25 December 2006

Merry Christmas to all...

Dear readers,

In this day of Christian festivities but very secular commercial frenzy, as well as pagan remembrance, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas. It is a good milestone for this blog, as it is the first Christmas on this platform (Blogger). In this day, I would like to wish you all many good things.

First, I wish to everyone of you some wisdom. In our times of frantic flows of information, blur of images and multiple channels of communication, this essential quality, praised by the Ancient Greeks as well as modern philosophers, is probably one we need the most. Secondly, I wish you love. Love is no guarantee of hapinness, as I made myself the bitter experience, but it can help greatly. It soothes our pains and gives us motivation, this tiny bit of extra good will to make ourselves better, not for us alone but for someone else. Third, I wish you peace. I know how corny this may sound in our times of war and terrorism, but the peace I mean is also an inner one. It is this peace of mind that may help us to use our wisdom, hopefully, to love our kind even when they don't like us. It is a peace of the soul, if such a thing exists, of the spirit anyway, which can maybe contaminate others through us to make this world a better place. Because, you'd better believe me, it ain't any other, despite what false prophets might tell you in order to get your coins and your obedience.

On another note, I'd like to come bak on some of the items I commented here this year and that come back today by some irony of fate. Mario Scaramella, the man involved in the story around this poisonned Russian spy was indicted and jailed in Intaly yesterday in a (not so) completely different affair. I had mentionned both in this post.

Lebanese parties failed to reach an agreement under the lead of Amr Mussa, the Arab League general secretary. This is unfortunate for all Lebanese. After this sad news, Abu Jaafar posted on Blacksmith of Lebanon describing the ambiance inside the tent demonstration in Beirut and calling the Siniora government "blind". I understand his point of view, but I can only repeat what I said before on this topic. I am the first to recognize that the Lebanese Constitution is not helping in the present predicament the country finds itself in, but it exists anyway and what the opposition proposes is nothing else than a coup. It would be anti-democratic, unconstitutionnal and most of all simply playing the game of an external power (Syria) against the good of the country. As for the feelings of the Southern villagers present there and which would give them legitimacy, I would simply answer these two things: first it should give shame, not pride, to Hizbullah which provoked their pain by capturing Israeli soldiers and bombing Israeli villages. It is no excuse for the bloodbath Israel unleashed, but it is certainly not honorable for the pro-Syrians. Second point, the Lebanese government is not blind to the will of the people, it refuses to cede to a street protest. There is a huge difference there. And it has paid the blood price too, as it seems to me, when so many anti-Syrian Lebanese, including a Minister, have been assassinated in the last months. The current demonstration goal being to avoid a fair enquiry into these crimes, I can only praise the courage of the surviving Ministers in their noble stand against the crowd.

This said, I would like to wish you all again a peaceful Christmas time... And see you all soon in the bloggosphere! Or, who knows, maybe for real?

23 December 2006

Japanese drawing culture

Dear readers,

As some of you might know, I am a huge fan of Japanese culture, especially pictural. Most people have at least heard of modern Japanese mangas, these cheap but often inspired comics, sometimes filmed. Many also know about the famous Japanese estamps, pure wonders of the two dimensional art of rending an idea on paper. Fewer have heard of the art of image books. Luckily for us, the New-York Public Library has a wonderful exhibition on this topic and Slate had an exclusive authorisation to reproduce some of these masterpieces... I can only encourage you to have a look, as it is really enlightning, and if you have the luck to live in New-York, don't hesitate and run to visit the place...

As I couldn't, for obvious copyright reasons, give you an idea of the images exposed, I preferred to show you an example from another piece of art of the same type. This one's copyright is mine, so if you want to use it, please ask me first. Thanks in advance.

19 December 2006

What is religion?

Dear readers,

I admit it, the topic is catchy... But it was triggered in my case, on top of a heavy past, by the news in the French media that the Parliament had issued a third report on sectarian organisations. This is a typical French exercise. But not the soundest one, I think. This third issue, was focussing on an even catchier issue: children involved in sects and cults. The title was already announcing the content: "Stolen childhood, minor victims of sects". But the controversy was immediate... The Jeovah Witnesses, claiming they had not been consulted, accused the report of partiality, without having read it, while one of the French MP's having participated in the commission refused to sign the report.

What caused such a trouble? France is probably the most secular country in the World, and that is one of the reason. More than 60% of the French view themselves as atheist or agnosticist, and if most of them are nominally Catholics, the whole country has a strong and proud tradition of anti-religious institutions and mentality. A current debate in French philosophy is to define it as the studying of salvation without God (Luc Ferry). French State and religion are legally separated in the strictest ways, at least in theory, and various laws as well as the constitution are making sure that they stay that way. This is all good, in theory, and as a product of such a society, I certainly approve.

This said, the government method as well as its approach of "fringe religious organisations" seem to me extremely dangerous. First, I already said on this blog that I consider freedom as absolutely paramount and for this reason, freedom of religion (even a religion of wackos) should be protected absolutely. France is far from this in many ways, and not the least because some religions are better protected than others. Namely, Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism are protected and favored. Islam is discriminated in many subtle ways, and other religions are simply considered as nefarious, suspect a priori. In my book, religions in general are suspect, and for this reason the State should ignore them all without any distinction. Anything else is discriminatory. French language ignores the distinction English makes between sects and cults. Anything outside the four religions previously quoted is considered a sect in France, and fought with zeal. There is even a special commission of the Parliament (the one which produced this report) to list and file all sects on the French territory, monitor their activities, etc.

