Sunday, March 19, 2006


Villepin, ça suffit, la jeunesse est dans la rue!

Saturday was a nice day for a demonstration in Strasbourg, but I probably would have attended even if the weather had been poor.

Here, as in many other cities, it was not just the young: I saw families, and of course the union contingents comprised people who work (hence tend to be older). I'm a bit disappointed not to see the estimated attendance in the press; even the local paper, the DNA, published the AFP release and does not appear to have their own coverage (maybe in the print edition?) although we marched right in front of their headquarters.

We assembled at 2:00 in the Place Kléber. The major unions were present, with flags and banners and distribution of "Non au CPE" stickers; the stickers were all "branded"--FO or cfdt--so I didn't put one on; to tell the truth, no one asked me to, or even offered me a sticker. I'm not sure why not, I think I dressed appropriately (jeans, sweat shirt, leather jacket), not in a suit. The LCR, Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, was the political party most visible. There were a few Socialists, a very few Les Verts, and some Communistes (PCF). There was an association for the defense of the unemployed: the A.B.C.D.E., for Association Bas-Rhinoise des Chômeurs et Demandeurs d'Emploi. There was a marching band that had come from Switzerland to join in; I think that was very thoughtful of them. I saw a poster with a suppository labelled "CPE" followed by "OQ OQ OQ".

Around 2:30, the procession headed out around the city. It was very relaxed, a pleasant stroll, with music provided by the band on the CGT truck. Through the Place de l'Homme de Fer, down the rue du Vieux Marché aux Vins, up the rue du 22 novembre, right onto the rue des Francs Bourgeois/rue de la Division Leclerc, left up the rue de la Douane, left again to take the rue des Grandes Arcades back through the Place Kléber and out to the rue de la Mésange, down the rue de la Nuée Bleue (past the DNA) to the Quai Kellerman, then back to the Place Kléber via the rue du Noyer. There were a few police agents placed at each bridge or turning point, but no apparent tension. Walking back toward the station at 4:30, I saw the street sweepers were
already tidying up.

It has been a long time since I last demonstrated or marched. I wasn't sure how to dress, what to take and what to leave home (camera? phone? credit card? Should I wear an old pair of eyeglasses or my usual ones, with a risk of breakage? ID and some cash are the only obvious necessities). People seemed generally dressed as they would for Saturday shopping or a fair or amusement park; the "uniform" vests worn by members of some unions were the most obvious exception. A teenager I saw arriving at the station wore a cape with the standard Che portrait; I thought he was ridiculous. We were not there for a revolution, but in hopes of safeguarding some fairness in hiring practices.

In France today, someone newly hired has a probationary period, to verify that they are indeed able to do the job. This period may be a month or two; for management jobs, it is usually three months, and can be renewed once "to be sure" for a total of six months. Letting someone go during this period is not just because the employer changed his mind, it is because the hire's performance was inadequate.

To fire someone after confirmation, their performance has to be flagrantly inadequate or they have to commit a professional fault, or the company has to be too economically strained to be able to continue to employ the person. Actually, that is no longer true: now companies can reduce headcount as a preventive measure if they forecast economic difficulties! The next step is to allow them to fire without justification of fault or inadequate performance; this is what the CPE would do, for the first two years.

This law is not about "equality of opportunity", as it claims. It is about "beggars can't be choosers", so if you want work, make a bigger effort, make a sacrifice. Like the "interns", who work for a pittance for months in the hope of being hired (instead of replaced by the next "intern")--an almost-free sample. If you and your parents can't afford an "internship", and employers are not taking bribes--selling jobs--then about all you can offer is to give up expectation of fair treatment.

Most of the demonstrators, particularly the labor unions, were calling for maintaining the status quo, defending the "permanent hire" contract. I'm not convinced that this is possible, or even desirable: renewable annual or two-year contracts are likely the system of the future. However, I don't think it is fair to change the rules for only those not yet employed without recasting the contracts of those currently employed with the same rules. And of course this should only be done after the consequences for housing (renting and buying) and unemployment insurance have been considered, and redesigned if necessary.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Stop the CPE

Sunday, on the evening news, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin gave one more demonstration of the autism characteristic of Jacques Chirac's monarchy (theoretically he is president, not king, but once elected the president of France is quite insulated from democratic pressures). The basic principal is that democracy in France is confined to elections, then the Republic takes over: once elected, the government does what it wants. (Hence strikes: in transactional analysis terms, the government refuses adult-adult discourse, so the people behaves like a brat).
New agenda? Reduce unemployment until after the next presidential election, in May 2007. How? By making it easier to fire anybody hired from now on any time in the following two years! Too radical? Sure, we'll limit it to small businesses (fewer than twenty employees), and call it the CNE.

