26 April 2007

Polling station queue

This was the queue at the polling station for the French elections first round, in Den Haag.
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23 April 2007


Dear readers,

It is little to say that I am disappointed this morning. The French election first round results are there and I am only seeing an all too usual pair in the qualified for the second round: right against left, pro-business conservatives against pro-state conservatives... Nothing really palatable at first glance. This said, this election was already a good thing for some reasons.

First, French people showed eventually that they could vote "en masse" if the proposed debate was up to stir their interest. The quality of this debate and of the candidates was, I believe, a reason for this stunning 84.7% participation. Something unseen, practically, since the founding of the Vth Republic in 1958. For this I am proud of my fellow citizens.

I am a lot less proud of my country's journalists, though. They have shown partiality, narrow mindedness and pettiness. Instead of seeing what was new and interesting in this debate (like millions of French voters rightly did), that is the emergence of a third way in the political debate, they desperately clinched to the old divisions and cliché. The first of them, the Chief Redactor of center left journal Le Monde, Jean-Marie Colombani, couldn't help but fall in that trap. Was it partiality? Was it simply lack of imagination? I would say more probably intellectual laziness. I live the second editorial in three days he wrote for everyone to see. It is not a particularly fair article, neither very responsible. At least the analysis is, I believe, correct.

The center party UDF is now placed in the delicate and more uncomfortable position than may appear at first sight of having to chose who to support. Will François Bayrou stick to its old center right roots and support UMP's Nicolas Sarkozy? I doubt it and I hope not. Will he sell very hard his support to Ségolène Royale. I hope he dares enough for this. I would probably vote for her then, though reluctantly. Actually, his credibility as a politician will hang upon the concessions he will manage to get from his rivals. Only if he seems to get more than what he gives will he be seen as strong and a potentially future President (for 2012). The only other option, and that one could well be preferable for him (as seen by Le Monde too) would be to give a consign of voting blank. I would probably follow that if Sarkozy and Royale refuse to negotiate with him a fair and balanced coalition.

On a sadder note, I was not allowed to vote for this first round. My inscription on the electoral list had been canceled, due to the end of validity of my registration at the French Consulate. Apparently, I was never made aware of this because the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which centralizes all these mailings, in a typical inefficient French way) didn't have the budget to send a reminding letter. This prevented hundreds of French citizens to vote, depriving them (and me) of their most basic civic rights, one of the only links still binding them to the nation. This was a frustrating experience (having to queue for an hour to discover that), which added to my disappointment at the absence of my favorite candidate in the second round. Round where I will eventually be allowed to vote... but too late to make a difference. Bureaucratic bastards!

17 April 2007

Bowling for Virginia Tech

Dear readers,

Sorry for the title, I know it is crap but I didn't find anything better. So yes, it is a bit of an obliged topic...

Apart from the obvious condolences to the victims families and friends, I believe that the USA and Virginia in particular deserve a bit more. I was thinking about letting it go, but then I saw this guy talking about it on CNN and making all kinds of reasoning and comments (out of his arse for sure...) to explain it and to try to blame it on anything except guns. It was so pitiful and, I dare say, painful to see a human being going so low in the abjection that I felt compelled to write this.

So the poor guy began blaming the society and the American decadence and of course, guess what: video games! Yes, you have heard it: student Cho didn't murder in cold blood 32 people, wounding many others and committing suicide afterwards, with a 9mm and a 22LR automatic guns. No, he did it with video games. He slaughtered all his co-students with a Playstation! Sometimes NRA people are just ridiculous, but I believe this one was frankly bordering the evil.

Someone should have reminded this moron that this kind of events rarely happen (if not never) in Europe. And why? Well, simple enough: you can't get a gun like that. For the first time I had the irony to to find myself in total agreement with Australian Prime Minister John Howard who said that he was sorry for what happened but that it was certainly at least partly due to American gun culture and the absence of gun control laws in the USA and especially in Virginia.

Anything else is nonsense. Statistics are there to prove it: no gun control means multiple murders, gun control means none (or a lot less). Everything else is pure lobbying...

12 April 2007


Dear readers,

As you can see in my book list, I have recently read the "Erasmus" of Stefan Zweig, the biography of the arguably most famous Rotterdamer. Thanks to M-So for lending me the book (and yes, I'll give it back to you asap if my cat does not eat it before).

It is a very interesting book, I'd say and particularly fitting our troubling times. It has also the enormous advantage of being short and extremely well written. Stefan Zweig was a highly cultivated person and a incredible writer, if sometimes a bit excessive in expressing his feelings, in my humble opinion. But of course, it was the 30's, not a time known for its lack of excesses.

This said, I'd like to point out the extraordinary similarities between Erasmus time and ours (not to mention Stefan Zweig time). And by this to demonstrate the importance of what we can still learn from the greatest and the first of the Humanists. Erasmus of Rotterdam was what was called at that time a "Renaissance man" (in French "un honnête homme"). There is obviously no way anymore to have a holistic knowledge of all sciences and arts like him. But his analysis, his way can still be of great use. Indeed, isn't it obvious that our XXIst century is beginning just like the Renaissance, in some way? The massive Huntingtonian opposition between the Western world and the Muslim world today is extremely similar to the Religious Wars of the time of Martin Luther and Leon X. Without saying who is right and who is not (and frankly it does not matter), there are obvious parallelism between the extreme violence of an Al Qaeda, for instance and the cruelty showed by the Reformed against the peasants of Münzer, for instance, or during the Rome plundering. This last event had exactly the same effect than 9/11 on the Papacy. Leon X authorized the monk Cafara (the later Pope Paul IV) to create the Inquisition.