Second, the method used by this commission is ridiculous. Most of its activity has been reduced to the sending of a questionnaire to several religious groups, a (very mediatised) visit to one of them, where children are raised outside the rest of the world and... that's it. No contradictory debate, no other intervention than from people opposed to these groups (the usual suspects were of course present, including the infamous "doctor" Abgral, a well known lunatic) and no legal discussion were really included. This commission has, from the beginning, taken an ideological point of view, based on feelings rather than rational, hearsay rather than legal facts.

My point is that, children involved or not, an ideological group, religious or not, should be assessed by the authorities of a democracy based on the sole facts. Is the group, as such (a moral person) breaking the law or not? Are some of its members (prominent ones or secondary characters) breaking the law or not? Are some abuses being committed? If yes, the group should be banned or dissolved, or the members in question prosecuted. Point. All the rest is clear violation of Human Rights as well as the Constitution...

16 December 2006

French News

Dear readers,

Enjoying a prolonged medical leave in France, I have unfortunately the occasion to be submitted daily to the French TV evening news. In my case, there is a twist, as we don't have access to anything else than the normal analog TV channels (6 in France), without any cable, numeric broadcast or satellite connexion. Which means I have the choice between TF1 and France2 for a half hour news, Arte or M6 for a short 6 to 8 minutes news or France3 for the regional 20 minutes news. The choice is easy as none is very satisfying. At least, the shortest ones focus on really important news (where the risk of mistake is minimal) and the regional news are limited obviously to the area around my parent's place, which means I don't need it, because I don't live there. So what about the long (national) ones. Well, it is awfull. International news (usually limited to one or two topics about the Middle-East or Russia) are brushed aside, while national politics are usually discussed in annoyingly useless details (like the color of the skirt of the socialist candidate)... The whole rest is boring topics such as how mobile phone can be recycled or the replanting of trees in a park after a tempest. 20 minutes of nothingness, full of language mistakes, poor vocabulary and condescending stupidity.

I am not a snob, I think, but I believe TV can be better than this. French media are usually very critical of Anglo-saxon press, and I often agree. But for TV news, they should rather attempt to inspire themselves of what is done on the other side of the Channel or even the Atlantic Ocean. If French newspaper have nothing to learn from English or American ones, French TV channels have a lot to do before they can dream of reaching the level of US or UK information news channels. And it is not going to happen soon when one see the level of competence of Fench TV "journalists"...

13 December 2006

EUobserver - Cyprus plays hard...

Dear readers,

I have been away for a while, for medical reasons, and will be away again for a couple of weeks. No worries, just a small issue, but annoying nonetheless.

In the meantime, there was an excellent article again on the EU Observer, about Cyprus and Turkey. I think Cyprus used again its veto rights to block any positive move on the issue of Turkey, openly backed by Greece and probably Germany and France. This is shamefull, not only because it is obvioulsy the wrong way to obtain any results from Turkey and because it gives a poor image on the EU. But it might also be a very costly move for Cyprus. It is the second time (at least) that the Greek side of Cyprus blocks a deal to help the reunification of the island. But using a veto right for this is very dangerous. Cyprus is new to the EU, and its government probably ignores one of the oldest untold rule of the European Council. When one state vetoes a decision, it gets what it wants. But the next request it makes to the Council is traditionnally refused by the other members, even if all would have normally agreed.

Cyprus won today (and even this is disputable). But the other coutries in the EU will make it pay for it one day. I bet the UK will lead the blow, but some other countries could well join. Even without this, the stubornness of Greek Cypriots to block any compromise with Turkey is a sure way of losing their fight in the long term. Turkey has less to lose and much more clout and power than Cyprus. It's a fact of real politics... Something the nationalists in power in Nicosia seem to lack badly.

04 December 2006

Lebanese lying poker

Dear readers,

I was reading an excellent article from Algérie-Monde.com about Lebanon, and I couldn't help but being sad about what this country is going through. Many French people like me feel a certain special sympathy for Lebanon, a beautiful country with one of the oldest civilizations in the world. A country whose current troubles my own land is unfortunately partially responsible for. The current Lebanese constitution is more or less the same than the one which was inherited from the French colonial past. And it is one of the Lebanese problems. Not the only one, not the worse probably, but one which Lebanon does not need.

Lebanon main problem is obviously the external influence of very "dominant" neighbours. Dominant like carnivorous (or even carrion-eater) animals only can be. But because these neighbours stir the religious and political divides of the country to help their interests, the sectarian based Constitution is increasing the problem instead of helping solving it.

On TV, yesterday, some of the people demonstrating in front of the Government building in Beirut were pretending they were representing the people of Lebanon. They were supporting Hezbollah (even some Christians...) and showing indignation when people were accusing them of playing the Syrian hand. But these people are either liars or manipulated. How can someone demonstrate for a specific (and religious) party and pretend representing the whole people? How can any demonstration, per definition a street crowd, pretend to represent the democratic will of the people. Some of the demonstrators were saying they were in agreement with an international tribunal for the killers of Hariri and Gemayel. How can they ignore that Hezbollah refuses such a tribunal? Are they naive? Are they paid? Are they threatened into this? I don't know, but it makes me sad...

01 December 2006

The FSB lead

Dear readers,

Just as this incredible spy story seemed to reach its natural end, new developments appeared in the English press. The BBC quotes a Guardian info. Some ex-FSB agents, travelling to the UK under the false pretet of being football supporters, would have met Livtinenko before he was poisonned... The only question remaining seems to be "how did they do it?" (Livtinenko knew better than to agree sharing a meal with them). And who was giving the orders. One of these agents used to be working for Egor Gaidar, when he was Russian Prime Minister, as well as for some former oligarch...

And then we heard Egor Gaidar was poisonned too, but not with Polonium this time.