That was a great idea, wasn't it? And since we have high unemployment among the young, we'll do the same for anybody who hires someone who is under 26 and has never held a permanent position. That will be the CPE.

Finally, to reduce the number of unemployable young, we'll take them out of school and make them apprentices at age fourteen (instead of the current sixteen). Less schooling and earlier specialisation is bound to make them more professionally mobile, and help prevent "obsolescence" at age fifty.

I read this morning that the minister of higher education, François Goulard, said he understands the reactions of rejection on the part of the students "because they have a poor understanding of the working world and can misunderstand the proposed measures" («car ils connaissent mal le monde du travail et peuvent mal interpréter les mesures proposées »).

Now, students in 49 universities, technical and professional schools are on strike. The picture, from looks like this:

François-Xavier Cuche, president of the 'university Strasbourg II, says the resumption of a dialog is not possible as long as the CPE is maintained. Rémy Pech, the president of Toulouse II, points out that the suspension of the CPE would be a means to unblock the functioning of the university. Two deans, (présidents d'UFR) of Paris VII (Jussieu) have also asked the Prime minister for "the suspension of the CPE and the immediate openning of negotiations."

Dominique de Villepin clearly doesn't know much more about the real world of work than the students do, and probably less. Nicolas Sarkozy could have given him some clues (his brother, whose business recently went bankrupt, was head of the Medef, the syndicate of company heads), but "give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself": he let DDV charge ahead!

The CPE might have one positive effect: on a statistic. Someone entering the job market in France nowadays will, on average, hold temporary or short-term jobs for eight years or more before obtaining their first permanent job, whereas this initiation period only lasts three to five years in other countries. And yes, this is the lot of many highly educated workers, too. Over a thousand heads of research labs resigned last year, to protest lack of funding to give researchers permanent jobs.

Now, with the CPE, employers can hire for "permanent" jobs with less risk and fewer constraints than for short-term contracts! So lots of new hires could get first permanent jobs earlier. But chances are, they would have gotten the job anyway, and with a more honest contract. And this extension of the evaluation period from three months (renewable once, for a total of six months) to two years before a hire is confirmed will not favor geographic mobility: landlords won't readily rent to people without permanent jobs, and are likely to ask for a "risk premium."

Vediorbis provides some information de Villepin could have used.

France is the second-ranked European market for temporary staffing, the third in the world after the U.S.A. with turnover of 17,8 billion euros in 2002. In France, 1000 temporary staffing businesses operate a network of over 5800 agencies employing over 20000 permanent staff.

In 2002, the temporary staffing profession put the equivalent of 570067 full time equivalent salaried employees to work, 2,1% of the French workforce. The typical temp is a male (69%), 29 years old (60% under 30 years), qualified (57%), working 6 months/year (31%, over 10 months).

Manpower : 1130 agencies in France. Recruits, evaluates and places 130 000 temporary staff daily. 3,2 millions missions contracted in 2005: 230 millions hours worked. 4,5 milliards d'euros.
Adecco: not so open about the size of their operations in France.
Vediorbis: 700 agencies in France. 350 000 temporary workers placed each year.
And lest we forget, about a million students are employed as "interns". They receive a bonus, not a salary; they cost less than a minimum wage.


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Sunday, March 12, 2006


BHL Does Ardisson (and vice versa)

When I read the various book reviews of "American Vertigo" in American media a couple of months ago, I decided that I was in no hurry to read BHL's new book. After all, I had not finished two other of his books that I had started; the reviews and interviews gave me little reason to believe I'd get more out of this book. And I hadn't even read the review by Garrison Keillor in the New York Times. Nevertheless, I looked forward to seeing him talk about it on Thierry Ardisson's talk show, "Tout le monde en parle", and last night was the night.

