Last Train Home. A hard life metaphor in China

Last Train Home (2009), directed by Lixin Fan, is a Chinese documentary, or possibly a docudrama. According to the film, over 200 million factory workers, who have left their homes to work in the city, attempt to return home for the Chinese New Year holiday. The film shows a couple’s conditions of slavery at work and the family life fragmentation, in the (vain) intent that their children can achieve education to access a better life.

When you ‘undergo’ the film that keeps track of the effort of the Chinese for export, it comes to my mind what Deng Xiaoping evoked: « It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. » It is true that in 1978, at the beginning of Deng’s reforms, China exported in a year what it now sells abroad in one day. But this success in catching mice – in other words, the transformation of China into a global largest exporter – is being done through an unsustainable human and social cost.

Last Train Home is touching, really inspiring, and documentary film-making at its best. Director Lixin Fan forces no comment, on no occasion partisan, as he tracks the lives of two Chinese migrant workers over a gap of two years. The camera is merely an observer- it’s this kind of focused observational film-making that makes this film so moving and poignant.

Inside Job – White collar mafia

Inside Job (2010), American documentary by Charles Ferguson on the financialization of the economy that led to the crisis of 2008 and that just received the Oscar for best documentary.

Beyond the director’s unrelenting demonstration, and the very accomplished mise en scene, the framework gravitates around film noir where mafia plots — this time white collar — are replacing  one another. Relying on true images, Ferguson’s work shows that deregulation of the economy, which began in 1980 with Reagan, was continued by Clinton, then by George W. Bush and now by Obama — the last avatar of a president who has forgotten his promises to reform Wall Street.

A lukewarm record of greed that caused the collapse of Wall Street.
On the downside, the movie oversimplifies the causes of the crisis. It focuses primarily on deregulation and Wall Street’s incentive structure and culture of reckless risk-taking and lax morals and ethics. It also briefly mentions poor risk assessments by credit rating agencies and predatory lending, without really explaining what it was or getting into any depth on the matter.

Sub-prime lending was mentioned only in a very cursory manner. There was no mention of the Clinton Administration’s push for sub-prime lending to expand mortgage loans to low and moderate income people.

There was no mention of the Federal Reserve’s contribution to the housing bubble as a result of its policy to ease credit conditions in the early 2000s to soften the impact of the collapse of the dot com bubble and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

There was no mention of the shadow banking system; how it contributed to the crisis and how it greatly amplified the losses.

The film has the merit of showing how little has changed the U.S. financial world, despite Obama’s rhetoric. Rather than being held accountable for their role in the collapse, many of its architects remain in key positions of power. Recommended.

Bed sports for Christmas

I cannot resist the temptation to share the video that my adorable Click-Clack-Chuc-Chuc forwarded me a few days ago under the title “Sport en chambre” (which somewhat means “Sports at Room”).

It’s in fact Birth-day, a very funny composition, full of finesse, which the staging is definitely inspired by Mozart.

Performance was ‘committed’ by the Nederlands Dans Theater under the direction of its former (but always associated) art director, the famous Czech dancer and choreographer Jiří Kylián. It is watermarked by his Six Dances, a sort of facetious tribute to Mozart and the nonchalance of the Baroque period. Birth-Day was inspired in part by Sabine Kupferberg, who is one of the performers, as well as Jiří Kylián’s wife. The music is by Mozart, the dancers (who play in real time while the scene is performed in fast motion) wear period costumes and wigs. Here the duo recreates an endearing naughty bed scene.

.

.

Also, a frantic Charlie Chaplin-ish scene, always in line with Six Dances, is where two dancers are preparing a birthday cake competition that ends in smackdown.

.

.

That’s a great fun. Judge for yourself and enjoy it!

Cold Souls by Sophie Barthes, a refreshing proposal of surreal comedy

>> Haga click aquí para la versión en Castellano

Cold Souls is an off-beat intelligent, imaginative story that combines elements of magical realism, drama and mystery. It’s hard to describe this  surreal comedy. It doesn’t really fit in any specific category. It’s funny and sad at the same time.

Paul Giamatti delivers a beautiful and credible performance as, well, Paul Giamatti. Mastering a broad range of emotions and making his character delightfully amusing and sometimes heartbreaking. Exasperated with his general outlook on life, he does some research into the company who removes the soul from those like him. David Strathairn is the doctor at the soul removal clinic and he plays the knowledgeable, caring professional to perfection.

