Thursday :: Jun 9, 2005

We're From France,...

by pessimist

Americans have some odd notions, including the one that involves thinking of the French as objects of ridicule. Case in point: the Coneheads from Saturday Night Live. Then there is the simplistic insult of a US Representative's renaming of 'French' foods as 'Freedom' foods, a la fries and toast.

This is somewhat ignorant of us, as the French been among the most creative and exploratory nations ever, but we wouldn't know this thanks to the fine scholarly example being set for us by our C-Average Sovereign.

Let's look at just how France has been creative and exploratory. Take flight, for one example. It was the French brothers Montgolfier who first discovered the means to semi-controlled ascent as The United States was just about to bring about a diplomatic end to the Revolution - a success made possible by the French Navy at Yorktown.

But I digress.

French aviators were the pioneers, including being the first to fly (in a balloon) in America, among many other firsts. It took over 100 years for the Wright Brothers to drag America out of the horse-and buggy-days and join the French in the pursuit of the ability to soar like birds.

Certainly, the French can be difficult and fractious - but then so can Americans. If anything, the Bu$hCo Years have demonstrated that! But the French can also be forgiving, overlooking past slights and slurs to do what is best for their troublesome American friends - no matter how badly we have recently treated them.

Case in point: As we all know from the numerous popular movies from the Second World War, the standard radio distress call is adopted from the French phrase 'M'aider' - help me - and as we sadly know from experience - twice - our Space Shuttles do on occasion need help. Should a Shuttle require assistance, the French are ready to provide it:

French base named emergency shuttle landing site

The Transoceanic Abort Landing or TAL sites have changed locations and methods during the years, for security and technical reasons. A new site in France, at Istres Air Base, was made official Tuesday [6/7/5]. Istres and two sites in Spain will provide a place for Discovery to land in case the shuttle can't return to its launch site or can't get to orbit if something goes wrong.

It's a lot of work to prepare a shuttle landing site that's never been used, perhaps never will be, but the people on the job say it's worth it. "We work hard at the job we hope we never have to do," said Dean Schaaf of Merritt Island. He's a landing support convoy commander for NASA at Kennedy Space Center, but he also has frequently traveled overseas to set up emergency landing sites for the space shuttle. The overseas reception has been positive, Schaaf said.

"They're excited about it, especially the Moroccans, the Spanish, the French," he said. "They're very proud that their country is supporting the space shuttle."

They are demonstrating their willingness to be there for us when we need help - as they have since before our nation won its freedom. Look at how the United States military repays the kindness:

US Denies French Fighters Emergency Landing Rights

When nine French fighter jets and a weather plane from a French carrier taking part in a joint exercise with Canadian Naval forces in the Atlantic off New Jersey ran perilously low on fuel last Friday because of a freak storm that prevented them from returning to their ship, they figured, no problem. They weren't too far from the U.S. mainland, and so they could just land at McGuire AF Base in southern New Jersey.
No dice, the Francophobe U.S. military told them.
Why were ten planes from a European ally denied emergency landing rights at a fully equipped and prepared U.S. Air Force base when they were in danger of crashing from lack of fuel?
One wonders what the American reaction would be if a French military airport turned away American pilots in similar circumstances - or what the French reaction would have been if the planes hadn't made it safely to Atlantic City.
Even Soviet planes, at the height of the Cold War, weren't turned away in emergencies.

No national American media mentioned this stunning - and potentially life-threatening - breach of basic air etiquette by the U.S. military, and not for lack of knowing about it: many news organizations covered the whole thing as a humor item, focusing on the French pilots spending a night in the debauchery of America's East Coast Vegas.

At least the people of Atlantic City were gracious hosts to the plucky French pilots, reportedly offering them meals and hotel rooms.
It boggles the mind to think that this nail-biting incident could have been the result of Pentagon pique at France for having refused to go along with the Bush Iraq War plan, but one is hard-pressed to come up with an alternative explanation.

Boggle the mind? Hardly! It would be totally in character, and go along with evident Bu$hCo glee over the failure of the EU Constitution - something which was brought about by the French. It was an opportunity to kick an economic rival while they were down and disadvantaged - a typical Bu$hCo trait:

Sore Wing With Turkeys

Bush White House May Be Celebrating Jacques Chirac's Political Misery

According to Charles Kupchan, an expert on European issues with the Council On Foreign Relations, the American government is divided over relations with Europe. "There are those that prefer a weaker, more decentralized Europe, those that one calls the hardliners, and others, mainly in the State Department, who wishes for the reverse and prefers a stronger and more unified Europe as a partner for the United States," he said.

The American media also judged that the no vote was a serious blow to the authority of French President Jacques Chirac. The vote, "deeply wounded the French president," wrote The New York Times. For the Los Angeles Times, "the defeat constituted a terrible repudiation of Chirac." A reversal perhaps not lamented by some in the Bush Administration.

According to Kupchan, "There are perhaps certain members of the American government who are not unhappy with the political misadventures of Chirac, due primarily to the divisions over Iraq."

There are complicating factors to add to our geopolitical differences - social and cultural reasons why the French are so easy for Americans to ridicule. We don't have a clue about what interests them - and they don't have a clue as to why we don't seem to have any interests:

When Rimbaud meets Rambo

The new French Prime Minister's grandiose poetic style won't cut much ice with the White House action men. “A SINGLE VERSE by Rimbaud,” writes Dominique de Villepin, the new French Prime Minister, “shines like a powder trail on a day’s horizon. It sets it ablaze all at once, explodes all limits, draws the eyes to other heavens.”