Lévy claimed his purpose was to counter unwarranted (bigotted) anti-Americanism by producing the objective evaluation that he is particularly capable of providing; not by rebutting anti-American arguments and legends per se, not by taking issue with the detractors, but by revealing the overlooked goodness. In short, it seems to me, by drawing share-of-voice from negative propaganda to his objectively positive propaganda.

Ardisson can be a lot of fun to watch. He and his staff do very thorough research and preparation. I've seen guests wonder aloud "how do you know all that stuff?" [about the guest], but never, that I can recall, deny or refute his facts. His associate, Laurent Baffie, has a keen wit, and an excellent way with words. But BHL is a star, he and his wife make frequent public appearances, so Ardisson had little to gain and much to lose if he were too grueling.

As could be expected, the talking points Ardisson chose were on the theme "what is wrong or wierd in America", lap dancing and brothels with ramps for the handicapped (we don't even have brothels in France), basically all the things Keillor lists in his first paragraph (TA, did you say thank you?). BHL called him anti-American (very unagressively). But BHL also politely answered, never appeared irritated. After all, sticking to amusing anecdotes helped hide the failed pretention to "follow up on de Toqueville."

The high points:

The transcript of the interview has not yet been posted at France2.


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Saturday, March 11, 2006


Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Quiet Saturday morning, this morning: the two webcams of the Marktplatz in Rothenburg show empty streets. Temperature 1.5°C and rainy at 9:25, in March; not yet high tourist season. Nevertheless, I would have expected more than four vendors and a couple of shoppers in a town of 12 000...a few more have come and gone, this is a real live updating web cam!

The big days are apparently the first weekend in September, Meistertrunk, and the second weekend in September, Reichsstadt-Festtage. I visited in June, 1995, but the only photos I find were taken by a friend: Steve, if you object to my displaying your IP on my blog, please let me know.
Marktplatz from above


St. Jakobs Kirche

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Friday, March 10, 2006


Rhine and Moselle Touring Research

Researching the Rhein (Rhine, Rhin) and Mosel (Moselle) valleys for tourism, I gleaned some good info from k-d riverboat lines. If one travels on the paddle steamer Goethe on the Nostalgia Route, one can savor the UNESCO menu! Thanks to UNESCO for recognizing the global cultural value of a section of the Rhine. To savor the UNESCO menu on the Goethe, the round trip itinerary from Koblenz, looks like this:

9:00Koblenz20:10Ehrenbreitstein Fortress at the German Corner in Koblenz
10:05Braubach19:20the best preserved hilltop fortress in the Rhine Valley, Marksburg Castle
11:15Kamp-Bornhofen18:40 the so-called „Hostile Brothers”
11:25Bad Salzig18:30
12:10St. Goarhausen18:05you come to the fabulous Loreley Rock, which each year attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world
12:20St. Goar17:55
12:50Oberwesel17:35Romantic castle such as the Pfalz at Kaub and Schönburg near Oberwesel proudly keep watch over the Loreley Valley
15:15Rüdesheim16:15The snake-like bend in the Rhine near Bingen marks the beginning of one of the most exciting stretches.

Either one rides all the way to Rüdesheim, has a one-hour break (for wine?), or one gets off earlier to do some local (walking) tour, I suppose. Unless one is not among the thousands come to see the Loreley, that means the possible visit is at Oberwesel, but there is no promise that one can visit the castles overlooking the valley. One does pass the Loreley about noon, when the light is good.

An alternative would be to do a one-way visit, or round-trip starting in Mainz, even if that would mean taking an ordinary boat rather than the paddle boat.

---DailyMon, Thu, Fri, SatDaily
St. Goar11:55---15:55
Koblenz14:10 arr.
14:30 dep.

The problem is how to combine with a Moselle boat ride to Moselkern to visit Burg Eltz, because that boat only leaves Koblenz at 9:45 (arriving at 13:00), with the return leaving Moselkern at 17:00 (arriving at 20:00 in Koblenz). In other words, Burg Eltz by boat necessarily consumes a full day, and one has to be ready to leave Koblenz at 9:45 in the morning.

One more constraint: no morning departures from Koblenz to Köln: switch to train for that leg of the journey? Or visit Maria Laach (if not done the first afternoon)--how accessible is it? -- then take the afternoon boat. More on the Benedictine Abbey.

