Tuesday, December 26, 2006

 

Because It Is So Crowded...



Everybody Goes There (with all due respect to Yogi Berra). When it's empty, it is not nearly as much fun. Once you're there, with lots of other people both like and unlike you, you want to shop, and have a drink or a meal, maybe go to the cinema, or a major art exhibit in the adjacent museums; and stroll, and window-shop, and people-watch. And the "everybody" that goes there are not just tourists, although the Champs Elysées is a "must" for visitors to Paris. "Everybody" includes people from all over Paris who want to see the latest films, major art exhibits, plays and musicals, or shop at the Virgin Megastore; people who work in adjacent office buildings, or come from far and wide because it is what it is.

Reading this article:




in Le Monde, I can't help thinking the situation described looks like a tragedy of the commons in the making. Although LE COMITE DES CHAMPS-ELYSEES has been looking after its interests and cared for this treasure since 1860 (chartered as an association in 1916 by Louis Vuitton), selfish landlords are becoming a danger the Comité may have trouble with. Whereas the Comité is effective at lobbying for improvements to the avenue itself, preventing "undesirable" tenants from moving in and otherwise managing the mix of businesses, it may have more difficulty preventing "desirable" tenants from being forced out by self-interested landlords.

The situation : the "public" resource in this case is the attraction of the avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, which generates high traffic (consumer/shopper traffic, not vehicle traffic, although there is that, too). Each landlord benefits from the traffic (750,000 to 850,000 visits on week-ends, according to Wikipedia), since the popularity of this avenue makes presence there valuable both for image and for sales volumes, whence high property values and unbelievably high rents. As in the "tragedy of the commons", a landlord benefits from charging the highest possible rental prices, but does not specifically suffer if he replaces a traffic-generator (such as a cinema house showing premiere films) by a low-image retail outlet one can find all over town (such as a discount clothing chain). The landlord's income may well increase, but the neighborhood suffers. Tough, says the landlord; optimizing rental income from my property is my priority.

In 1985, there were thirteen cinema houses; today there are only seven, and one (UGC Triomphe) is closing because its rent is being raised too high. Virgin Megastore's rent has increased during the past eighteen years, too, from 4% to 8% of its turnover.

France is often criticised by Hollywood for its protection of its film industry; in the past, for the protection of renters, there have been rent controls on apartments in Paris. Yet nobody seems to be suggesting rent controls today for "cultural" businesses such as cinema houses and Virgin Megastore (its "cultural" nature justifies its right to open on Sundays). Perhaps France's economy is more modern and "liberal" than its critics admit. If the closing of the cinema houses kicks off the downward spiral, will they (the foreign economic "advisors") be sorry the Champs-Elysées ain't what it used to be when they come to Paris for vacation?


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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

 

Bug or aggression?



Today two Mozilla products I have installed on my computer alerted me to updates to install. For one (Firefox 2.0) I said "later"; for the other (Thunderbird 1.5.0.7) I guess I said "yes". It was a bad idea, but I (fingers crossed) think I stopped the damage. My mail is now once again accessible without an "installation" of the update. I simply rebooted and re-installed the previous version.


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Saturday, December 16, 2006

 

Inbox Serendipity


I spend much time deleting unsollicited mail from my inboxes (and I know I am not alone). Mostly various filters simplify my task but sorting what comes toward my inbox, either by recognizing mail I expect or by casting aside mail it suspects to be spam. Because programmed logic has its limits, the messages cast aside are not immediately deleted, but kept for me to browse before ultimately deleting; if the filter mistakes a legitimate message for spam I can recover it and "teach" the filter. Parts of this process could be more efficient, but I like having the last word, and scrolling through the suspects to see if there were any innocent victims. And I am amused when I find a few gems and curiosities such as:



The spam filters are not 100% effective, but some are getting pretty good. For instance, one of my mail accounts I just checked had put about 250 messages into a "spam folder" and only let about three get by into my inbox. Soon after they began this filtering, I came across an advertisement that they themselves had sent me and then set aside as suspicious; I had to smile, and (slightly viciously) did not press the "is not spam" button. I found another of their ads suspected of being spam since then, but mostly they make it to the inbox.

