On a personal note: I’m currently pondering the choices on offer in the upcoming German Bundestag (parliamentary) election. It’s not easy to get a handle on what’s going on when you’ve been living abroad for some years. From the Guardian News Blog I gather that there have been some significant changes in the campaigning style since I last observed it first-hand. At least the campaign music looks more interesting than what Mr Chirac came up with in 1981. (Except for the (liberal#[1]) FDP — “Money Money Money”, huh? Okay, I wouldn’t have voted for them anyway.)

And I’m still waiting for my postal-vote papers. Dealing with the German embassy is, as always, a pain. They must be the rudest people in Paris.

[1]: Not synonymous with “progressive” or “left-wing”. At all.

Citations d’hier

Three quotes, two from yesterday, one from today. I’m leaving the post in this bilingual version: there’s an English translation for the one that was originally in French.

There is much less of a conflict between journalists and bloggers here in France; I even think this struggle might be a phenomenon that is particular to the US. On the contrary, quite a number of journalist have blogs, and their notes, penned in a personal, more intimate voice, are often a more interesting read than the articles the same journalists write for their newspapers.

… et une d’aujourd’hui.

Les journalistes qui bloguent, ne serait-ce que dans un coin du site officiel de l’organe de presse auxuels ils sont rattachés, apportent un je-ne-sais-quoi de parole à la première personne qui change du baratin des journaux.

Voici la description de Pascal Riché, correspondant de Libération à Washington, du spectacle qu’il s’est offert à ses yeux et à ceux de son compagnon de route, Julian Borger (du Guardian), hier à La Nouvelle Orléans :

Des milliers de gens étaient agglutinés autour du Convention Center, abandonnés à eux-même. Ils attendaient des bus qui ne venaient pas. Plusieurs sont morts, et les autorités n’ont même pas emporté les cadavres qui restent là, posés à même le trottoir. On leur jette des rations alimentaires et des bouteilles d’eau du haut d’un hélicoptère, ou du haut du pont voisin. Comme à des pestiférés. Ils vivent dans la peur, surtout la nuit, à cause des gangs, des armes. Ils ont soif et faim. Les toilettes du centre débordent d’excréments. Vous pouvez imaginer l’état d’exaspération et de colère de ces gens. “Ecrivez que si les bus ne viennent pas, on va mettre le feu à la ville” m’a juré un type.

Car l’autoroute est juste à côté est parfaitement sèche. Les aider, les tirer de là, serait facile. Pourquoi a-t-il fallu attendre quatre jours pour commencer à leur promettre des bus ?

Au début, en débarquant dans cette foule en colère, nous avions un peu peur. Aucun n’a été agressif, tous ont été amicaux, clamant simplement leur indignation, leur souffrance, et leur sentiment profond d’être traités comme des animaux parce qu’ils sont noirs et pauvres.

[« Thousands of people were crowded around the Convention Center, left to their own devices. They were waiting for buses that didn’t come. Several have died, and the authorities haven’t even taken away the dead bodies that are laid out on the sidewalk. Food rations and bottles of water are being thrown down to them from a hovering helicopter, or from a neighboring bridge. As if they had the plague. They are frightened, especially at night, because of the gangs, the arms. They are hungry and thirsty. The toilets of the center are overflowing with excrement. You can imagine how exasperated and angry these people are. ‘Write that if the buses don’t come, we will burn down the city,’ a guy promised me.

Because the highway is very close and perfectly dry. To help them, to get them out of there would be easy. Why was it necessary to wait four days to start promising them busses?

In the beginning, when we entered this angry crowd, we were a bit scared. None of them has been aggressive, all have been friendly, and were simply venting their indignation, their suffering and their deep-seated feeling that they are being treated like animals because they are black and poor. »]

Les notes de Adam Brookes sur le Reporters’ Log de la BBC (également d’hier) sonnent sensiblement pareil :

[16:00 GMT] There’s a very aggressive police presence. They don’t stop and talk to the refugees at all and they don’t communicate with them. They just speed by in their pick up trucks and their cars pointing shotguns out of the window as they go. It’s quite extraordinary behaviour. And these desperate people are waiting for evacuation. The police behaviour makes them all feel like suspects.

Every now and again a military helicopter comes in, it hovers over a car park and soldiers throw out big boxes of bottled water and food ration packs and then a great tide of young men come running in and start fighting for the food. This means that the most vulnerable people, the sick and elderly, many families don’t get a shot of the food coming down. There are five corpses there, at least from what we’ve seen today, it could be a serious development.

[17:24 GMT] One army veteran, sick with diabetes, with no medications, asked me why if the United States is capable of invading a country half a world away, wasn’t it capable of driving him 10 miles across the river.

It was as if in his mind the very idea of Americanness and citizenship was being betrayed.