Here is a rather different observation, uttered by George Bush Sr in 1998, that might stand as a motto for his dynasty: “I can’t do poetry.” Poetry does not stir the soul of President Bush, unless you count the Bible and George Jones singing A Good Year for the Roses.

These are the polar extremes of poetry, Rimbaud in one corner and Rambo in the other: the French patron saint of sensitive, tortured adolescents alongside the monosyllabic American action man. In that gulf of sensibility lies the cultural faultline of our times. For George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld words are blunt instruments, used to convey meaning, not feeling. Actions speak louder.

The President of France, by contrast, rocked by the rejection of the EU constitution, has attempted to shore up his Government by appointing a poet as his Prime Minister, a patrician intellectual in the French romantic mould, a true believer in the transcendental and redemptive power of words. His appointment is certain to increase the accusations of pretentiousness from the American side, and philistinism from the French. The chasm has never been wider, or more in need of a bridge.

To which the American response will be a resounding: “Whatever.”

The Bush White House does not do poetry. At a Nato summit in Prague, Donald Rumsfeld was once forced to sit though a performance of modern dance and poetry. Asked for his reaction afterwards, he shrugged: “I’m from Chicago.” Anglo-Saxon mockery is the essential antidote to Left Bank belle lettrism, which too often uses poetic complexity to state the obvious, or nothing at all.

"... complexity to state the obvious, or nothing at all ..." This could also describe The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld's artistic deprecations have inspired artists like soprano Elender Wall and pianist Bryant Kong to use Rumsfeld's words as poetic complexity to state the obvious - a satirical weapon to be wielded against him [mp3 clips available here].

But I digress.

Les Anglo-Saxons — as Villepin likes to categorise America and Britain — have seldom mixed poetry and politics. To the Anglo-Saxon mind there is something dodgy, even dangerous, in the man who rules the world by day and writes verses by night.

George Bush and Dominique de Villepin might learn much from each other, but no amount of translation could allow them to speak the same language. In the aftermath of 9/11, M de Villepin walked through Manhattan: “In the flayed city, facing the raging winds, I called upon the words of Rimbaud, Artaud or Duprey. At such a grave hour, how could one not think of these thieves of fire who lit up, for centuries, the furnaces of the heart and the imagination, of thirst and insomnia, to build an empire only within oneself.”

Mr Bush also surveyed the city, but did not think of poetry or imagination: he invaded Afghanistan.

America’s public image could benefit from a sense of imaginative wonder, a little more Rimbaud and a lot less Rambo.

But Rambo is required viewing for Bu$hCo insiders! John Bolton can recite entire scenes in his sleep! How else will they know how to act when they are faced with successful foreign - read: French - competition?

It's Airbus vs. Boeing: Largest Trade War in WTO History May Have Just Begun

The battle between the European Union and the United States over the public subsidization of Boeing and Airbus has resulted in a commercial conflict that may be, "the largest, most difficult and most expensive in the history of the World Trade Organization."

European Union trade chief Peter Mandelson warned that they are thousands of jobs at stake, as much in the E.U. as in the U.S., and recalled that millions of passengers fly on aircraft built by the two companies. For that reason, he said he was sorry that the U.S. has chosen to go to Geneva [WTO headquarters] instead of solving the issue through talks, and he indicated that the objective is "to damage" the launch of the new Airbus 350, which competes with Boeing’s Dreamliner 7E7.

Mandelson, criticizing involving the WTO in, "a grudge match between Boeing and Airbus to control the global market, where there is room for both companies," added,

"Commercially, Airbus is a great success, and for that reason this complaint has been made. What Boeing fears is the competition, not the subsidies.”

Callin' The Bluffer

In this regard, he disclosed that last week he offered to cut subsidies to Airbus by 30% in exchange for a similar reduction for Boeing to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman.

Who's Zoomin' Who?

Portman justified Washington’s decision to go to the WTO by the fact that several E.U. member states had granted a new package of subsidies to Airbus totaling $2 billion to develop the A-350. The United States is against these new subsidies, and complains that as of now, the Europeans have granted $1.5 billion in direct public aid to Airbus for launching new Airbus models. "The insistence of the E.U. to go ahead with new subsidies forced our hand," Portman explained in an official statement. He also said that up to now the E.U. has only offered to reduce – and not eliminate – public subsidies, whereas the U.S. wants to eliminate them. "We still think that a negotiated bilateral solution is possible, but the negotiations would not succeed unless the E.U. is committed to end subsidies," added.

How Do I Leverage Thee, Boeing? Let Me Count The Ways...

Let's see just how serious the US is about eliminating subsidies:

In total, Brussels claims that Boeing has “received massive assistance” totaling $3.66 billion since 1992. Since 1992, Boeing has benefited from research and development credits from NASA and the Pentagon totaling $2.2 billion. For the construction of the new B787, the North American manufacturer will also receive aid covering 70% of the total cost, [Boeing] itself covering only 15% according to Mandelson.
In addition, Washington has granted more than $7 million for launching the 787, and Japan, where part of the plane is constructed, has offered up to $1.6 billion in soft loans to the Japanese companies involved in the project.
Finally, Boeing will continue to receive, for an indeterminate length of time, a $200 million per year subsidy from the Foreign Trade Corporation export program, a program that has twice been declared illegal by the WTO and have been discontinued most North American firms.

Sure, the French can be stubborn and obstinant, and they can be hostile when provoked. So are Americans. But there are better ways of dealing with them than to be just as petty and difficult as we stereotypically believe the Franch are.

It would keep us from being accused of le pot appelle le noir de bouilloire.

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