Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's a fight!

There's nothing like watching a fight of truly international proportions unfold.

Within days of moving into our current apartment all hell broke loose.  A Donald Rumsfeld style "shock and awe" inspired demolition began on Apartment Number One, two doors down the hall.

It sounded like the building was being dismantled.  Sledgehammers were wielded to make the very bones of the structure ring out in pain.  This continued for weeks.  From 0900hours to 1700hours.  Daily.

Cemetery Art

Then, strange silence and a visit from our Apartment Number One neighbor.  He apologized for the noise and asked that we were OK with the construction.  I'm thinking "what construction?  You're tearing the place apart!"  But with an assumed Gallic shrug all we could say was "ah bon."

It seems there is always some form of destruction going on in the places we rent in Paris.  The first year we were on l'isle Saint Louis a scaffolding went up on the building next door.  The racket as it went up was pretty surprising.  Then the following year, this time just around the corner on the main street thru l'isle Saint Louis, we were paid our very own special up close and personal visit from a demolition crew.  The day after we moved in our own scaffolding went up right in front of our windows and up and over the roof-line.

Parisian destruction crews are a unique breed who leave wide paths of noise and dust in their wake.

When the destruction of Apartment Number One started, all my wife and I could do was laugh.  It was just like the first few years of our marriage.  Everywhere we went on vacation there was an earthquake.  This is a true story, and it went on for five or six years.  Now it's the destruction of Paris that follows us everywhere.

Cemetery Art

We knew the noise had to be getting people in our building.  A sign went up in the lobby from the owners and workers in Apartment Number One.  It said, in French, that the original state of Apartment Number One was "insupportable."  Strangely, "insupportable" is the same word Dalida used to describe her life and why she was about to commit suicide.  "Insupportable".

Indeed, it's a good word.  It works on oh so many levels.  It fully describes the level of noise from the destruction that is taking place in Apartment Number One.  The destruction noises have resumed.  In force.  "Shock and Awe ~ Round Two."  Yet, it remained a little frustrating to have only a vague sense of what the battle was for and only a distant idea who the combatants really were.

Well, things have escalated to all out war.  Earlier this week we saw someone had scratched an "X" on the door to Apartment Number One.  We thought this odd.  What did it mean and why would someone ruin a rather nice and otherwise completely usable front door?

Yesterday, Jude took the garbage out to the trash pipe.  A large diameter pipe is used to transport our small bags of non-recyclable rubbish from the top floor down into the basement garbage bin.  It's fun to listen as plastic bags swoosh their way out of our lives.  The solid "thunk" at the bottom of the swoosh is surprisingly satisfying.

Grim Reality

Jude came back with more news.  The "X"'s had multiplied.  This time to our neighbor's door at Apartment Number Two.  Many "X"'s now adorned our poor neighbor's previously pristine porte.

I'd wager we've figured out who Apartment Number One thinks put the "X" on their door.

It's a righteous row!

We can't wait to see what fun ensues if or when destruction turns into actual construction.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Yahoo discusses early retirement...

Yahoo has an article today about people in the US who are forcibly retired.

They list five reasons for this, including incurring a disability, taking on caregiver responsibilities, lack of skills suitable for new jobs, successful businesses shutting down, and late career layoffs.  Perhaps I'm wrong, but the way I read the article led me to feel the writer was struggling to find ways of explaining massive unemployment for people in the later stages of their careers, while avoiding placing any responsibility on korporate interests.

Falling from Grace

When talking about late career layoffs, the article says,

"A layoff late in your career. It's not always easy to see the warning signs of layoffs before they happen. Job loss can be especially traumatic for older employees. It generally takes older workers much longer than young people to find a new job, and some people never end up landing a new gig. While there are things you can do while unemployed to boost your job prospects like volunteering or retraining for a new career, employers are sometimes reluctant to take on people they fear will retire soon. The best way to prepare for a late-career layoff is often to save as much as you can while you still have a job."

I can't help myself.  Let's dissect this to see if we can find any absurdities or white-wash attempts, shall we?