At different times, this one will remind of Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind, and Total Recall, it never really delivers the depth or entertainment value of any of these. It’s almost as if first time feature director Sophie Barthes has so many ideas that it became more important to include them all, rather than refine the best. The tone reminded me of Kafka, Julio Cortazar and at times Woody Allen and Kaufman.

Some might believe it is a science fiction film. I would rather talk of an existentialist film, a delightful chronicle of the absurd in the style of Albert Camus, dressed with Anton Chekhov sauce.

Go and see. Your soul will thank you.

A 3D Exploration of Picasso’s Guernica by Lena Gieseke ©

>> Haga clic aquí para la versión en castellano

The ‘Guernica’ is a powerful masterpiece, an oil canvas, of very impressive proportions (782 x351 cm), that Pablo R. Picasso made in 1937 for the Paris International Exhibition.
The fabric, black and white, represents the bombing of the town of Gernika on 26 April 1937 by the Nazi German Aviation. The canvas is currently exhibited at the National Museum Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

Now, a New York artist Lena Gieseke, who is very conversant with modern digital computer graphics techniques, has decided to propose a 3D version of the famous masterwork and hang it on the Internet, in video form. The result is fascinating and gives out visualizing imaginary details that, otherwise, we would have overlooked.

Even though, I am not fully aware what Pablo Picasso would think …

Thanks to my lovely Geneviève who forwarded me the video.She’s always raring to go for new amazing adventures :)

_

Julio Medem’s Chaotic Ana

>> Haga clic aquí para la versión en Castellano

>> Cliquez ici pour la traduction en Français

 The come back of a psychiatrist who turned into a devoted admirer of woman’s beauty

“My sister Ana Medem was a painter, and she still remains it through her paintings. I’ll enlighten the beginning of this trip without setting the feet on the floor, above enough to suffer as little as possible. On 7 April 2001, my sister celebrated her largest exhibition of paintings at a winery resort in Carignan, south of Zaragoza, Spain. Arriving by car to this wine region I again recognized the reddish hue of the landscapes of Tierra (Earth), my third film that I shot there five years back. My sister should meet us, relatives and friends, at the entrance hall of the exhibition. That is, the people she most wanted were waiting for her, by a closed door that she should open. A few minutes before the fixed opening time, three kilometers away, my sister died in a car accident. We did not enter the exhibition. I have in my mind a full moon in the sky in late afternoon, almost red, and almost over the highway, while driving my car to Zaragoza
The next day, before they closed my sister’s coffin , I decided – and I told her – that one day I would shoot a film on her. “

[My journey with Ana, Julio Medem, El País, 12 August 2007]

chaotic ana indexAna is a free spirit who turns her passion for life in painting. Justine, a cosmopolitan patron, invites her to complete her training in Madrid with a group of artists she sponsors. It will be the beginning of a journey, not only physical, which will lead her to discover new continents, past lives and ancient myths. Ana attempts to break the chain of ancestral violence looming on doors painted in a wall, and at the end of the adventure she will choose if she becomes a monster or a princess.

Medem still retains much of what I admire in the storytelling way of a camera movie. Recurrent elements, if you may, always pull on the emotions and sadness that turn into beauty, like Ana´s image at sea, a resource that Medem already used in Sex and Lucia –whereas on this occasion it is brought to mind through young actress Manuela Vallés.

This appeal to aesthetics – and the use of music, wind sound or photographic colors as part of the plot – makes many of us love this film director with the same force as many criticize him for the same reason, turning Medem into the objective of the same worn arguments that were pointed against Kieslowski or the Dogma filmmakers.

We face first and foremost a good artwork – sometimes very close but not yet a masterpiece – that does not achieve the freshness of Sex and Lucia and Lovers of the Arctic Circle. In my opinion, the best films of Medem are those who have delved into the intimate territory and madness of human beings without needing to explore beyond their natural environment for survival. Whatever the case, and after having been attacked by the fascists for the documentary The Basque Ball: Skin against Stone, the come back of this unique psychiatrist, that has become a devoted worshipper of woman’s beauty, is good news.

