The legislation also encourages police and army training for unemployed youth and strips welfare benefits from mothers if various requirements are not met.

These measures have been combined with ongoing police harassment of unemployed youth in the suburbs, following a three-month state of emergency declared by the government after last year’s riots.

The Guns of Brixton

"When they kick out your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun

When the law break in
How you gonna go?
Shot down on the pavement
Or waiting in death row"

The Clash, The Guns of Brixton
Two nights of civil unrest in the banlieue of Montfermeil have lead to a large boere operation to "secure" this suburb of Paris. Apparently the mayor of Montfermeil tried to implement a curfew that "banned teenagers from circulating in groups of more than three, and ordered youths under 16 to be accompanied by an adult in public". Recently an arrest was made in the case of a beating of a bus driver and tensions have been running high.

In my experience, police repression only serves to make people more angry, more militant and more determined. The only way out is through negotiation and constructive change, but both sides need to recognize the need for negotiation and to engage in it in good faith. One can't solve the issues simply by dictating a solution - such as in the case of the CPE and the Law on Equal Opportunities - that suits your agenda, but ignores the sentiments of those who are affected by it.

The French model of cultural assimilation assumes that by living in France, you become "French" but there is always a difference between "pure-bred gauls" and those who are originally "étrangers". Sarkozy, himself the issue of an immigrant family, might be held up as the classic example of this notion of cultural assimilation but what of those immigrants who arrive here and yet retain a degree of affiliation with their ancestral culture?

This is the blowback from French colonialism coming home to roost and it's not going to simply disappear into the ether of cultural assimilation.

Mono-culturalism is favoured over multi-culturalism and no official statistics are kept on race or culture under a notion of "equality" - but is that the right route to be following in this day and age?

I went through a personal journey, whereby I acknowledged that I was a racist, that I had assimilated racism just by being born under the apartheid regime; I was born in a whites-only hospital, I lived in a whites-only suburb, I went to a whites-only school. All before I even had a chance to understand what was happening. I had to admit that I was racist even though I had never made the conscious decision to become one, so I could overcome the cultural product of what living in SA meant.

I had to acknowledge racism and confront it head on, in myself and in others. Since I made that realization I have tried to transcend my inherent racism and move beyond it. We are products of our "culture" and within every culture there elements of racism that should be identified and whittled out. Pretending that race and racism doesn't exist is not an option.