"It's not always easy to see the warning signs of layoffs..."  Oh really?  Huh.  I guess watching the American korporate landscape fill with giant voracious roll-up companies and private equity firms is too difficult to see?  I'd have to guess, too, that watching US manufacturing and product development jobs being handed to Chinese citizens is too difficult?  I imagine that it's particularly difficult to see when thousands of colleagues suddenly no longer show up for work because they've been laid off, right?

"Job loss can be especially traumatic for older employees..."  Yer.  Yes.  It think it is.  Can you imagine having a decent paying job until someone thinks you're too expensive?  Can you imagine how it might feel to know you've spent 30 years of your life developing highly specialized skills, only to learn that some bozo at the top "knows" that replacing you with 7 completely incapable Chinese citizens is the "best thing" for the company?

"It generally takes older workers much longer... to find a new job, and some people never end up landing a new gig."  OK.  So here is a complete sentence that I can take without reading without too much sarcasm.

Montparnasse Cemetery

"While there are things you can do while unemployed to boost your job prospects..."  Right!  And I'm the Easter Bunny.  From what I have experienced, the only prospect for finding a new job is to whore yourself out at a fraction of your original salary.  Companies don't care what you know.  They only care about how much it costs them to put you in one of their cubes in the cube farm to tappity-tap on a keyboard to make knowledge (in whatever form) that will fill the executive staff's piggy banks.

"...employers are sometimes reluctant to take on people they fear will retire soon."  Uh.  No.  Please read the previous paragraph for a more complete explanation why this sentence fragment is pure bullshit.  OK.  You want some evidence about why the Yahoo sentence is such a foolish statement?  Well, look at what they found in Germany.  Employees of a certain age were found to be more productive at 24 hours a week than younger employees working a full 40 hour week!  All older employees want is health care coverage and to be allowed to work the aforementioned 24hour week.  They knew they would take a pay cut, but the money isn't what mattered as much as enjoying life while remaining productive in some capacity.  What's lacking in America is korporate will to day anything differently than what they presently do.

Vampirous Time Worn

"The best way to prepare for a late-career layoff is often to save as much as you can while you still have a job."  [Shaking my head in exasperation]  When you look at US savings rates, you quickly realize that Americans are once again living off their credit cards.  OF COURSE it's best to save as much money as you can against the day korporate overlords don't want you around!  Yet, this is not how many Americans live their lives.

It's frustrating to read the American press and to see there is no responsibility placed on supposed "job creators".  It's exasperating to read that American workers are expected to take full responsibility for not only themselves but the entire US economy.  It's hard to match expectations for spending as much as you can to prop up korporate profits with comments about people needing to save money.

In most worlds, these kinds of contradictions would be considered serious signs of insanity.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

...but officer...

Yesterday evening I decided to make a few images of la tour Eiffel from out the front window doors.  This time I wanted to make some very high resolution photographs.  This involves taking multiple overlapping photographs of a scene and then stitching them together after the work is downloaded off the camera.

I set up the tripod and worked on the scene from around sunset until just after 2200h.

At 2230 the door bells rings.

Ancient Photographer (me): "Qui est-ce?"

La Police (the oldest of them): "La police."

Thinking as fast as I could about home invasion robberies and the likelihood that these aren't the police, I took a chance and opened the door.  I was greeted by three men in normal street clothes.  One showed me their badge and said...

LP:  "Vous prenez des photos, n'est pas?  Votre voisin nous téléphonons.  Vous avez une télescope, oui?"

100percent crop - la tour Eiffel

 Center section of la tour Eiffel - 100% crop

It turns out, someone across the street from us in the general direction of la tour was concerned I was taking their photo!

AP: "Non.  Je n'ai pas une télescope.  Mais, oui.  J'ai pris des photos.  Et, je ne m’intéresse pas de mes voisins.  Ce qui m’intéresse est la tour Eiffel."

If the man wanted to see a real telescope, I could have showed him a big brass monster that someone across the way keeps in their window.  No doubt for star gazing purposes.  Hah!

LP: "La tour Eiffel?"

AP: "Oui."

He then asked me to show some ID and show him the photos.  But I was a little peeved and asked about how they were clothed.