After the wonderful Lovers of the Arctic Circle and his masterpiece Sex and Lucia, Chaotic Ana is an intense and ambitious film, beautifully acted – though some characters are undeveloped (Charlotte Rampling’s).

It is noteworthy that the British composer and pianist Jocelyn Pook is the person behind the original soundtrack.

.

Censorship on the Internet

censorship

Be irrepressible, an Amnesty International campaign.

>> Haga clic aqui para la versión en Castellano

Chat rooms monitored. Blogs deleted. Websites blocked. Search engines restricted. People imprisoned for simply posting and sharing information.

The Internet is a new frontier in the struggle for human rights. Governments – with the help of some of the biggest IT companies in the world – are cracking down on freedom of expression …

The web is a great tool for sharing ideas and freedom of expression. However, efforts to try and control the Internet are growing. Internet repression is reported in countries like China, Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria. People are persecuted and imprisoned simply for criticising their government, calling for democracy and greater press freedom, or exposing human rights abuses, online.

But Internet repression is not just about governments. IT companies have helped build the systems that enable surveillance and censorship to take place. Yahoo! have supplied email users’ private data to the Chinese authorities, helping to facilitate cases of wrongful imprisonment. Microsoft and Google have both complied with government demands to actively censor Chinese users of their services.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It is one of the most precious of all rights. We should fight to protect it..

Database of censored material

Amnesty International is working with the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) to help raise awareness of internet censorship around the world.

The ONI is a collaboration among the Citizen Lab, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, the Advanced Network Research Group at Cambridge University, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School UK, and the Oxford Internet Institute, plus partner non- governmental organizations worldwide.

The aim of the ONI is to document empirically patterns of Internet content filtering and surveillance worldwide behind national firewalls over an extended period of time. The ONI employs a unique methodology that combines in-field investigations by partners and associates within the countries under investigation and a suite of technical interrogation tools that probe the Internet directly for forensic evidence of content filtering and surveillance technologies.

Its 11 country reports have documented the scope, scale and sophistication of numerous filtering regimes worldwide, and have helped verify the use of US commercial filtering technologies, such as Smartfilter and Websense that are used in some ways to underpin these regimes. The ONI’s flash map of global filtering shows the results of these investigations.

The work of ONI is supported by the Information Program of the Open Society Institute and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. ONI’s mapping work is supported by the International Development Research Centre (Canada).

The examples of censored material used for Irrepressible.info have been drawn from websites that have been blocked in one of the following countries – China, Iran, Myanmar, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Syria and Vietnam, and are based on latest testing results available from each country.

Okuribito [Departures] by Yojiro Takita

A masterpiece about an odd job tale.

Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Academy Awards.

okuribito2Plainly and simply, the best film I’ve seen in a while. Without revealing too much, it is the story of how an ordinary man unwittingly becomes a Okuribito – a person who prepares the dead for their ‘departure’, literally the person who “sees off”.

As often is the case of films about death, Okuribito knows much about life. A moving drama, imbued with incredible sadness, but at the same time director Yojiro Takita has far managed to combine humor, without losing sight at the film’s message. I found the film to be “educational”  in many ways.

Film strength lies in the ability to keep playing without being too melodramatic or sentimental (some may disagree on this point). Much of the credit should go to surprising (and unfamiliar to Western viewers) casting: each character has a story to tell. Even the secondary characters are plots that probably leave lasting impressions.

A film deserving Oscar in every point.

Guru of protectionism Emmanuel Todd urge us to protect and survive

(Translated from my French blog  “Résident de la République” )

The financial crisis is convulsing politics in unexpected ways. The triumph of an inexperienced black liberal senator in the US presidential election may yet be counted as the first surprise of many. What else could be in store?

Emmanuel Todd, the French historian, made a name for himself by predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union. He has been canvassing into his crystal ball again. In his latest book, Après la démocratie (After Democracy), he brings to mind the alarming possibility of a post-democratic Europe reverting to ethnic disasters and dictatorship.

The author’s starting point is incredulity that a politician as “vacuous, violent and vulgar” as Nicolas Sarkozy could ever have been elected president. As interior minister, Mr. Sarkozy proved he was ill-suited to high office by inflaming social tensions during the riots in France’s troubled suburbs, Mr. Todd argues. Mr. Sarkozy’s first months in power have only confirmed this judgment. As incompetent in economics as in diplomacy, the hyperactive Mr Sarkozy is going nowhere fast, the author contends, rather like a cyclist pedalling away on an exercise bike.