The down side of the work flow as they have organized it is that I must twice delete all the spam it has correctly identified, with lots of clicking and waiting, as I have complained before. It would be more sensible to be able to scroll through the accused messages, salvage any wrongly accused, then purge all in one or two clicks.


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Monday, December 11, 2006

 

Cat Burglar


In some TV commercials for dry catfood, they make the point that cats nibble around the clock (as opposed to dogs who do fine with one big meal per day). Often, a substantial quantity of food left for my cat in the evening is gone in the morning, yet he is not very fat, so I've wondered who is eating, and when (and why I am not awakened by howling and fights). Thanks to this very clear and complete how-to, I was able to leave a webcam pointed at the cat's feeding station last night to record activity. Based on my sample of one cat, one night, my observation is that he only ate once after 10:40 p.m. and that was at 7:00 a.m. But I was also able to capture images of another cat which came in and stole himself a nice leisurely meal between 3:27 and 3:40. He looks bigger than the resident cat (the all-white one), so maybe mine just "looks the other way" when the other comes to feed. Resident also appears to have leapt/dashed out, whereas the burglar just sauntered.

Resident Burglar
Eating
Leaving




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Friday, December 08, 2006

 

Nibbling Crow



UPDATE: I searched the sites of a few American papers to see whether I was right that they would not report on the French police investigation. While I was at it, I had a look at the excerpts of last year's reports to see whether they were as spun as I thought I remembered. I was wrong, at least partly. The LA Times missed this story, but the NY Times ran it. Many of the reports run last year were non-judgemental and mentioned the deaths of the teen-agers; my memories were apparently colored by one particularly obnoxious article by John Vinocur. I didn't realize that he is the archtype of the leftist slant in the media (not!)--about as enlightened as Michelle Malkin, another "revolutionary blogger"-- or I wouldn't have paid attention to his tripe. Researching his writing on the web to get a view of this author was not good for my hypertension; his "reports" and "analyses", not op/eds, sport fact-based non-judgemental titles such as:

If Bush has been right, then who's been wrong?
, written in March 2005, speculates on the flavor of the crow Chirac, Schrôder and Zapatero will eat because "if George Bush is proven right on Iraq, and more than a bit responsible for the Arab Spring of shaky political advances now shimmering from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, then it's a frightening development and delegitimizing situation for European politicians from Spain to Germany." If. Now that Rumsfeld has "left", shouldn't Vinocur "leave"?



Back to the French police.

The New York Times ran "French Police Faulted in Youths' Deaths", a pretty good AP story on the Clichy-sous-Bois investigation. They translated "legèreté et distraction surprenante"
The report found the officers were ''surprisingly distracted'' and had acted with a ''lack of thought,'' Mignard said.
which I think is pretty good.

They also provided a more balanced recap of last year's events:
The nationwide riots in fall 2005 raged through housing projects in troubled neighborhoods with large minority populations. Although they stemmed from the teens' deaths, they were fueled by problems including discrimination and unemployment.



Last Year's Articles



The articles returned by the New York Times to a query for "Clichy-sous-Bois" are listed in the following exhibit. In the first two reports, AFP and Reuters clearly and soberly note the deaths and the suspicion of a police role. Then the NYT writers take over: police are injured, there is a need to increase security in these neighborhoods. And a tear gas grenade had been fired toward a mosque and was being investigated; as if there were serious uncertainty as to who fired it. Next, the angry immigrants (angry why? "frustrations"=France's economic weakness) enlarge the riots. The electrocuted kids are forgotten, as is the tear gas fired at a mosque. Then, at last, Vinocur enlightens us.







October 30, 2005March Over Deaths in Paris

Some 500 people marched, angrily but peacefully on Saturday, in memory of two teenagers whose deaths set off rioting in a Paris suburb.

October 31, 200522 Held for Riots in France

PARIS, Oct. 30 (Reuters) - The French police have taken 22 young people into custody for questioning after three nights of riots in a northeastern suburb of Paris, officials said Sunday.