K-D also suggests (from Köln?)
"...the legendary Drachenfels Rock at Königswinter.
There you can take the rack railway up to the spot where, according to legend, Siegfried killed the dragon. Enjoy the unique view down over the Rhine Valley. If you prefer to stay on the river bank, you will find a wonderful promenade which simply invites you to take a stroll."
That does not seem to work by boat from Koblenz: you arrive at 17:40, and there are no more boats that go to Köln the same day! Only to Bonn, at 18:40; is an hour enough to take the rack railway up, full enjoy the panorama (with the setting sun in one's eyes) and get back down to the dock?

Fares (euros, 2005: unchanged?):
Mainz-Koblenz : 42,90
Koblenz-Köln : 34,60
s/t : 77,50
Mainz-Köln : 47,x0
I wonder if you can buy a Mainz-Köln ticket, and get off at Koblenz for a while?

Bingen-Koblenz : 24,70
Koblenz-Moselkern: 14,60 (16,80 "return trip"--is that a round trip?)

Some folk from an association in Liege called Art&Fact organized a similar trip, four days. But it looks like they did it by bus, no mention of boat cruises. They do give the contact info for the hotels they used in Koblenz and Worms.

So, let's consider the car/train options, with and without a Loreley-by-boat.
Of course, if it rains (quite possible in May) we won't see much either from land or from the river.


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Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Bin There

New webtoy: where've ya been?

For sure I haven't been to Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Florida. I don't think I've been to North Dakota or Idaho or Montana, but I'd have to check some road maps to be really sure. Arkansas and Wisconsin...are a puzzlement.

create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

World state wise that becomes the following (but all the states get counted because it is the whole country that is indicated)

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

Show me the equator: I have not been in the southern hemisphere (to see whether water really spins the wrong way when it flows down the drain, for instance).


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Friday, March 03, 2006


Spy vs Spy?

The title should make sense to those familiar with Mad Magazine circa 1960.

A: "I think there's a critter under that mat."
B: "Of course I'm safe under here!"

"The cat sat on the mat." Maybe. But these cats are more inclined to scramble under it, grapple it, fish out objects from under it, and generally push it around the kitchen floor.

Among the Internet material treating of the question,


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March 4th Eve

I guess March should go out like a lamb.

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Ornithophobia and Cat Care

A few weeks ago, I joked (I thought) with friends. My cats catch birds in the garden, and sometimes eat them: must I keep the cats indoors to avoid them catching bird flu? Ha ha!

Fat chance I'd try to keep them indoors! These two young males get stir-crazy very quickly, chase each other madly around the house, and miaou to "command" me to open a door or window to let them out. Cats may sleep a lot, but when they are awake they can be pretty manic, especially youngish males. Much to my surprise, one of them even likes to chase a Frisbee!

A dead cat found this week in Rügen, Germany had the deadlier Asiatic variety of H5N1 bird flu, apparently from eating a wild bird. The World Health Organization says
The current H5N1 panzootic in birds, which began in mid-2003 in parts of South-East Asia, has been accompanied by a few anecdotal reports of H5N1 infection in domestic cats. In all such reports, eating raw infected poultry was considered the most likely source of infection for the cats.
and then notes
In October 2004, captive tigers fed on fresh chicken carcasses began dying in large numbers at a zoo in Thailand. Altogether 147 tigers out of 441 died of infection or were euthanized. Subsequent investigation determined that at least some tiger-to-tiger transmission of the virus occurred.
Oh dear and crotte de bique!

The identified cases nearest to us are still over 450 km away: the region from Lyon to Geneva. The latest cases are a heron, a duck, and nine swans, for a cumulative total of twenty-nine.

Bourg-en-Bresse, where some of the most desirable chickens in France are raised outdoors, is twenty kilometers away from the nearest of the towns where the infected birds were found, whereas the primary surveillance zone is three kilometers, and secondary, ten. If Bourg-en-Bresse is spared, I'll suspect another miracle like the one that stopped the Chernobyl radiation cloud at the French border.

I guess we'll have to learn to get along, tomcats and I, and they'll have to use the litter box instead of soil (which tends to be frozen or snow-covered currently, anyway). How much is AUD 120 (plus shipping) in euros? Litter kwitter sells a training kit for that price to teach cats (any age) to use a toilet.


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