22 February 2017

As Black History Month winds down, a reflection from June Jordan:

We erase ourselves through self hatred. We lend our silence to the American anti-American process whereby anything and anyone special to this nation state becomes liable to condemnation because it is what it is, truly.

Against self hatred there is Whitman and there are all of the New World poets who insistently devise legitimate varieties of cultural nationalism. There is Whitman and all of the poets whose lives have been baptized by witness to blood ... and on and on through the conflicts between the hungry and the well-fed, the wasteful, the bullies.

In the poetry of the New World, you meet with a reverence for the material world that begins with a reverence for human life. There is an intellectual trust in sensuality as a means of knowledge, an easily deciphered system of reference, aspirations to a believable, collective voice and, consequently, emphatic preference for broadly accessible, spoken language. Deliberately balancing perception with vision, it seeks to match moral exhortation with sensory report.

20 February 2017

I heard the balls cutting the leaves above our heads, and saw several men and women running in all directions, some of whom were wounded.  Of course there was a general stampede.  Charles Ewing threw Willie on the ground and covered him with his body.  Hunter ran behind the hill, and I also threw myself on the ground.  The fire ran back from the head of the regiment toward its rear, and as I saw the men reloading their pieces, I jerked Willie up, ran back with him into a gulley which covered us, lay there until I saw that the fire had ceased, and that the column was again moving on, when I took up Willie and started back for home round by way of Market Street.  A woman and child were killed outright; two or three men were also killed, and several others were wounded.  The great mass of the people on that occasion were simply curious spectators, though men were sprinkled through the crowd calling out, "Hurrah for Jeff Davis!" and others were particularly abusive of the "damned Dutch."

--W.T. Sherman describing what happened in St. Louis, May 10, 1861, after he and his son Willie were caught in an exchange of shots between a "drunken fellow" and a regiment of Home Guards composed "almost exclusively out of the German part of the population."  From Chapter 8 of Sherman's Memoirs.
Benoit Hamon's Biography

 (Breton coat of arms courtesy of Wikipedia)

I was born June 26, 1967 at Saint Renan in the Léon north of Brest.  Through childhood and adolescence I lived between Brest, Le Kremlin-Bicetre, and Dakar (Senegal).  I am the oldest in a family of four children.

My origins are entirely Breton:  on my mother's side I stem from Saint Renan and Saint Pabu, on my father's side Plougastel-Daoulas.  My father worked all his life at the Brest arsenal; my mother alternated periods of homemaking and different secretarial jobs.

I've adhered to the Socialist Party since January 1987, in the wake of the student demonstrations against the planned Devaquet law which would introduce ability to pay as a criterion for university admissions.  I became President of the Young Socialists' Movement in 1993; four years later, I joined the cabinet of Martine Aubry, Minister of Labor and Solidarity and was tasked with the youth jobs portfolio.  Following this I chose to work in the private sector, joining Ipsos France under the leadership of Jean Marc Lech and Didier Truchot.

From 2004 to 2009, I was an MEP and leader of the European socialist group.  I served on the commission for economic and monetary affairs and became vice-president of the delegation for relations with the USA.  Notably, I authored two important reports, one on the strategic revisioning of the IMF and the other on the struggle against tax shelters* and secrecy in banking.

At the party congress of Reims (November 2008), I moved the motion titled A world to win:  rebuilding hope on the left.  As candidate for the position of First Secretary, I obtained 22.6% of the vote.  I was a spokesperson for the Socialist Party from 2008 to 2012.

In 2009, I rejoined the company that I had co-founded several years earlier, and taught at the University of Paris 8 as an associate professor:  my subjects were the functioning of multilateral organizations and decision-making in the European Union.
Having settled at Trappes in Yvelines, I was elected Representative for the 11th district of Yvelines in June 2012.

I was named Minister for the Social Economy and Consumption in the government of Jean Marc Ayrault.  I drafted a proposed law on the social economy that recognized for the first time economic models and the specificity of enterprises in the [ESS].  I was furthermore instrumental in a bill on consumption (which came to a vote) putting tools in place to re-balance power between consumers and firms.  This law instituted a class-action procedure**.

