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Three More Years

photo: bar, resto, americain

An American Dream.

Of Sarkomania?

Paris:– Monday, 6. September 2004:– Last week's curious meeting between two famous short people, the actor Tom Cruise and France's minister of the budget, finance and industry, Nicolas Sarkozy, began to make sense when Nicolas Sarkozy's week went wrong.

Most ordinary residents here were unaware that Mr. Sarkozy had planned the week to be a triumphant media parade for himself, to build up to a frenzy of adoration at a weekend gathering of UMP party faithful.

Hints of the media shipwreck turned up in Wednesday's papers when we read about the cancellation of the crucial meeting between président Jacques Chirac and his ambitious minister. The Elysée Palace let it be known that the président was occupied with the French journalists held hostage in Iraq.

So the planned Tuesday meeting happened on Wednesday late in the day, and the Elysée Palace put out the announcement about it instead of Mr. Sarkozy. The big story about this ended up on Le Parisien's page 6 on Thursday, well behind the head scarf issue and the continuing hostage situation.

As the paper puts it, Président Chirac has given his official blessing for his minister's candidaturephoto: saxophone, pont carrousel for leadership of the UMP party, which is the political party that officially exists in order to support the président. It was a deft move which essentially cut Mr. Sarkozy's media blitz dead.

The afternoon meeting was termed 'cordial' but followed a morning ministerial meeting described as 'crispy.' Of the three possible scenarios, it was decided that Mr. Sarkozy could continue as the government's 'number two' minister until the UMP's congress in late November. This also ended speculation about any ministerial shuffles between now and then and kind of left the prime minister hanging.

Officially, the président supports Mr. Sarkozy's candidature to head the UMP party. But this is because the chief of state is unable to promote any other available choices. No others benefit from any comparable 'Sarkomania' here.

Well, there may be one, but Minister of the Interior Dominique de Villepin – who was the star attraction on the France–2 TV–news Thursday evening – has not shown much overt ambition. He is tall even when sitting down, he has a big vocabulary and he uses it to good effect both in France and at the United Nations when he was foreign minister.

The week's media blitz for Nicolas Sarkozy was reduced to the Monday curiosity with the actor – who was using who? – and only resumed on the weekend when an Alpine meeting of 'young' UMP members selected Mr. Sarkozy to be a candidate for the presidency of the UMP.

The Prime Minister, Jean–Pierre Raffarin, who has been painted into a shrinking political corner, even showed up to proclaim Mr. Sarkozy as his 'preferred candidate.'

While Socialists and other diverse lefties sit on the sidelines as spectators, the majority parties have two factions. One is the 'anyone–except–Sarkozy' and the other is 'nobody–else–but–Sarkozy.'

It is all somewhat curious. That the bonzen of the party don't want a six–pack of candidates running for président of France in 2007 is understandable. But whether Jacques Chirac will want to succeed himself is unknown. Does his endorsement of Mr. Sarkozy mean he intends to retire?

While Mr. Sarkozy has managed to become a candidate for the presidency of the 'président's' party, he has not been elected yet. Even if he is elected, it does not automatically mean that he will be the sole UMP member to run for Président of France in 2007. And even if he is, it does not automatically follow that the French will give him the same majority that he gets in Neuilly.

Nicolas Sarkozy has a lot of energy and he spends it with abandon. Can he keep it up for three more years? Especially after November when he won't have a key ministerial platform for staging his performances.

Recently there have been at least four other government ministers who have shown that they too can stage effective media shows, andphoto: maison de chine, shanghai it can be assumed that all of them will remain in the government. I can't be completely sure, but all of them seem to be taller than Nicolas Sarkozy, with Dominique de Villepin being tallest of all.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet

Last Wednesday the Popular People's Republic of China began issuing visas to citizens for travel to France. By coincidence there just happened to be some groups of Chinese in Paris, apparently on their way home from the Olympic Games in Athens.

Potential Chinese visitors are considered important enough for the tourist minister, Léon Bertrand, to meet some of them at the airport. All of France's tourist authorities have had their calculators heating up, counting the numbers of Chinese that will soon be flooding the byways of Paris. Estimate – 800,000 to one million, next year.

The director of an important hotel group estimated that up to two million Chinese can be expected by 2006. This possibility sent TV–news crews to shopping heavens in the big department stores last week, where viewers could see lots of red carpets.