Yet Mr. Sarkozy’s election is a symptom of the sickness of French democracy rather than its cause. Once, French politics was neatly defined by its ideological divisions: the Communists represented the secular, internationalist, working class; the Gaullists represented nationalist, conservative, Catholic values. But the collapse of religion and ideology has destroyed that framework, leaving behind a politically atomized society wide open to manipulation by the likes of Mr. Sarkozy or Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. Tough economic times will only tempt such populist politicians to stoke public fears of immigration and to adopt ever more authoritarian ways.

However, the author is equally scathing about France’s opposition Socialists, a party of cosseted bureaucrats who have betrayed the workers they once represented. French civil servants do not have to worry about the corrosive effects of globalization because their own jobs cannot be sent offshore.

Mr. Todd paints a picture of a collusive political-media elite that benefits from globalization while being disconnected from the people who suffer from it. As arrogant as the aristocracy on the eve of the 1789 revolution, this elite blithely ignores the views of voters whenever it suits them. French voters rejected the European Union’s constitutional treaty, but a modified version was later adopted by parliament. Britain’s voters protested massively against the war in Iraq, but the government sent in the troops regardless.

Ordinary workers blame cheap-wage China for killing jobs and compressing wages. Instead, France’s leaders scapegoat Muslim immigrants and target militant Islam, justifying an unpopular intervention in Afghanistan. Employees want Europe to protect their jobs but, in spite of his increasingly protectionist rhetoric, Mr. Sarkozy – and the opposition Socialist party – still adhere to the free-trade dictates of the EU and the World Trade Organization.

In Mr. Todd’s reductionist view, globalization is simply the exploitation of cheap workers in China and India by US, European and Japanese companies. He is therefore an unabashed champion of European protectionism. Erecting trade barriers would increase European wages which, in turn, would increase demand and boost trade, he argues. The “social asphyxia” that is sucking the breath out of democracy would disappear.

The British, whose very identity is wrapped up in free trade, will never buy protectionism, Mr. Todd suggests, but Germany and the rest of the EU could be persuaded.

At times, Mr. Todd’s anger outstrips his analysis. Too many questions are left hanging. Does globalization not benefit western consumers? Why would Germany, one of the great exporting nations, turn its back on free trade? Has Mr. Sarkozy not performed well in the crisis? But there is no doubt that the intellectual assault on free trade is intensifying. Mr. Todd’s book is a passionate assault in that war of ideas!

A tip: Do not run to buy it at the bookstore. Although some assumptions are attractive at first sight, the overall analysis, on an anthropological and demographic basis (Emmanuel Todd’s “primary business”), confines often to correlations too hastily constructed and argued quickly. Todd’s argument boiled down to something like: After democracy = “After sarkozysm” too simplistic to my liking. If you are interested in the future of democracy, rather try Wendy Brown, professor of political science at the University of Berkeley (Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics Out of Politics and History). This time, the analysis is all the more exciting and not a French framed one. Of course, keep in mind Colin Crouch’s classic Postdemocracy.

Related Posts: “After Democracy,” Emmanuel Todd: French Society in Crisis.

Hadopi Law to Constitutional Court

accessdeniedTuesday 19 May, French Socialist MEPs have lodged an appeal to the Constitutional Court, aimed to annul the Hadopi law against illegal downloading  –adopted 13 May.

Most of Communists and Green party have given support to the appeal. In a long argument, published by Les Echos website, the opposition representatives point out eleven points they consider unconstitutional.