In March 2014, I was elected municipal councilperson in Trappes.

On April 2, 2014, I was named Minister of National Education, Advanced Teaching, and Research in the first Valls government.  I completed the reform of school hours and negotiated the triennial budget, which preserves and reinforces the upkeep of schools, universities, and research through 2017.  I began reform of the student evaluation process.  I left the government in August 2014, demanding a change in the government's economic policy so that we could more effectively fight unemployment and inequalities.

I again took up my mandate as Representative in the National Assembly in September 2014, and integrated the Commission on Foreign Affairs#.  I was at the forefront of the resolution in favor of recognizing the State of Palestine, passed on December 2, 2014 (339 yes, 151 no).  At the start of 2015, I opposed the Macron law, which pushed the government to invoke article 49–3.  I militated for the recognition of "burnout" as a professional illness and, in July 2015, successfully advanced the Rebsamen bill on social dialogue and jobs.  In December 2015, I stood against amending the constitution to allow forfeiture of nationality for dual citizens, a move that was eventually abandoned.

In the first half of 2016, I rejected the labor law change proposed by the government and called for a real negotiation with trade unions.  I was particularly opposed to the reversal of the hierarchy of standards, which will erode compensation for overtime hours; therefore, I twice signed a motion of censure in violation of article 49-3 of the Constitution.

I'm the father of two daughters.

I'm a member of the National Assembly rugby fifteen.

*The French phrase is "paradis fiscaux," literally 'tax heavens.'
**I'm pretty shaky on this paragraph.  I have no idea what the ESS (French acronym) is, and as for the last sentence, "action de groupe" is pretty vague.
#"J'intègre la commission..." Not sure what to make of this.

18 February 2017

Nor was he content to show off his experiments in these arts to Rome, but as we mentioned, he also sought greatly to move people in Achaia. The cities there (having a tradition of holding musical contests) had all set up awards for singers on the cithara that he himself would win.  He would agreeably receive these crowns ... the legates asked him if he would sing at dinner too, and he garrulously declined.  "Only Greeks," he said, "are able to appreciate me and are worthy of my efforts."  He was no more broad-minded at the time of departure.  As his party was starting to leave Cassiope,* he took auspices and then steadily sang a song of Cassius at the local altar of Zeus, proving himself against competitors one after another.

--Suetonius, on Nero (my incomplete translation; thanks to perseus.tufts.edu for the Latin word study tool). 
*A city called Cassiope existed on Corfu and this would have been a convenient stopping point on any Achaia-Rome journey.
A parody of Dante's Purgatorio, Canto 16, v. 46 - 120
(based on the translation of Allen Mandelbaum)

'I was a Democrat and I was called Harry;
I knew the world's ways, and I loved those goods
for which the bows of all men now grow slack...
The laws exist, but who applies them now?
No one--the leader who precedes his bloc
can say the buzzwords but does not have the grit;
and thus the people, who can see their guide
snatch only at that partial loss which is their win,
feed on that and dream no further.
Misrule, you see, has caused the world to be
malevolent; the cause is clearly not
district boundaries -- they do not corrupt...
Within the territory watered by
the Potomac and Delaware, one used to find
valor and courtesy--that is, before
Carter was met by strife; now anyone
ashamed of talking with the righteous or
of meeting them can find consultant jobs there.'

15 February 2017

...protecting our way of life -- that's not just the job of our military.  [pause] Democracy can buckle when it gives into fear.  So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are....
Barack Obama, in this January's farewell address

14 February 2017

Why I will buy nothing on Friday (at least from non-union vendors)

So there's a general strike / protest / day of service planned for Friday the 17th, it appears.  I could attempt to write a learned discourse (when they heard the learn'd social theorist, they grew unaccountable weary ...) explaining why I want to join it.  Instead, I will cite some people of the internet whom I think understand what we have to do now.

Greg Sanders in Washington DC said recently:
there’s just loving our neighbors including those that don’t look like us, standing up to threats to life and liberty of all that live in our land, holding tight to those we care about, and seeking whatever common ground can be found with those on the other side that does not compromise those principles.
(Sorry, Greg:  I rewrote your sentence because I'm a grammar nazi.  I hope I preserved your meaning accurately.)