We know what followed and which permanent division of the Christian World and of Europe in general was born through these events. Nationalism was a direct product of the Religious Wars in Europe and I dare say that there is a nearly uninterrupted chain of events (the French Revolution apart) which leads from these Wars to the two World Wars. And isn't it also true that we can compare the reaction of the Republican US administration to the one of the Catholic lands at that time. The justification of torture to "help terrorists to confess"? The use of extra judicial jails and ad hoc procedures? The use of preventive war, in the name of God or Democracy? Of course, not everything is the same. Each epoch has its own problems and singularities. But it should be obvious that we need a new Erasmus.

Someone wise enough to be respected by everyone. Someone, I would say, even better than Erasmus. Because, Zweig points it very clearly in this biography, Erasmus had a terribly weak point. He was not brave. He was physically a coward (according to his own words). He was terrified by Luther and just as terrified by the reaction of the Catholic authorities. For this reason, he twice refused the invitation to attend the Diete (at Worms and later Augsburg) where probably only him could have made a difference and avoid the definitive condemnations issued at these events. Preaching peace and writing about Europeanism is a great thing. It is worthy of our admiration, and I will always follow Erasmus ideas... Because, as he said, "heel de aarde is je Vaderland". But acting is just as important, be it only by the strength of words. Because failing to act right can be just as irresponsible than acting wrong.

08 April 2007

Developments in the Port of Marseille

Dear readers,

Despite the fact that I am no more working for a Port company, I continue to stay tuned to what happens in the global port community (and you can follow this too through the news links on the right hand side of this blog). Unfortunately, the big news in the latest days, apart from the Russian wishes to invest in Indian ports and the swallowing of Comanav and Cheng Lie by CMA CGM, was the end of the very long strike in the Port of Marseille. An other one you might say, and you would be right. So let's have a look at what happened and the economic and social consequences.

The strike began more than two weeks ago, by a blockade of the oil terminals (Marseille first and foremost activity) by the CGT union workers of the Port. The alleged reason was that future gas terminals belonging and operated by Gaz de France (and not by the Port of Marseille, contrarily to the existing facilities) would be served by Gaz de France (GDF) own personnels. Gas terminals have obviously massive safety issues and are probably the most dangerous ones in case of an accident, especially for neighboring communities. Port Autonome employees have not the required training, don't answer to the terminal operator and are not under its responsibility either from a legal point of view. But European regulations on safety make very clear that the operator is still liable if an accident occurs due to a contractor's employee (which would be the exact situation if Gaz de France used Port Autonome staff). Very understandably so, GDF refused to use Port Autonome employees. The strike began, the conflict blocking not only the oil terminals but also soon the roro and container terminals.

The loss for the Port of Marseille, already a very marginal port in the Mediterranean game, became very quickly enormous, reaching dozens of millions of Euros according to Mer & Marine news website. The government, main shareholder of Gaz de France, decided that the damage was too big and asked GDF to accept the union claims. In the end, to ensure the employment of 5 totally worthless unionized employees, this blackmailing game has hurt pretty bad the local economy, the already abysmal port reputation and more largely the credibility of French Ports. The private interests of a small mafia has (again) been preferred to the greater interest of millions of people, employees, families and companies.

Let's make no mistake here. I don't deny the obvious importance and necessity of unions to defend the interests of employees. These interests are all too often forgotten by soulless companies and exploiting managers. But there are also limits to social conflicts. When unions are fighting for salaries, economic improvements, work conditions and safety, I am all for it. But when unions, and it was obviously the case here, are only defending a monopoly, working against safety, against the improvement of economic conditions and of employment, I would say the government should on the contrary show some balls and do its job. The strike blocked terminals of other operators which had nothing to do with this. The police should have been sent to unlock the situation, the tribunal should have condemned the strike as obviously illegal and the union people on the blockades should have been fined and sent to jail. It is NOT an attempt on the striking rights of employees to break a strike when it is clearly breaking the laws.

In the end, Marseille has and will again lose traffic to the ports of Genoa and Barcelona or Valencia. The Port will again see its activity limited to its direct hinterland, which is geographically limited to the area south of Lyon. Employment in the Port will stagnate and economic growth which could be buoyant like in all other Mediterranean ports (with growth rates up to 9 or 10%) will remain limited to a couple of percentage points. All of this for five union people...

06 April 2007

It's Spring

From Marelles-blog

Dear readers,

It is spring and the birds are building their nests. Unfortunately, for these water hens it means using what they can find in their direct environment. In the Leuwehaven area, in Rotterdam, it is essentially broken branches, waste and dirt from the surrounding local shops. I don't know what kind of life it will be for the chickens (you can see the eggs under the mother's belly), but it is still a bit sad to realize they will be born amongst oily jerrycans and pieces of pipes rather than straw and feathers.

Pictures from Picasa still don't work, apparently. I'll update this post later to show you the actual pic.

Update: As promised, here is the actual picture. Still no news from Picasa, Google or Blogger... :-(