Three main points were raised by the MPs opposed to the Hadopi law during the Parliament debates and they appear on the appeal:xxxxxxx

  • “The introduction of a presumption of guilt” and “a serious infringement to the respect for defense rights and the right to an effective review on appeal” as well: In case of dispute the law provides that it is the user’s duty to prove his innocence revealing that he has ensured all necessary measures to secure his connection, i.e. installing security software agreed by the Government. MEPs consider these measures are contrary to Article 9 of the Statement of human rights and citizen, who defines the presumption of innocence.
  • The “vague and blurred nature of the breach instituted by law”: Hadopi does not punish the downloading as such, but the “lack of security of Internet access”. Any line holder may be punished, even if he is not downloading himself,  but a third party (as a relative, or sb else who uses his wireless network without his knowledge). Too vague, say MPs Socialists, whom the text does not follow the Constitutional Court caselaw. The latter pointed out that the lawmaker should define very clearly the deficiencies established by law, in order to “exclude arbitrariness in sentencing.”
  • The “double punishment” jeopardy and the “disproportionate punishment”: Having sent a first warning by e-mail, then a second by registered letter, Hadopi may sentence the holder with 1 year of Internet access suspension. However, the user must keep on paying his subscription while the suspension length runs, and may also be subject to criminal prosecution. Socialist MEPs consider that it hold concurrently “an administrative sanction of financial nature and a criminal punishment”, in violation of the Constitutional Court legal precedents.

Without commenting on the overall points on appeal, the conservative UMP spokesman Frédéric Lefebvre -a shy Hadopi promotor-, said that “the arts and creative world will judge the Socialists harmful intent to damage this protective text (…), whereas we show our determination to defend a lower VAT on CDs and DVDs, along the lines of what we obtained for food industry”.  The Constitutional Court now has a month to decide. Veredict expected on 19 June.

Myths (and old habits) die hard

Opening Beast is the president Sarkozy’s natural penchant to embezzle leading figures from the French left-wing opponent ranks. Once he has cut back Bayrou’s centre-left of significant figures, Sarkozy’s Opening Beast is hungry over again.

Mr Sarkozy’s know how.
The Beast asks now on a regular basis, to be fueled by a few shovelful of Socialist coal. For the reason that, once former socialist officers (i.e. current ministers Besson and Bockel), become more right-wing than the UMP(*) entire section of the very chic 16th district in Paris, the effect inevitably blurs.
But Opening Beast can not eat whatever she wants. It is imperative that the fruit is ripe. An unripe candidate or a hopelessly idle applicant or a fossil in search of ego. Preferably in the banks of the Socialist party, if possible quite desperate by the inertia of this party, but not quite disgusted by PS infighting. A bit young still to be distressed by the biological clock that runs on top of politicians (the pendulum of Jacques Brel, “saying yes, saying no”, “qui dit oui, qui dit non”). Or finally, when the president’s biological clock stops on you because you are considered a thinking headlight (otherwise look at 70 years foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, 70 former culture minister Jack Lang, or the closely to become minister ,72, Claude Allègre).
These characters are much useful for the war machine of French state capitalism. This very mildly euphemism is usual in French journalist language, a sort of cache-sex for the ambitious Colbertian elites –the right-thinking and old fashioned establishment of this Bonapartist Republic (ah! state interventionism, this very French obsession appreciated by both right and left camps). From former PM Laurent Fabius till present’s Fillon –not to mention Chirac, Balladur, and… Jospin of course!– they all dreamed of and managed interventionism to point the country towards modernization and industrial technology (another favourite subject among our elites, the so called coherence of the empty shell syndrome, in other words the ego-trip speech, with no other goal but to last in time.)
But the very mission of Sarkozy’s Opening Beast is to increase the PS depression through feeding the impression of brain drain, whereas stimulating media debate by the use of President’s grand gesture (coups d’éclat), i.e. escaping forward. So he occupies the breathing space with iconoclast announcements –pretending break taboos and making speak journalists. The height of vanity.
All this allows the current French elites (that is, the 50-70 years old) to occupy the espace and permanently prevent the coming of new and younger recruits (30-45 years), so as to renovate the leadership. French youth is increasingly unmotivated because they are set aside from prebendas and other allowances or, on the contrary, highly active and getting around the antisystem opportunist tactics (a somewhat exclusive phenomenon to French culture). Potage is set and diner is ready for extremes (including FN-extreme right and NPA-extreme left). But not only.
A struggle underlies between generational change-over advocates and determinist statu quo supporters. What about the low opinion the baby boom generation have on young people? These oldies, are, even to this day, in power or close to retirement –they were blessed by gods, greedy, passing through wars, grew up in economic growth, borrowing in times of high inflation, found love in full sexual liberation before AIDS, profited from the huge influx of modern comfort (as Boris Vian sang in “La Complainte du progress”) and what is more, the pampered generation arrive now at retirement at a time when there are still good retirement funds. For the first time, their children would be entitled to return to their parents and show them the state of the planet and other misdemeanours and then to tell them, talking from the future: “when I was young, I wouldn’t have certainly all the facilities you have gathered”.
In France, everyone is scared by youth. But the older ones are the most fearful. As middle-aged bourgeois were frightened by the plebs from suburbs, this fear translates into a distance – i.e., the shameful youth unemployment rates in the French workplace, the willingness in replacing the judge for children with a juvenile justice as if the childhood or adolescence were an administrative status to be monitored, instead of a vulnerability period to be protected.
Facing the common excesses of youth, we no longer say “youth must have its swing”. We no longer look at with benevolence because fear dominates and the images disturb –recurring violent events take us back to suburbs reality and schools annoyance. I recommend review the film by Yves Robert, War of the Buttons (“La guerre des boutons”), shot in 1961: two bands of kids from two villages are fighting, harassed, smoking, drinking alcohol, beat their prisoners from the adversary band. Lebrac, the hero, is a rebel gang leader. Bertrand Rothé (**), a teacher in Sarcelles, Paris suburbs, focussed on the War of the Buttons, has just drawn up a novel where he renders all the petty crime, small fights, even immorality exposed in the film to present times. Therefore, he brings them to our time, just to show up. And that is certainly enlightening: the repressive machine, its files and controls, would led Lebrac in detention these days, in 2009, before he could come of age.