Francine Prose in New York said recently:
Recently a reporter asked me if a general strike, which I proposed in these pages several weeks ago, had any possibility of success, given the complexity of our country’s labor history and the fact that such strikes have not been part of our political culture*. I replied that no single event should be seen as a success or failure, but rather as preparation and practice for the next event.

Czeslaw Milosz (he died in 2004; he lived to see the Internet) once said:

The voice of passion is better than the voice of reason. The passionless cannot change history.

*nota bene:  this reporter needs to read some f**king American history before asking such loaded questions.

10 February 2017

"We can discard the notion that it's a fundamental technology that you have to use: nonsense, it's a slot machine in your phone; we can discard this notion that you're not going to get a job if you don't use social media: nonsense, anything a six-year-old can do with a smartphone is not going to be what the market rewards."

--Cal Newport.

08 February 2017

One measure of survivalism's spread is that some people are starting to speak out against it.  Max Levchin, a founder of PayPal and of Affirm, a lending startup, told me, "It's one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike -- the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it's our own failure, must be spared."  To Levchin, prepping for survival is a moral miscalculation; he prefers to "shut down party conversations" on the topic.  "I typically ask people, 'So you're worried about the pitchforks.  How much money have you donated to your local homeless shelter?' This connects the most, in my mind, to the realities of the income gap.  All the other forms of fear that people bring up are artificial."  In his view, this is the time to invest in solutions, not escape.
Evan Osnos, "Survival of the Richest"(the print article's title), New Yorker, Jan. 30, 2017.

05 February 2017

For the interest of those readers of English who would like to know what Marine Le Pen has to say about the Olympics, which appears to be a key issue in her campaign.  (She has 144 "commitments" in her campaign platform but I don't intend to translate any of them.)

Our elites decidedly don't like France.  Worse, they scorn it.  Every time they can, they capitulate to better abandon a people that they dislike.  And this detestation extends to our language.

The modern Olympic Games were created by a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin.  French is the official language of the Olympic movement[1].

And yet what did the organizing committee for the Paris 2024 games do?  It chose a slogan in English[2].  Quite obviously, a pretext of efficacy was invoked.  The members of the IOC asked that the application file be written in English.  But the slogan, the motto, is of another nature.  It symbolizes the host country!

I have to say it clearly: our elites, or rather those who still pretend to be such, have abandoned the French language.  They find it tacky.  This choice in favor of English has been approved by all the governing bodies that participate in this so-called organizing committee: the national government, the Ile-de-France region[3], the city of Paris and others still.  Whether they call themselves rightwing or leftwing, they've accepted this surrender without combat.  I'm sorry for this and enraged at the same time.

How, furthermore, can we forget that several days ago, Emmanuel Macron went to Berlin to hold a public meeting… in English?  This refusal to express himself in the language of his country shows what little concern he has for it.  And he pretends, nonetheless, that he wants to preside over its destiny!

And there's more: a recent study indicated that French is the third "most spoken" language in the world, after English and Mandarin[4].  Our national language is one of the strengths of our country:  firstly, because it breaks the monopoly that ultra-liberal globalization attempts to impose (a monopoly not of good old English, but of an impoverished "globish" without relief).  Secondly, because the French-speaking world is a reality, notably in Africa.  It is a magnificent cultural treasure.  Finally, because those who speak our language will always be drawn to our products.

As President of the Republic, I will ensure respect for the Constitution that determines that French is our language.  The Théodule Committees will no longer be able to perform linguistic betrayals, and with public money.  I will be the advocate of French-speakers everywhere in the world.

French people, let us love France, and let's be proud to speak French!
1.  In reality, French and English are the two permanent official languages of the Games.  If the host country of a given year uses a third language this also becomes an official language.
2.  Original:  "Il choisit un slogan en anglais."  Le Pen also uses the straight-out-of-English word "relief" later in this piece, apparently without irony.
3.  The Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, contained 11.9 million people in 2011 (census data).
4.  This study seems to have completely forgotten about Spanish.