The experts think Chinese visitors will limit Paris stays to two days, but will spend freely while they are here – less than the Japanese, but more than the average European or American. Travel agencies and tour operators have been gearing up for months, and everybody is looking for Chinese speakers.

Some hotels already have a Chinese program on cable–TV. Other are re–thinking their 'petit déjeuner' so that they will suit Chinese tastes. Club Med is wondering how many Chinese will want to slide down an Alp next winter. This operator has a head–start with an outlet already in Shanghai.

The best about all this is that the Chinese are absolute beginners. Before they can start buying vacation homes in Provence, they must see the Tour Eiffel, the Louvre, Printemps, Galeries Lafayette and Versailles first. The only problem is that a visit to France costs an average of half a year's salary.

Confused Back–To–School

The French law of 15. March 2004 has four articles. One of them says that the carrying or wearing of obviously religious signs is forbidden in public schools in France, and this goes for the people who work in them too.

A paper published on 18. May 2004 added a clarification. It said that religious signs that are 'immediately identifiable' are concerned. It is assumed that discrete 'signs' are permitted.

For this year's back–to–school – la rentrée – the ministry of the interior andphoto: pool, boat, obelisque the ministry of education were on maximum alert, and 'mobilized' for the possibility of mass disobedience by Muslim students. Some principals decided to ban any kind of head gear, including baseball caps.

Meanwhile, in distant and troubled Iraq, bandits snatched two French journalists and their driver. For the safe release of these hostages, the bandits demanded that France repeal its law against carrying or wearing visible religious signs in public schools.

At this time the journalists are still held hostage, but the Muslim community of France was united in denouncing the blackmail. Three leaders went to Baghdad to spread the word that they are French first and Muslims second. The minister of foreign affairs took to the Middle East and toured its capitals day after day.

On Thursday 12.5 million students went to 88,590 schools, along with nearly 900,000 teachers and thousands of other personnel. On Thursday 240 female students arrived at schools wearing veils, and 70 refused to take them off. These were denied entry while principals attempted to change their minds with dialogue. If, after two weeks, they persist then they will be excluded.

One student had success with a method used by Turkish university students. She wore her veil under a wig. In schools where no head covering is allowed a wig might be suspect, if it looks like a wig.

On Friday in Strasbourg, the number of girls refusing to take off their veils had risen to 108. The one wearing the wig is not having any problems, yet.

New Star?

Renault, a car company not known for putting elegance on wheels, has just launched a new model that they have named 'Modus.' This is to be their star attraction at the Mondial de l'Auto beginning in Paris on Saturday, 25. September.

The 'Modus' fits into the concept of a short car with extra headroom. At 3.8 metres it is the same length as a Clio, but it is almost as tall as a Scenic, topping out at 1.6 metres. Thus Renault follows a trend set by the 'Meriva' from Opel and Fiat's 'Idea' model.

With the height there is a lot of glass that allows for excellent visibility. But there is a short wheelbase too, and coupled with the height, it might not feel like it's sitting snugly on the road despite its ample weight. And its ample weight means that it is not too peppy.

According to Le Parisien the interior space is full of places to stuff small things, but if you put in too much you'll be short of legroom. The seats fold up or down every which way, but are very hard.

Basically, the 'Modus' is a tall Mini, which was first introduced in 1959. Basically it's a city car, designed for families with small enfants, small dogs, or none. Frankly, if Renault wants to call it a minimonospace it is all the same to me.

Transgenetic Rumble

The Peasants Confederation was at it again yesterday, being out in force on a sunny Sunday in France to demolish a genetically–modified field of corn. However the government no longer tolerates this type of weekend activity so there was a small army of gendarmes and CRS police on hand, ready to battle with the opponents of 'progress.'

And battle it was, with crowd barriers serving as rams, smoke from tear&ndash, grenades, corn flying all over the place and dozens demonstrators being hauled off to the police vans.

José Bové, ex–leaderphoto: arc carrousel of the Peasants Confederation, was arrested and most likely charged again. He's got a court appearance scheduled for 18. September for similar actions on 23. July. And since he is on parole, if convicted he risks a 10–year sentence and fine of 150,000€.

It isn't easy for the protesters to find the sites of the experimental crops. By law they are listed on a government Web site, but only by the name of the town or commune. Some mayors are also opposed to having transgenetic plantations within their jurisdictions.

If the peasants have a suspicion, they have portable labs for testing plants for modified genes. The limitation is that results are only valuable for modified plants that have already been authorized as being fit for human consumption. They can't detect the new varieties of modified plants.

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