Women's Day, the Death of the R5
and Dubious Affairs

by Ric Erickson / filling in this week for Tony Brock
Paris:- Friday, 8. March 1996:- Officially named by the United Nations first in 1977, today is International Women's Day. Today's Paris papers noted the event; but the International Herald Tribune's Paris edition seems to have overlooked it.

It is six months since the 4th World Congress of Women in Beijing, which more or less demonstrated to the world that women are indeed equal, even if governments are about 90 percent masculine, and certain of those governments are all for women's rights except for a few minor ifs, ands, and buts; which add up to gross inequalities. Diplomacy handily wins another round, women lose yet another.

I could copy out the articles of the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights, ratified in 1947, dealing with the rights of women and children - but I have already urged readers to get and read their own copy of this vital Declaration. If you are human, these are your rights.

This is a sorry excuse for a weekly collection of light comments about Paris life during the week. It's just that I happen to believe that a lot of the world's problems are men's fault - because men are in near absolute control, and are therefore responsible - and I think it is long past time to get women try to solve at least half of the concerns facing all of us. Face it; it's hard to believe that they could do worse than men.

Here's how France is doing. Women in France voted for the first time, in municipal elections, in 1945. When the sixties were really swinging, in 1967, contraception was legalized for women. Thirty-four years after the U.N. Declaration, in 1981, France appointed its first government minister for Women's Rights. The first anti-harassment legislation was passed into law in 1992.

In this year, according to the government statistics unit, the Insee, French women will earn 20% less than men for equivalent work; only one in four managers are women, and they earn 26% less than male managers. The only economic area where women beat men is unemployment.

A little more revolution may be necessary.

Renault Rolls Out Last R5's

The French seem to have a blind spot when it comes to naming organizations or objects. Imagine giving the name, 'R5,' to a popular car. To the marketing people at state automobile manufacturer Renault, 'R5' may have seemed perfectly logical, because it followed the 'R4' as a model. They hadn't thought up a name for that one either.

Despite the name, in 24 years Renault managed to build and sell just over nine million of them; putting the R5 in the second slot behind Germany's VW 'Beetle,' with 24 million built.

The R5 looked like a good thing when it came out: a VW-beater. It looked modern, with its plastic-molded bumpers, lack of traditional grille, rectangular headlights, and hatchback. The hatchback was borrowed from the R4, as was the motor unit; which was installed lengthwise as in the R4 - which made it unsuitable for any driver larger than a midget. Farmers and students continued to prefer the R4 and the 2CV; but ladies liked the R5. It was chic if nothing else.

The first R5 retailed for 9700 francs in 1972, and the last went for 55,000 francs in 1995. In 1984, the R5 received a cross-wise motor unit, more inside space, and a real name: 'Supercinq.' It was too late to erase the 'R5' image, so it continued to be called that.

Unlike the Beetle, the R5 is not to be recycled through third-world auto factories. It is too far out of date, in the sense that it can not be made cheaply - as cheaply as the average Asian-designed small car.

No matter. A couple of years ago Renault brought another car to market and called it 'Twingo.' Although 100% Renault underneath, it is now 'the' car, it has its own real name, and it sells like hot cakes - because it does not look like any other car in the world. All the big builders have been looking for this car - think of all those little cars you see around and you don't know what they are called - but 'Twingo' is a 'Twingo' and it is as unique as its name.

Even if you don't have one, they make you feel good when you look at them.

A Case of Dubious Taste, Dubious Ethics,
and Dubious Law

A few days after President Mitterrand died, a book written by one of his doctors appeared in the book stores. It was called "Le Grand Silence." The author claimed that Francois Mitterrand had known he had cancer; before he was first elected as President of France in 1981 - and that he had personally fibbed about his health.

The disclosure, coming at that exact time, was certainly a case of dubious taste and dubious ethics, and there was an immediate public howl of protest. The publisher withdrew the book from sale - but several tens of thousands of copies had already been sold.

With the book out of circulation, an enterprising cybercafé operator in a provincial town, scanned the entire book and published it on his café's Web site. When this became known, the Web itself stopped in France one whole weekend, as the whole world piled on the Internet to read or download 'the book.'

So now the dubious taste and dubious ethics were compounded by careless disregard of copyright.

Neither the author, the publisher nor the Mitterrrand family complained. Nevertheless, 48 hours after going online with the text, a local prosecutor had the café owner arrested - on a 1994 non-enforced conviction for non-payment of alimony - and seized all his computer equipment. The owner of the café tore up the lease, the café was stricken from the companies' register, and the man's new wife was fired from her job and she and their two small children were hounded out of town.

Now dubious execution of law was added to the list of the dubious taste, dubious ethics, and careless disregard of copyright.

The man was not evading the 1994 conviction, he was not in hiding - he had simply never been sent to jail for it. As a registered taxpaying local businessman with a legal household, he would not have normally spent a day in jail.

If all goes well, Pascal Barbaud, formerly of Brésançon, former cybercafé owner, will be set free on 5. April, after three months in the slammer.

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