Before You Know It

photo: garden cafe in tuileries

In the Tuileries last week - refugees from the
presidential campaign.

The Elections Will Be Over

Paris:- Tuesday, 16. April 2002:- During the last presidential elections in 1995 I wasn't paying much attention to the first, elimination round of the campaign. I assumed that for the second-round of voting the ultimate candidate for the left would be Lionel Jospin, and Jacques Chirac would be the right's choice and this was correct.

In case you are unaware of the last campaign, Jacques Chirac won, and has been France's Président for the past seven years - a position that he had been campaigning for all of his political life.

All of the other candidates back then, from the extreme right to the extreme left, with all of their different tilts of leaning in between, were optional entertainment - 'democracy in action,' as France's way of giving everybody a political soapbox.

For the current elections, I haven't been paying much more attention. I can't tell, for example, if all of the other 14 candidates - besides the leading two - are getting more attention from the papers, radio and television than they received in 1995.

But it seems as if they are. State-operated France-2 TV-news has been cutting itself short every evening in order to present the candidates in face-to-faces with the public network's leading political journalists.

Both Président Jacques Chirac and his leading competitor - and current Prime Ministerphoto: new fascade drugstore, champs elysees - Lionel Jospin, have had their chance to answer a few questions, and present themselves in their carefully rehearsed personas.

While the movie 'La Bande du Drugstore' opens this week, the actual Drugstore is closed - with this decor.

No particularly embarrassing questions have been posed. This is partly because France is the way France is. The only options for making it a more equitable place to live is to keep up the unceasing tinkering with its embedded institutions, or have a revolution.

No politicians are particularly interested in the second option, because revolutions have a way of having unpredictable results. Nobody is particularly anxious to start living with the anything new.


No country in the world seems to be immune to the effects of the globalized economy because it is controlled by the interests of business in the pursuit of maximum profits, rather than any one country's political will.

In a way, this puts the welfare of all the world's peoples beyond the management by any single state, and France is no exception. Despite all 'do-good' efforts by international agencies, these are compromised by the overwhelming power of global business interests - which contribute heavily towards getting the political results that will allow them to maximize profits.

Thus, impoverishing lower and middle-class workers in a formerly industrialized country by outsourcing production to countries where wage and social costs are lowest, ends up being a lowest common-denominator game - worldwide.

The population of the formerly industrialized country loses the equity it has built up, often over centuries, simply to satisfy business' need for attractive quarterly earning's reports.

The dirtiest work ends up in countries with the weakest social protections. While it temporarily seems asphoto: bus 38 if this may be a benefit - former peasants becoming consumers - the long-term costs will be high, because governments are reluctant to invest for the long-term in durable infrastructures.

Don't forget Paris only online bus - the non-virtual number 38.

Meanwhile, back in the funky western world, a few of the fortunate benefit from short-term profits, stock-options and other material freebies, including advantageous rates of income tax, if they pay any at all.

What a surprise then - for France is a rich country - to learn that its general infrastructure is antique and sub-standard, or is a ticking bomb waiting for an opportunity to explode - as it literally does from time to time.

When these explosions do take place, they are 'patched-up' with bandages - usually only after long and expensive investigations have been conducted to find the culprit, which has the usual '404' result - 'not found.'

While factories close down, often in places where there is no hope for any alternative employment, governments in France generally call for 'social plans' - which usually mean some sort of minuscule compensation, spread out over a long time - but in total costing the taxpayers who remain an enormous packet.

By law, businesses often have to contribute a token sum towards these disasters for their failures of management, or their greed. Unlike hapless workers, businesses are never severely penalized for outright stupidity, mismanagement, or bad faith.

Possible resolutions of these issues are raised almost exclusively by left-wing presidential contenders, much as they have done for the last 150 years. These issues directly affect much more than half of the population, voters or otherwise, but they will invariably vote for candidates of the right or left centre in the second-round winner-take-all balloting.

To be a radical candidate for the first round of the voting, is like a theoretical exercise in democracy - a sort of a token choice is tossed out, contemplated, savored - for a few weeks every half-decade - but in the polling booth good intentions evaporate in favor of the status-quo.

Nobody wants to contemplate the direction globalization is taking, not all the way to its logical conclusion.

Environment and 'Le Bon Bouffe'

Convicted of being the leader of the 'deconstruction' of a new McDonalds unit in central France, 'peasant' leader José Bové has just refused an official offer to side-step a three-month term in jail.

In order to make this not seem to be a political manoeuvre, he is to present himself at some jail's gate - but only after the elections have been concluded.

Some farmers in France, who have to deal with pollution and poisoned food stuffs, would rather get back to doing what they do best, than follow what they think is the Peasant's Federation's increasingly radical line.

Yet, if you take into consideration France's deindustrialization as a direct result of globalization, then France's future is obviously going to be one of not much industry - in comparison with being one huge holiday destination - with good food and drink, a green and pleasant landscape - a sort of mecca for people from harder places.

For the people who live here and work in the low-paid service sector, McDonalds outlets may be necessary for their simple survival - but the real money will come from anything with high added-value, such as fine wines and cheeses served in three-star restaurants.

So the peasants have a point. They are an essential part of the high added-value food-chain, and France would be nothing special without them.