Overnight, groups of young people threw bottles and rocks and set fire to more than a dozen cars. Nobody was hurt but the police detained nine people. Thirteen people were taken into custody on Friday night, the police and local officials said.

The violence began three days ago in Clichy-sous-Bois, which has a large immigrant population, over the deaths of two teenagers, believed to be of African origin, who were electrocuted. They were said to have been fleeing the police, though a local prosecutor said they were not actually being pursued.


November 1, 2005
France: More Violence In Paris Suburb

Clashes between the police and gangs of youths continued for a fourth straight night in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Six police officers were injured. The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, pledged to increase security in the district, a poor area with a large immigrant population. He also confirmed reports that a tear gas grenade had been fired toward a local mosque and said an investigation was under way. John Tagliabue (NYT)
November 3, 2005Chirac Appeals for Calm as Violent Protests Shake Paris's Suburbs

ABSTRACT - Pres Jacques Chirac appeals for calm after six nights of violence in Paris's immigrant-heavy northern suburbs threaten to spiral into political crisis; violence began as protest over deaths of two North African youths while allegedly running from police; as car-burning and other violence spreads to neighboring suburbs, government expresses concern that incident could ignite broader unrest among frustrated first- and second-generation North African immigrants, who are bearing brunt of France's economic weakness
November 5, 2005Angry Immigrants Embroil France in Wider Riots
France's worst urban violence in a decade exploded for a ninth night on Friday as bands of youths roamed the immigrant-heavy, working-class suburbs of Paris, setting fire to dozens of cars and buildings while the government struggled over the violence and the underlying frustrations fueling it. The unrest, which ...
November 11, 2005Frenchness: Riots Show One Size Doesn't Fit All
On one hand, there is French hubris, and its gratuitously insulting embrace of France's immigrants as partners in the country's threadbare formulas of grandeur, equality and universality.
November 12, 2005Police Brace for Violence in Paris, Citing Web Messages
ABSTRACT - France celebrated Armistice Day on Friday with a parade, but also deployed 3,000 police officers in Paris to watch for trouble on the third weekend since the country's recent unrest began. The Paris police banned all public gatherings likely to provoke a disturbance in the capital from 10 a.m. ...




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Thursday, December 07, 2006

 

Those French and Their Language



Now, after a long investigation which included interviews with twenty police officers and four suspected rioters, Le Monde reports that the IGS (inspection générale des services), known as the "police of the police" since they are the ones charged with investigating alleged police misconduct, have published their conclusions.

I don't suppose this is the kind of news that is likely to be picked up, amplified and distorted in the American press, because there is not an easy way to make it into a come-uppance for the French, to use it as more evidence the French should show some humility and emulate America. Such as when, a little over a year ago, three French adolescents (Zyed Benna, Bouna Traoré et Muhittin Altun) were the victims of police brutality and two of them died in an incident which triggered rioting and protests and burnt cars and public buildings. This was all reported and interpreted abroad as evidence the French social model was failing to integrate immigrants and their descendents. And even French Arabs don't respect the police and the rest of society. Little or no attention was given to the essential incident, no mention of the "bavure".

Bavure is a first word that resists translation; originally it meant a smudge or spot of ink, and has come to mean [the results of] sloppy, unprofessional behaviour, and is most often used when the police shoot an unarmed suspect or innocent bystander. But the lack of an exact equivalent in English is a sorry excuse for not mentioning that there was much to suggest that there had been police misconduct. It was not Rodney King-style misconduct. Not really police brutality, one might argue. It was more "passive brutality": knowing someone was in danger and ignoring it. They did chase the kids, twice, which they then denied. They were pretty sure the kids had entered the high voltage power station, but did nothing to try to get the power cut off.

One of the officers told a judge on November 16 that he had not seen the kids enter the power station; on October 27 he had radioed to his team three messages within a minute: Oh, and it seems only six of the seventeen agents involved heard his messages! During a manhunt.

Not that this will interest the English-language press, as I already said, but did they really have to use the elegant, flowery French that is virtually impossible to translate correctly? The police demonstrated «légèreté et d'une distraction surprenantes». "Lightness and astounding distraction" doesn't really work. "Gross negligence" is more like it.

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