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Sunbeams Partout

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Friday night roller rando readies for depart.

Street Democracy

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Monday, 14. March 2005:– Yesterday was quite bright but kind of cool and today has been less bright but warmer with the temperature bobbing around 10 degrees at noon. Although it is too soon to say so, it looks like the glacial back of winter has been broken and spring arrives tomorrow, several days early but hardly soon enough.

There are some clouds to be expected in Normandy tomorrow and there may be some winds winging up thephoto, cour de commerce st andre Channel, but in Paris it should be gay and pretty bright and the sky should be bona–fide blue. The temperature should shoot up to 15 degrees too.

Then on Wednesday with the same clouds, or ones that look identical, hanging around Normandy again, the sky should be mostly piercing blue with a very bright sun in it. Fanfare for the temperature because it's supposed to climb to 18 degrees – about 65 F – despite the southwesterly winds along the Channel.

As if to prove that none of this is a fluke, Thursday has more or less the same general prediction. Very blue skies for all of France except for some light clouds in the north. Oh joy! for a forecast of another day with sizzling 18 big C degrees. Le Parisien thinks it will continue into Friday and says that we will be 'aux petits oignons.'

Café Life

Street Democracy

Most democracies have elections and the party with a majority gets to run the show. This is the principle in France too, but when the ruling party has an absolute majority and is right–wing, and since the majority of voters favor left–wing policies, the only effective opposition may come from the streets.

In the '60s this was called the extra–parliamentary opposition and some of its leaders are now running governments, but not in France. Here the Socialists bungled the last presidential election and had to support Jacques Chirac to bar any chance of Jean–Marie Le Pen becoming president.

Chirac trashed Le Pen with Socialist votes and his party – the RPR renamed UMP for the occasion – rode in on his coat tails with a more than comfortable majority. Forgetting that without the aid of Socialists voting against Le Pen the race might have been a tight standoff, the UMP has used its upper hand attempting to 'reform' all sorts of social legislation.

This isn't what the 'stop Le Pen' voters wanted exactly and many in France have watched with dismay the unfolding of right–wing plans to 'reform' 100 years of social progress back to the stone age. The Socialists vote against the 'reforms' in the assembly national, and they are outvoted every time. The only recourse they can hope for is when the Constitutional Council looks at the right's shoddy handiwork and sends it back to the assembly for revision.

The right have pushed through 'reforms' concerning retirement, and the state health plan, but it is unclear whether these are being translated from legislation into practice. And the right has stumbled withphoto, thursday, traffic, fiat 500 school 'reform,' because a bunch of schoolkids have taken to the streets to protest against it. The minister concerned had to withdraw one of its essential elements – changes to the process of the BAC. School 'reform' has been stalled for years – even Socialist 'reforms.'

The right has bulldozed through 'reforms' to the famous '35–hour' work week. Oh, the 35–hour work week is still on the books, but now the legally–permitted overtime has been lifted from about 180 hours to 220 hours a year. The legally–permitted overtime rate was fixed at 10 percent over regular–time, and government mouthpieces said, 'everybody who wanted to work more would be paid more.'

In practice employers will be leery of workers who do not 'volunteer' to work five extra hours per week all year, for an lousy overtime differential of ten percent. And with this guaranteed overtime – by law – they won't have to hire more workers.

Then, beyond the government's control, nearly all of the biggest French companies recently announced record profits for last year. Many of these companies closed down units, or send work abroad, and some used the threat to squeeze salary concessions from their employees in France – such as working 39 hours for 35–hours' pay, or else go to Poland and work there.

Shortly after these glad tidings appeared on the financial pages, another government unit announced that unemployment surged above 10 percent again. This can hardly be blamed on the 35–hour work week because the system swallowed it years ago, so it must mean that companies with record profits are holding off hiring in hopes that the 35–hour work week will be scuttled soon or they will open a plant in China next week.

All of the unions from soup to nuts are also pointing out that most jobs created in recent years only pay the minimum wage – or below it due to job hires of less than the 35 hours per week. There are a lot of workers on part–time and some have been on it for years. Purchasing power has stagnated.

Given the right's control of the presidency and the government's majority in the legislature, what can be done? Neither the opposition nor the unions have parliamentary votes enough to change anything – not until the next elections years from now.

The president, his party, and a majority of the opposition, including unions, want the French to approve the newphoto, henri de navarre, pont neuf European Constitution in a referendum that will be held at the end of May. Gradually general indifference to this is being whittled away by those opposed, so those who are promoting it are going to need all the votes they can get.

For the record unions are saying that their street demonstrations – three national mobilizations so far this year – are about wages and jobs, and are unconnected to the Euro vote. But there's a steel fist implied in this glove.

Bernard Thibault, the Beatle–haired boss of the left–wing CGT, has even given the government a clue. Speaking on France–2's Q&A after the evening TV–news following Thursday's national demo with 600,000 to one million marchers, he suggested that the government make a 'small gesture' – or expect to see a replay in April – all the closer to the referendum date.

For one example, a one–percent salary hike would lift 30,000 civil servants off the minimum wage.

Message received, if slowly – on Friday the prime minister Jean–Pierre Raffarin called the leader of Force Ouvrière to announce that the government will reopen salary negotiations for civil servants. The FO's Jean–Claude Mailly expects the government to offer a one–percent hike in two stages for 2005, but unions will certainly want to discuss the 5 percent of purchasing power lost by nearly everybody since 2000.

It may seem strange outside of France and it may not be tidy, this extra–parliamentary opposition, but it works. It is so common that it is nearly possible to correctly guess the outcome.