This automatically brings up the problems of the environment, because these conflict with the production of the 'bon bouffe' - and the green and pleasant landscape that goes with it which is equally important for attracting visitors.

These considerations make the various shades of 'green' candidates important - even though none of them have explicitly noticed the relationship between 'green' and good food, and the attraction of these to visitors who are willing to pay dearly for both.

Somewhere buried in the finance ministry there are figures that represent the value of visitors to France. But the French mentality is not ready to grasp the implications of what foreigners contribute to the French economy as a whole.

It must be a considerable amount, especially when the light industry of concocting French fashions of every sort is factored into it.

It seems undeniable that France's future is heavily dependent of being 'green' in one way or another. It seems strange that nobody is going to be asked to vote for it even though it will benefit everybody.

What Is Democracy?

If it is a 'good thing,' why isn't it for everybody? This is a question being asked by some of the bolder candidates who have willingly labeled themselves as Trotskyists.

In its dictionary meaning, it is supposedphoto: right bank of seine to mean 'rule by the ordinary people.' The word itself is from old French, derived from late Latin, which got it from Greek. In other words, it is an old-fashioned notion that was probably pure theory.

Its modern usage probably came into being when radicals in France thought they needed to convince ordinary folk that they had just as much right to rule as the king.

An environmentally-correct vision of Paris pretending to be having spring.

As a philosophical buzz-word it has been around for a long time, but the French kings' notion of how to administer France was around for a lot longer - and this is what was carried over as a way of actually running France.

As sort of a lose definition, one could say 'democracy' can allow a former student with Trotskyist notions to evolve into a socialist candidate for the office of president of the republic, somewhat like Lionel Jospin has done.

In general, most people in France are pretty tolerant, but they understand that the lingering 'Devine Right of Kings' has a bit of an edge over 'democracy,' even if anybody knew what it meant.

The Promises

For the first round of voting, 14 out of 16 presidential candidates are saying, "We should..." this or that, including 'have more democracy.'

The other two candidates, who sometimes seem a little annoyed that they are only getting 14/16ths of airtime, more or less say that they will more or less keep on doing what they've been doing for the past five years, while the right-wing president has been 'cohabiting' with the left-wing prime minister. For some reason the word 'compromise' is not used in public in France, although it is certainly in practice privately.

This is a lot less exciting than the "We should..." statements because we already know what it is. It's not like we are being promised all sorts of great new things, new directions.

Lionel Jospin, the Prime Minister, is particularly vulnerable because he keeps saying he intends to do things as president that he didn't get around to as prime minister. 'Why wait?' is a question that immediately springs to mind.

But more realistically, the two offices are two different jobs - I think the days may be past when the Président of France could be its hands-on Prime Minister at the same time.

The Président, Jacques Chirac, if re-elected, is unlikely to try to do the prime minister's job, so it is hard to figure out what he will do 'new' if he gets to be president for another five years.

Although most of his right-wing 'partners' seem to think that Mr. Chirac has been something of an ineffective president - by letting Lionel Jospin be an active prime minister - it seems to me that he has been quite 'presidential.'

In the late spring of 1995 at the Arc de Triomphe on the first day of his presidency, I saw him step out of the rigid path laid out for him by the security gorillas, and take a spontaneous shake-hands cruise along the line of ordinary people lined up behind the temporary crowd barriers.

Lionel Jospin, on the other hand, does not particularly like kissing babies, but has done a credible job as prime minister for the past five years. Running France is no picnic.

Writing about those who would run France if they were not candidates two through 16, is not much fun either - but the election campaign is relatively short. Other commentators in France think the campaign never stops, but these are paid to think this.

Since I am not paid to do so, this is only a part-time job for me and I don't care much if the above observations doesn't make much sense.

It is merely a reflection that we've gotten into the 21st century, without knowing what's playing yet. This being the case, the comments on this page are sort of place-holders for this week's photos, especially the ultra-rare 'Fiat 500 of the Night.'

The Election, Part I

With five whole days left to go until the first round of the national election for Président of France, I think I can skip further election news and let voters in France make their choices in private for the 14 candidates who will have campaigned for weeks with all their might, but will not be on the ballots on Sunday, 5. May.

Internet 'Life?'

All I can say this week about this sort of life is that it is not quite as interesting as it used to be, but this doesn't mean you should avoid this magazine, because it still operates on the same principles it had when it started about 1,000 years ago in 1996.

Spring Weather Alerts

France, a pleasant and green place, does have weather that might be dangerous to your health - or on a lesser scale, cause you some serious discomfort if you happen to be at sea without an oar or up a snow-free mountain without a goat-cheese sandwich.

Weather warnings are provided by a service from our friends at France-Mété fiat 500 du nuit You are supposed to use this service before you get into ugly situations because using it afterwards will not help you at all.

A total exclusive, for this week only - Metropole's first 'Fiat 500 of the Night.'

Paris is not an exciting weather area. The alert service is mainly for northern, central, mountainous, eastern, western Atlantic coast, all types of southern and offshore areas of France that occasionally or regularly have more extreme weather than the Ile-de-France region.

If you are curious or want to know more about France's so-called spring weather, give the Météo-France Web site a hit, for its short-range forecasts. Check out the warning-prone 'Vigilance-Météo' area on the opening page.

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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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