04 February 2017

Towards an independent and protecting France

In a world whose major geopolitical equilibria have been upset, where conflicts grind on at our borders, where wars continue with a violence that surpasses understanding, France must live up to the heights of its history.  France must regain its influence on the international scene so that its voice may be heard and so that it can uphold its humanist and universal values.

We are convinced that France will only be fully independent and influential in a strong, united Europe.  The current orientation of the European Union is no longer practical, but simply attacking this is not enough.  That's why I'm proposing a new political settlement for Europe, articulated around the progress of European defense; also why I'm proposing a major investment plan for the ecological transition, so we can put an end to coordinated austerity with a process of fiscal and social convergence, while stopping WalMart-esque dumping games across national borders*.

The duty of France consists also in protecting its citizens from new threats, especially that of terrorism, which has attacked our bodies and polluted our soil.   France remains proud of the civil liberties that make its greatness, and the protecting France of my vision knows that the French people can only feel secure if we preserve our principles, even under threat.  We must also make of our unity a force that opposes those who seek to destabilize our society.  At home and abroad, France will always seek peacemaking and dialogue over threat-slinging and confrontation.

This independent, protecting France must also live up to its full historical responsibility:  that of welcoming refugees with dignity.  These are women and men who flee war and misery, and who choose France because it incarnates peace and tolerance.  In the face of an economic and climatic crisis that will become more pronounced in the 21st century, France will always choose the side of humanity and international cooperation.

*The final clause here is difficult for me to translate.  He may not have had WalMart in mind, but he does actually use the word "dumping" in French.
Towards an encouraging and humanist Republic

The Republic is a promise.  It's the promise that each person, whatever his or her background, can succeed, find emancipation, and find a place in a free and fraternal society.  Going beyond this, we want our Republic to be built on the values of encouragement and humanism, in order that the dignity of the human being can be at the heart of all our political choices.

An encouraging and humanist Republic is a republic that doesn't tolerate the discrimination that too many of our fellow-citizens experience because of their gender, their skin color, their disability, or their sexual orientation.  Furthermore, this republic views diversity as a treasure.

An encouraging and humanist Republic is a republic that provides maximal opportunities to every citizen starting in early childhood; continuing through the school years, where equal opportunity and social mixing must become a reality; persisting into the citizen's professional life, and beyond.

An encouraging and humanist Republic is also a republic that trusts its youth, that celebrates its engagement in service to society, that provides youth the means to get involved in fashioning tomorrow's world.  It wishes to open horizons to all, particularly cultural horizons.

An encouraging and humanist Republic is, finally, a republic that doesn't resign itself to intermittent and underdeveloped democracy, but puts its trust in the people's joint intelligence -- together, we can make the choices that stake out the future of our country.

03 February 2017

Concerned Americans with disposable income,

The Trump administration's plans for working people are terrifying to many, and rightfully so.  It should be better known, though, that workers in Wisconsin have been targeted for oppression for at least six years prior to last November.  Governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans aim at nothing less than the end of the welfare state as we know it:  leur appétit vient en mangeant, and when the plates are cleared away there will be (I don't think this is exaggeration) a fifteenth-century principality consisting of maybe a hundred baronial plutocrats and hundreds of thousands of slaves with zero legal protections against workplace abuse.  (Not to mention that only the plutocrats will have voting rights.)

I volunteer a few hours a week at the Worker's Rights Center in Madison.  We have a windowless basement office on the South Side of town, from which we educate workers about their rights and help them pursue legal cases against their misbehaving employers.  We currently receive a small amount of money from the US Department of Labor in return for conducting workplace safety trainings, but who knows how long this will last under President Let-my-construction-sites-collapse?  Our outreach is particularly important to Latino workers.  Please consider donating via the website or by calling our office.

¡Basta con la degradacion del trabajo!

Towards social and ecological progress

Our breakneck rush to growth is nonsensical in a world whose natural resources are finite, especially when it happens at the price of our social model.  It threatens the equilibrium of our planet and the health of our fellow-citizens.  That's why we want to start the transition of our development model, making it more temperate, more respectful of humanity and common goods such as air, land, and the oceans.  In a society that invites us to always consume more, we want to promote a culture of use above property, of recycling above waste, of cooperation above private collection; and we aim to found it on the social and collaborative economy.