But nobody ever blames a government for causing the street demonstrations, or for transport strikes, or for schools closed by striking teachers or students, or both. It's always the fault of the French – not their government, not even if many of its members are graduates of the administrative schools.

Let's face it, the French like giving authorities the finger. If they didn't have this outlet, they might turn to revolution.

New 'Last Supper' Banned

A Paris court listened to France's bishops last week and banned an reenactment of Leonardo da Vinci's painting, commonly known as 'The Last Supper.' The new image, a photograph of lady models – and one gent – wearing the latest styles of creators Marithé et François Girbaud, was banned because it caused 'injury' a group because of their adherence to a specific religion, specifically Catholicism.

This was the second court hearing. The bishops failed on the first round in court because they forgot to targetphoto, la coupole, montparnasse the poster distributor – the only way to stop distribution. The victory might be a bit hollow because the ban only applies to the one poster on view, on the Avenue Charles–de–Gaulle, in Neuilly.

The bishops' lawyers argued that the photograph indecently attributed a 'mercantile' character to a fundamental element, for Catholics, of Christ's last supper. The defense thought that the ban displayed excessive censorship, as it was based on a mere episode.

In fact, the offensive advertising photograph is based on a painting done 1466 years after an event that might have happened in 32 AD, for which there are no living or disinterested witnesses. The court must have been having a off day.

Metropole's Pause

Continuously published on an almost–weekly schedule for 9 years, Metropole has slowed down for a few weeks. While this could be a pause for refreshment, it will instead enable me to create on some new editorial products.

Keep an eye open for updates to this 'Café' column. Should some startling event happen, you may read about it here.

Headline of the Week

There were several award–winning headlines of the week in Le Parisien but my favorite was, 'Stop ou encore?' This appeared on Thursday before the day's mobilization score for demonstrations was known. The question posed was whether the government would make a 'gesture' or not, to avoid replays. It did and now we are waiting for what comes next.

The Latest Café Metropole Club 'Report'

The most recent club meeting's 'It's Got Good Water' club report is totally apt, being as it is an appreciation of the beer in the club's café. The same could be said for the club's wine except that it's so dark red that it's impossible to tell if there's any water in it. Most members seldom mention it, preferring café.

The next Thursday meeting of the Café Metropole Club will be on a Thursday as usual. The Saint's 'Day of the Week' will be Saint–Patrick. This week's 'Saint of the Day' was born in Wales, stolen by pirates, enslaved on Ireland on a pig farm, but managed to escape to France where he learned how to be a priest at Auxerre. Then he went back to Ireland to convert the pagans by using the three–leaf clover as a metaphor for the Trinity. Patrick even brought reason to Druids, no small feat. He died at 80 in 461, and pagans still drink to his memory every 17. March, except they don't do it with Absinthe because it was banned on Patrick's Day, 1915.

Less accurate but true facts about the club are available on the 'About the Club' page. The edgy design of the somewhat sketchy club membership card on this page looks as much like a membership card as any prize boxtop,photo, plate, breakfast but is isn't. It is sufficient to be virtual, while the club membership itself is free and real too, which can be proved in Paris.

How Hockey Began

For the fourth time, this is not about some old saint. It was on this day in 1923 that Pete Parker did the world's first live and complete hockey game broadcast on radio, which was clearly heard by an alert audience of 17 in Regina, which is in the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan. During the first period pause Mr. Parker did not mention that the date was also the same as that of the death of Karl Marx, exactly 40 years earlier, in London. He also failed to mention it as the anniversary of Catherine Cornaro's sale of Malta to Venice, in 1489.

Club member, Jules Verne fan and New Jersey snow expert, Jim Auman has emailed exciting news about dreadful climatic conditions in New York, last Tuesday. Like here, there may havephoto, plate, brunch been improvement since then. Other– wise, the exhibition, 'Le Roman de la Mer' – aka '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,' is at the heart of a really big show at the Musée de la Marine. The 100th anniversary of Jules Verne's death, on 24. March 1905, is a mere 10 days from now.

Today is also the 126th birthday of Albert Einstein. This big thinker, born in Ulm, is well–known as the composer of the ever–popular 'Theory of Relativity,' which he concocted in 1904 while sorting letters for the Swiss post office. Like many successful Europeans Mr. Einstein immigrated to the United States, where he stuck out his tongue for a hippy poster, ensuring everlasting fame.

Therefore we'll take today's 'Quote of the Week' from William Shakespeare. He wrote, "Beware the ides of March,." in his 'Julius Caesar.' The ides of March are tomorrow.

'Pi' Day of the Year

This is based on a calendar approximation of 'Pi,' which is about 3.14159 in its six–digit version. The whole thing falls apart here where we use metric 24–hour time, but this is how it works where shillings are still king – take the month number, the day number, and the time of 1:59 in the afternoon, and you'll have 3/14/159. In Europe we had the 'ultimate' 'Pi' day in 1592 at 6:54 in the morning when 3/14/1592 6:54 became true, but not metric, and it was hardly noticed because few people had calendars at the time.

Today's Other 'Notable Dates of the Week'

There are only 292 days left of this year. This is exactly the same number of 'days left,' as at this time in 1590 when Henri de Bourbon, Roi de Navarre, leading Huguenot forces against the Catholic League, won the battle of Ivry, in Normandy. This is completely unconnected to the fact that this year has used up 73 days, the same number that 1965 had when Jacques Chirac won his first election, as a municipal councilor, or 1905 had when Raymond Aron was born in Paris. He went on to be a sociologist, historian and political commentator, somewhat to the right of J–P Sartre, although both attended the Ecole Normale Supérieure in the Rue d'Ulm.
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