Demos, Jackpots, Smart Cards

photo: brass lipp, st germain

The time of the apéro in Saint-Germain.

And a Million-Franc Prize

Paris:- Sunday, 19. March 2000:- Did Parisians have an interesting newsweek? - you may want to ask. To begin with, nobody announced any other new ocean liners, so as far as I'm concerned, the week's news was a washout. On TV, the commercials weren't any better either.

National Demos - 1st: Education

On Thursday most of France's schools were deserted when administrators, teachers, students and some of their parents held demonstrative parades around the country. In Paris, the marchers choose the Quartier Latin.

The purpose of this was to show discontent with the 'reform' plans of the Minister of Education, Claudephoto: bookshop, album bd Allègre. I don't know what his plans are, but they have created a lot of passion for some time now.

According to Le Parisien, one of the chants went like this: "Jospin, n'oublie pas, on vote en 2001." For the occasion teachers came to Paris from places as far away as Montpellier, to demand smaller classes, more teachers, or both - and an end to the hiring-freeze.

They also said it would be a good thing for the Prime Minister to get rid of his Education Minister, and 'announce it tonight.' According to police count-the-crowd experts, the marchers numbered 25,000 and the marchers of course counted themselves as twice as many.

Opinion was divided like it always is in France. Over-full classes are resented by teachers and parents with kids, but those who are neither do not understand why these demonstrations have been going on for the past ten years.

The demonstrators say they are 'determined.'

National Demos - 2nd: the Revenue Collectors

Just to prove that Paris is up to snuff, 200,000 angry tax assessors and collectors were out on the streets of France on Thursday too. Again, police head-counters say they numbered 9000 in Paris, and again the organizers of the protest said they were no less than 30,000.

For these sort of figures, differences of three to one are not uncommon, but it could mean thephoto: bookshop schools' demo estimates were more realistic - or the tax assessors can't count as well. Take your pick.

The 'tax march' was held from the Place de l'Italie to the Place Vauban in the 7th. If these were the people I saw - ah, no - it was Tuesday, and they were the hospital workers. This must have been a minor demo, as I can find no 'numbers' in Wednesday's paper.

Largely unnoticed - but also on Thursday - there was another protest parade on the right bank, by water agents who have been transformed, I think, into cable operators.

This closed no schools and no tax offices, shut down no emergency wards, so I guess nobody cares about the plight of these people.

All the same, all of the demonstrators mentioned above, say they are 'determined.'

Jackpot II

It seems like only a short time ago that I was writing about a 'jackpot' that was the result of a bonanza of tax collections for the 1999 budget. Guess what?

Estimates calculate that the budget for 2000 will produce a 50 billion-franc excess. So, in the evening of the day of the demonstrations, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin took over private TV's TF1 TV-news to announce how this new 'cagnotte' is going to be divvied up.

This was so important that TF1's video tape of it was tacked onto the end of state TV's France-2 evening TV-news.

I would say that state TV not getting an exclusive from the Prime Minister must be some sort of 'fair-play' at work, but I think TF1 has more viewers.

Tax reductions were the main 'good news,' evenphoto: librarie espagnol if these turn out to be minuscule when divided by all the residents of France. One effect will be to reduce the number of tax-payers in low-income groups - by a whopping 600,000 households.

For shoppers, the value-added tax on most goods of 20;6 percent will drop a full point to 19.6 percent - which is still nearly 20 percent; or a fifth. This won't have much of an effect on low-priced items but could mean a little saving for tour purchases of diamonds and very pricey cars.

Despite all the people on the streets of France throughout the day, the little 'boost' for national education was announced as - one billion francs - which certainly is a big number, but only one-fiftieth of the whole 'jackpot.' Teachers unions and parents' associatons were furious.

The average household will have a tax saving of about 700 francs, which is about the price of two multimedia CD-ROMs.

The Dumb 'Smart-Card'

In France our plastic has a chip embedded in it and its information is encrypted by a 96 digit number. In some manner, the 'key' to this was posted on the Internet on Friday, 4. March.

Quel horreur! With a single blow, all of our 'smart cards' have been rendered totally transparent to every 10 year-old hacker with bad intentions. With the posted code, anybody with a bit of skill and some common household kitchen utensils can make their own 'smart cards.'

This has caused an outcry by newspapers and all other uninformed sources and their spokesmen. Little do they seem to know that you need to be a licensed cryptographer, you have to have a source of the chips, a way to code them, and a source of plastic, and so on.

But the whole system works more on public confidence than on technology. So the banks have mistakenly acted worried and the government says it is not their business anyway. All a thief needs is the regular number of a card to be able to order goods by phone - no chip is necessary.

All the same, the government fired its 'smart-card' security expert and a new guy was quickly named to the 'hot' seat.

Meanwhile, the inventor of the 'smart-card,' Rolandphoto: librarie polanaise Moreno, has said it is not his chip or card that is in question, but the fact that the bank consortium decided on a 96-number crypto 'key.' Mr. Moreno says the magic number should be several hundred digits.

Mr. Moreno, an ex-journalist, worked a long time to perfect his invention, and he is living happily ever-after on the royalties from it.

The numbers can be increased, and this bullet will probably be bitten soon. What the banks don't like, is they just finished with paying for upgrading the cards and all the other systems that go with it, to handle the 2000 dating.

The banks should have asked Roland first. He is so confident that his card is crack-proof, that he is offering a million francs of his own money to anybody that can hack it.

French Web Life

The 'Fête de l'Internet' - Until Sunday, 19. March

In some ways this 'Fête' looks like an explosion of e-commerce, but this is only the way some people are treating it. A special edition of the newsmagazine 'Le Point' has a selection of 'news' sites, but omits Libération, which was one of the first French papers to be active online.

In fact, Le Point's little 18-page 'guide' - with 100 URLs referenced - seems to omit any Web site that isn't commercial. We need commerce in order to live, but we need soulfood too in order to survive.

The Fête's organization is non-profit and it is coordinated by the AFI association. This event is not restricted to France; at the European level it is called the Fiesta 2000.

Another major actor is the Cité des Sciences at La Villette, which is supposed to have the fête's program.' You can also try this site, but it may be the Dot.com version of the same thing.

A little bit more worldly, Radio-France International - aka RFI, Courrier International, Glaz'art and Mondomix have a site that unites five continents, with art, literature, music and oral traditions. It is called 'Wings 2000.'

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