Because it is too often a synonym for suffering and meaninglessness, we want to remake our relationship to work.  We defend work that is chosen, not done under duress; labor that is shared, whose value goes beyond its contribution to GDP.   This is how we'll respond to the growing rarity of jobs and the statistical revolution.  We're ready to put an end to precarious employment, and to give everyone the possibility of emancipation and free engagement in activities that speak to his or her aspirations.  That's why we will create the Universal Subsistence Income, a social safety net fit for the 21st century.

While restoring common sense to our economy, we will secure an environment that's healthier for ourselves and future generations; we'll stop sacrificing our planet and our sanity for a growth that doesn't come.  We'll begin a real ecological transition and adapt our modes of production and consumption to it.  We'll stop pitting the social question against the ecological question, because we understand that these two emergencies are actually one.

An English translation of Benoit Hamon's campaign website main message.   Translations of the three major subheadings will follow soon.

Dear fellow-citizens,

If we blew with the wind of the time, we might believe that the heart of France has stopped. 
 What "works politically" exalts only our instinctive fears, the rejection of others, or the retreat into oneself.   This is not the view I take of France.  In this country I see a robust heart.

The problem with France is not that its heart has stopped, it's that the heart no longer governs.  The heart leading once again:  this is the resolute and optimistic Left alternative that I carry.  Here is the fruit of the collective labor that we have undertaken these last months.  Our common reflection will continue and lead to other proposals.  Don't hesitate to contribute to it yourself.

Beyond the work of our hands, beyond the ballot box exists a realistic future:  a future where work is not a source of suffering but of emancipation, where our model of production takes real account of the ecological emergency, and when democracy can regain the momentum that it has lost.

I propose that, together, we can make the heart of France beat with renewed force.

02 February 2017

This is not the first time I've had recourse to Final Fantasy VI  to comment on politics, nor, I am sure, will it be the last.

[thanks to hard-working Chicagoan content creator HCBailly for the video]

 Note the majority-female party that takes down the MagiMaster; note also the indirect reflecting tactics used to pummel him with ice magic.  (As the game dates from the era of palette swaps, you might furthermore note that this boss's twin appeared much earlier, as a guardian of a creepy research facility.)

If this is too metaphorical for you, just enjoy the story of the game!

01 February 2017

If Neal Katyal had been raped by his father or uncle (to name an all-too-common occurrence for American girls and women) and was forced to give birth to the child thus produced, a child very likely to have a severe genetic disorder, perhaps he would not be so glibly telling Senate liberals to trust Judge Gorsuch to stand in the highest court in the nation, with supreme editorial power over the laws of our land regarding abortion, contraception, and other women's health questions.

This kind of attitude, of course, is not limited to an acting solicitor-general from the last administration.  For decades and decades we have been told by wise, urbane, knowing men with Georgetown professorships and summer homes on Cape Cod to stop worrying about the extreme right's sexist agenda.  They don't really mean it, take my word for it; institutional sexism ended in 1961; the persistently stubborn campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment was nothing to write home about; isn't it great that Trump's campaign manager is a woman, etc. etc.

As a man, my blood begins to boil when I read the kind of soothing bullshit Katyal just wrote.
Four days after Mozart's birthday, The Internet Presents...

"What do you want?"   "That you change your way of life!"  "Brava!  Now let me eat.  When you feel like it, eat with me.  Long live women, long live good wine, sustain the glory of humanity..."

[thanks to Gustavo Lanfranchi for the video]

Don Giovanni:  an opera that bears many viewings and listenings.  You can find a good introduction to it from Bonnie Gordon in this very well-timed piece last October.

I really like this Salzburger Festspiele production, although for a overture-to-hell-and-everybody's-happiness viewing* I recommend this Ferrara production from January 1997, featuring the handsome Simon Keenlyside.  (Alas!  Unlike The Magic Flute, I have not yet seen it in person.)

*Many productions, like the Salzburger one but not like the Ferrara one, omit the happy epilogue scene.  This is a huge directorial choice to make.

Fun fact:  the opera premiered in Prague on October 29, 1787, just two days after the first of the Federalist Papers was published in New York.