(*) Presidential party, formerly Gaullist-conservative
(**) “Lebrac, trois mois de prison”, Bertrand Rothé. Editions du Seuil

European Parliament Gives Support to Internet Freedom

The European Parliament has decided that ISPs and regulators, such as Hadopi in France, cannot restrict individuals’ access to the internet.
But this vote approving online freedom of expression is not the conclusion of the EU debate taking place between the European Parliament and Council. Since the Parliament has not agreed with the Council, the proposals will now enter the EU’s conciliation procedure where both bodies will try and reach a compromise.
The discussion came out from the modification of the Telecoms Package 2002 and specifically, one of the five directives that make up the package, called the Framework Directive. The reform cast the possibility that a three strikes measure –riposte graduée– proposed by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, could be adopted.
A three strikes law would kick file sharers and illegal downloaders off the internet for up to a year if they were third-time offenders. The decision by the Parliament not to adopt Sarkozy’s proposition is the second time it has come to this conclusion.
During the first reading of the proposal, Parliament formed what is known as Amendment 138. The Amendment reads, “No restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end-users, without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities, notably in accordance with Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union on freedom of expression and information, except when public security is threatened in which case the ruling may be subsequent.”
Catherine Trautman, author of the other report relating to the Framework Directive, revised the text in April to weaken the Parliament’s Amendment and secure agreement between the Council and the Parliament, before the elections in early June.
Citizen rights groups, such as La Quandrature du Net were outraged by Trautman’s changes and called on MEPs to side with the previous version of the report, which contained the amendment.
Now the groups have welcomed the decision of the MEPs; i.e. Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net, described it as a “victory”. “A formidable campaign from the citizens put the issues of freedoms on the internet at the center of the debates of the Telecoms Package,” (…). And “the massive re-adoption of amendment 138/46 rather than the softer compromise negotiated by rapporteur Trautmann with the Council is an even stronger statement,” he concluded.

Where the Hell is Matt?

This video reached me through my wife. Matt’s video brings a smile to my face everytime I watch it.

Matt Harding is a 32-year-old videogame designer who quit his job in 2003 to travel around Asia. Along the way, he recorded and posted a short video of himself doing an elbow-intensive jig in Hanoi. That clip got passed from one person to the next and eventually got the attention of Stride Gum, which decided to sponsor two more of his trips. In his latest video, Harding visits 42 countries over 14 months and invites the locals to join in the fun. That includes everyone from some Huli Wigmen in Papua New Guinea to a group of school kids in the Solomon Islands. The sheer silliness and joy of Harding’s adventures will keep you smiling long after you’ve watched them — and give you a serious case of wanderlust.

more about “Where the Hell is Matt? “, posted with vodpod

“After Democracy,” Emmanuel Todd: French Society in Crisis

toddjsassierI have just read the book. And it is a rather surprisingly pessimistic  –and surprisingly (to my mind) reactionary–   assessment of the state of politics and society in Europe.  In particular, Todd apparently emphasizes the socially stabilizing value of religion and calls for protectionist trade barriers.

