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photo, may day, banner, parade, cgt

May Day marchers, 'together with the force of numbers.'

Another Phoney War

Paris:– Monday, 2. May 2005:– Last Wednesday spring put on a beautiful day in southern France and 40,000 flight fans gathered early in the morning near Toulouse's Blagnac airport with binoculars and cameras to see the maiden flight of the new Airbus A380 super–jumbo passenger jet.

Despite the crowd's certain nervousness – it's a very big aircraft – the huge plane went from zero to 290 kph in 1800 metres before lifting effortlessly off the airport's strip 32, somewhat like a released balloon, with the sounds of its four engines being overwhelmed by the motors of the accompanying spotter aircraft.

Like an overweight ballerina the jet floated up to 3000 metres and pulled up its landing gear beforephoto, airbus, le parisien, thurs 28 april making a circuit of several hours over southern France just above the Pyrenees. After slightly less than four hours of flight the big white jet cruised over the landing strip 100 metres above the earth so the crowd could have a good look and then it returned for a perfect landing.

Wednesday, 28. April, edition of Le Parisien.

All the same many watching the scene couldn't help remembering the Concorde. Some thought the enthusiasm for the A380 was misplaced, as if it were a normal three–decker train instead of a TGV. But others, who said they flew in the Concorde 'just for the ride,' were eager to give the new Airbus a trial.

For the man who co–ordinated the A380 project, Charles Champion, the takeoff was 'extraordinary.' The new plane lifted off exactly where it was calculated it would become airborne. He was also surprised at the crowd of professionals and the public who had come to see it fly. Many of the Airbus employees who worked on the first A380 witnessed the initial flight.

Chief test pilot Jacques Rosay, after the premier flight, said that flying the plane was 'as easy as riding a bicycle.' Everything went according to plan, 'without being perfect' he said. Between now and when the new Airbus goes into service in 2006, the plane will be put through 2500 hours of testing.

On hand for the event, a retired plumber from Paris thought the new plane looked a bit lumpish, its fuselage lacking 'finesse.' It will probably seem like this to everybody the first 500 times one sees it.

Another Phoney War

British newspapers often treat the French with affection. Home–grown eccentrics have to be handledphoto, may day parade, flags, thibault with care so it is handy to have another whole nation of them offshore, but not all that far away. American newspapers, across an ocean, regardless of their newspeople eyeballing the spot, sincerely distrust the French.

CGT chiefs in May Day parade.

Almost all other countries have gotten over the horror and shock engendered by the French revolution that tossed out – sometimes the very heads – of royalty and proclaimed itself a republic. Anglo–Saxon immigrants in America, borrowing from the French, tossed out the crown even before the French did and founded a republic too, and have never forgiven the French for it.

So it is not surprising that US newspapers have had relatively little to say about Google's plan to scan millions of works in several important libraries, with a view to putting the contents online, available to all. More comment has been generated by reports that France's president Jacques Chirac flipped out at this Anglo–Saxon cheek and ordered a crash–scan at the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Google's initial announcement last December was followed in February by reports that the BNF's head, Jean–Noel Jeanneney, expressed worry about world history and culture being represented by Google's private collection. Merely expressing a desire for multi–polarity, his remarks were sensationalized, as in, 'sparking a French war of words.'

Then Monsieur Jeanneney announced that the BNF would begin scanning French newspapers from the 19thphoto, l'obs, delors, ils vous mentent century to add to the consultable database. In mid–March Jacques Chirac was reported to give a 'go ahead' to the BNF, to close the 'scan–gap' with Google.

In face of the 'non,' Jacques Delors says 'they're lying.'

But this is not good enough, according to an American commentator. He expressed concern that the a state–run operation would somehow turn out to be less 'free' than the commercial offer from Google. Especially worrisome are restrictions imposed by France on taking photos in museums and fees charged to library users, such as the 10 cents charged for photocopies by Paris' public libraries. It would all be okay, he concluded, if France shared its archives with Google and, "Not just hold it for their own Web site."

Sometime in mid–April Le Monde had something to say about this, which the International Herald Tribune remembers today as making Google into a 'villain.' Added to this, the spat, in the mind of the IHT, is no less than 'the first culture war in cyberspace.'

The IHT writer attempted to explain this to the Paris paper's readers but becomes hopelessly entangled trying to explain Google's project and how it does not really constitute an attack against France's cultural identity, while pointing out that maybe half of some books Google intends to scan are not, in fact, in English.

For Google to reach its 'target' of digitally archiving '15 million books,' the writer claims, it will have to scan works in those American libraries that are written in German, Italian, Spanish and French. It's hard to tell if this writer is for or against Google's project, because he says the criteria of selection 'has not been spelled out.' Will Google opt for scholarship or commerce?

Google meanwhile, must be amused. The company has stated that the library project is one that its founders were working on when they invented Google – as a scholarship research tool – and their latest initiative is merely a return to their roots – but now with pockets deep enough to pull it off.

It is quite expensive and time consuming to digitalize sometimes fragile old documents and books without wrecking them. Unlike having clever software with its search formulas, copying books is very tedious and requires a certain amount of added scholarship for it to be worth anything. Commercial considerations aside, Google is engaged in a brave and long–winded venture.

Does any of this mean that France's Bibliothèque Nationale was on the verge of rolling over and playing dead?

To be sure France has been startled by the idea that a private company would willingly take on a massive task with the scale of Google's 'Library Project.' But France has been spending around two million euros a year since 1996 to digitalize everything in its cultural cupboard, and this of course includes the tons of books and other documents garaged at the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Europe is on the scene too, busy throwing up Web sites full of European culture, with spending foreseen to amount to 10 million euros per year.

It's something that a state can do if nobody else is willing to try and make a commercial deal out of it. Andphoto, parade, free florence aubenas given the 'social' bent of many European states, it is seen as a worthwhile effort – to put the European patrimony of culture online and have it freely accessible for everybody.

'Free Florence and Hussein' banner. See Café page for more.

This then is probably the problem. Both Google's project and France's desire to make its patrimony available online are equally incomprehensible to American news organizations, so they fall back on promoting old and shopworn cultural differences even when there are, in principle, none.

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