Donc, pourquoi la Croix Rouge n’était-elle pas présente à côté de ces réfugiés ? Simple: ils ont reçu des ordres. La Garde Nationale contrôlait l’accès à la ville, et le département de la « Homeland Security » ne voulait pas créer des conditions trop « favorables » au maintien de quiconque dans la ville sinistrée :

Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?
  • Acess to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.
  • The state Homeland Security Department had requested–and continues to request–that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

Quelqu’un a fait exprès de laisser des êtres humains souffrir et mourir dans une ville transformée en enfer. Merci à tous ceux et celles qui ont gueulé, pour que finisse ce spectacle indigne et meurtrier.

(La dernière citation via Rivka, chez Respectful of Otters ; remerciements à Magpie.)

… blogs are talking about society. And language, too, further down.

Firstly, via Laurent at the beautifully redesigned Embruns, we learn from this post by Adrien/Bix that the french “pro-life” activists (they are called les anti-avortement here, by those who don’t agree with them) have found a rather insidious new way to send young women on a guilt trip: by distributing slick, professionally produced mystery CDs with a song called Mon secret on them: a woman being smoothed by her regrets every year around the date when, years ago, she underwent “that nightmare”, her “secret” that weighs heavily on her soul. Only with a bit of detective work can this be traced back to a very well-known anti-abortion organisation (Alliance pour les Droits de la Vie, loosely translated as Alliance for the Right to Live).

The second note lives on Kozlika’s blog (who, incidentally, just installed a blog for ProChoix (”powered by DotClear“), a group, and magazine, that is located right on the other end of the political spectrum from ADV).

The post in question is entitled Les bilingues sont dangereux and, being bilingual, I feel concerned. Not that I disagree in principle, but here the pronouncement comes in the form of the fruits of the “inquiries” (the word, as you will see, seems inappropriate) and deliberations of a parliamentary sub-committee, freely translated the “committee on crime-prevention of the parliamentary panel on homeland security”. For those who read French, the preliminary version of the study can be downloaded (PDF file) from the site of the committee’s chairman.

Much of this text deals with “tracing the path of a young person who deviates from the right path to descend into a life of crime” (or something along these, er, lines). It is full of prejudices, speculation and preconceived ideas that are taken on faith, but presented as if they were scientific fact, in which, unsurprisingly, it is totally lacking.

The story it tells is that of the children of immigrants that become isolated from their peers from age three, become unmanageable around age eight or so, and later drug-addicts and criminals. What does this sad development start with? Mothers “refusing” to speak French with their infants.

I find it very difficult to coherently translate passages from this study in a way that would get across just how nauseating it is, in particular since the writing is a mixture of stylistically and even grammatically poor French, and bureaucratic jargon. Lengthy chunks are available in the French version of this post. So I will offer just a few disjointed snippets:#[1]

Between ages one and three […] If [the parents] are from a foreign country, they should force themselves to speak French at home so that the children get used to only having this language to express themselves […] If it is in the interest of the child, the mothers will cooperate and agree to this. But if they feel that the fathers, who often insist on their country’s patois being spoken, are reticent, they may shy back. […] Between ages four and six: […] Language-related problems if the mother didn’t follow the above recommendations [may appear in pre-school]. The child will then become isolated in his or her class and communicate less and less with classmates. […]

Bilingualism is an advantage for a child except in case he or she has problems because then it becomes an additional problem. In this case it is necessary to ensure that children assimilate French before inculcating a foreign language into them.

I am leaving out the ineluctable path into crime and drugs that a thusly “handicapped” (the comparison is made explicitly) child will undergo and only quoted the most salient bits that are of linguistic interest.

Now, the French public, in particular those who have taken the trouble to educate themselves, know as well as anyone else that this is pure, offensive nonsense. And that even leaving aside the bulk of evidence in favour of early bilingualism (provided there are support structures in place) and letting children naturally pick up whatever language is spoken at home, there is the huge practical problem: parents can’t just decide to speak French with their children if they aren’t fluent in it. Those people seem to be seriously in favour of children growing up without having a language in common with their nearest relatives.

Oh, and of course French linguists and students of linguistic disciplines have reacted immediately — concerning the point I just made and concerning the insulting terms the study uses for the foreign languages that are spoken in French households.

Some have said that this issue doesn’t deserve much attention, given that it’s some legally non-binding pamphlet by a bunch of activist deputies. This doesn’t mean, though, that attitudes like that aren’t, more or less covertly, held by quite a number of people who can now feel validated.

In France, more positive attitudes towards bilingual education in indigenous, “regional” languages have only recently gained foothold in the education establishment, and languages of migrants (Arabic and Chinese, mostly) are taught in a small number of secondary schools. And this progress is fragile. It would be criminal to marginalise some kids even more than they already are in the name of security dogmas.

[1]: The translation is clumsy, sorry, but so is the original.

What’s your MP up to?

Je fais écho en anglais à un billet en français, que vous pouvez lire en VO vous-mêmes.

  • 2005-02-03
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