Democracy is on the road to ruin. Religious values (Christianity, Communism …) have collapsed. Free-marketism and its corollary, globalization, are slowly destroying society. And to make matters worse, the French have elected as their leader a president who is “incapable of exercising power”. A man who, once in power, immediately aligned himself with the United States, like “a rat rushing to scurry onto a sinking ship”.

That, in a few words, is the thesis of this fulgent, fulsome, and flat-footed book, as Emmanuel Todd was caught flat-footed by the financial crisis that would “re-presidentialize” Nicolas Sarkozy. Nor did he predict that the “Bushist America” he curses would elect Barack Obama.

At once independent-minded and upset (emporté), Emmanuel Todd is not any more lenient towards the Socialists. He accuses the Socialist Party (PS) of having betrayed the values of the left by converting to capitalism. In Ségolène Royal’s popularity he discerns signs of “rot [décomposition]” in the politic body. And he blames “cynical careerism” for the promotion of the Socialist Pascal Lamy to the head of the World Trade Organization as well as that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn as director of the International Monetary Fund.

This is a point to which he comes back often: the Socialist elites are of the same ilk as Nicolas Sarkozy. Historian, demographer and sociologist, he sees in their patent complicity the explanation for the ideological void that France has sunk into. With “a rise in the power of antidemocratic forces” as the consequence.

The exploration of this ideological void is at the heart of his exposition. The crumbling away of the great religious faiths, explains Emmanuel Todd, aggravates the decline of politics. But this decline is also due to a rise in the level of knowledge — a disturbing statement for those who believe that education automatically improves democracy. That was true yesterday. But times change. The increasing number of graduates with higher levels of education, notes Emmanuel Todd, has reshuffled the deck by creating a category of individuals impervious “to the strong affiliations that used to structure the nation, the public, the social domain”.

Add to this gloomy picture the temptation to fill the religious and ideological void he denounces with calls to reclaim identity: the castigation of Islam, the creation of a ministry of national identity, the “ethnicization” of a national myth… One begins to understand why this book is titled After Democracy.

Which democracy is supposedly at risk of disappearing. Emmanuel Todd does not rule out a “coup d’Etat”, the temptation to which he perceives in Henri Guaino, Nicolas Sarkozy’s special counsel. Similarly, he suspects the Socialists of wanting to “withdraw the right to vote from the people, or to at least to seriously limit its practice”.

At times one wonders if he is joking, but he is not the type. Emmanuel Todd is convinced that the free market and globalization, considered by France’s elite to be a foregone conclusion, have disintegrated French democracy.

The solution flows from the source: abandon globalization and institute a salvational protectionism at the borders of Europe. Thanks to such a reasoned protectionism, French wages, pulled down to the bottom by Chinese workers, will rise again. National cohesion will come out of it re-strengthened. And democracy —at last! — will find its colors again.

Sprinkled with cutting judgments, this exposition often vacillates between essay and satirical tract, in the process losing its force. Above all, Emmanuel Todd is too presumptuous. If the solutions that he argues for were the panacea, we would follow them without hesitation. Unfortunately…

Related Posts: Guru of protectionism Emmanuel Todd urge us to protect and survive.

Martin Provost’s Séraphine

Genius and madness are occasionally linked, and this beautiful and sad film offers yet another example. A pure full masterpiece.

French have been blessed for many years with great artists. Now a brilliant filmmaker finally has brought a little-known painter, Séraphine de Senlis, to life.

seraphineSéraphine is a visionary artist. She paints, with anything she can find – wine, mud, a mixture of fruits and flower, and transform it into colours and pigment. But as Séraphine paints her most inspired canvas, the power of her work leads her into the realms of madness.
The accurate photography and camera work, plenty of shades, both emotional and plastic are in line with the very emotive Séraphine’s character, lovely shaped by Belgian actress Mrs. Yolande Moreau. She carries out a gritty but tidy and sensitive performance.
She is not classically beautiful, yet clearly she is an actress of great stature.