LP: "Vous n'avez pas de police dans les États-Unis?"

AP: [gestering to my clothing] "Pas comme ça!  Et, ce qui concerne votre identité..."

There must have been just the right tone inflection and indignation as the officer went on to explain they were from the Municipal Police and all they were going to do was go back to the caller and explain I wasn't taking a photo or acting as a "peeping Tom."  The other two police showed me their badges as well.

100percent crop - la tour Eiffel

 Near the very top of la tour Eiffel - 100% crop

About this time, Jude shows up at my elbow and peeks around me to have a look.  She, it turns out, was concerned about the same thing I was.  Home invasion.

AP: "Bouge pas!" [turning to get my passport and camera]

My wife locked the door behind me, but not before I heard the officer saying "... oh, rest assured, I'm not going anywhere..."  I knew I'd hit a cord, yet I had no idea if it was "good" or "bad".  AND having the door locked behind me must have really driven home a point.  Again, I'm still not sure which point that might have been.

la tour Eiffel ~ Creative Commons Licensed

 The Offending Photo at 1/4 resolution of the final result 
~ over 7500x17000 pixels ~

After showing my passport, giving our telephone number, and showing the officer the images of la tour, they bid us a "bon soir" and left.

Jude asked me "Did they really think you would be taking photos of someone in their apartment?  You should've told them "If the person who phoned you is so pretty that they need to be concerned about other people sneaking photos of them, you should have brought them with you so we could've had a look-see for ourselves.""

Funny thing was, while being indignant and trying hard not to be too condescending, I was thinking exactly the same thing.

Alas, my French language skills are several light-years away from that level of banter. Particularly with the "authorities".

Monday, May 21, 2012

When it rains...

Yesterday evening there was a mighty downpour.

There was lightening and thunder and it bucketed out there.  As the rain slowed a bit, I opened the doors to the outside world and shot a short bit of video.

It was impressive to watch as water poured off the Eiffel Tower.  The light in it's girders lit the torrents of water.

The rain had been strong off and on most of the late afternoon.  At one point my wife and I watched as Mother Nature cleaned Paris' sidewalks.  The water carried away all manner of detritus and filth.  The drain at the base of our street seemed to be functioning properly as it we could see it consume a two foot wide stream of water.

This morning I woke up, had a breakfast, and downloaded the videos from last night.  I thought I'd only be able to get things arranged in my file system and that I would need to set it all aside to work on later.

Yet the video came together very quickly.  While there is nothing fancy about it, the scenes do a pretty good job of capturing what it was like to watch rain fall over this fine city. You might want to watch it in full 1080HD or 720HD to see the water clearly cascading over and down that massive structure.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Socialists win!

The French Presidential elections are in and, as you no doubt already have heard, Francois Hollande has won.

People ask my wife and I what we think, now that a Socialist is in power.

I'm never quite sure if people are expecting us to distance ourselves from socialism or if they are looking for a longer, more intelligent conversation on the topic of socialism vs capitalism vs "democracy"?

 Will the Euro remain strong against the USDollar?

The distancing from socialism expectation comes from having lived in America where anything "socialist" is denounced, decried, shouted down and labeled "not right for America."  This, even though Americans tolerate libraries, police and fire services just fine

The longer more intelligent conversation expectation comes from an idea I have that maybe, just maybe, we could take a good, hard look at the role of government, it's purpose in protecting the rights and liberties of it's citizenry, and talk a little about why the US government is run by big business.  I keep expecting that people might begin to look at how controlled their discussions are and how narrow their public fields of conversation have become and that they might break out of the old alley-ways and travel new avenues of discourse.

Alas, there is no perspective when all you know is what you live, and you haven't taken an interest in looking deeply into how other people might (just as successfully as Americans) view things.

I'm sure that Francois Hollande scares Americans.  How would I know?  Just look at the response of the English and American press.

CNN Money wrote, amongst many other things "...Hollande will inevitably push for tougher financial regulation in France and on the continent, and unlike his predecessor, will most likely see them through. This will invariably impact and eventually restrict the way Wall Street and the City of London does business..."

While you were waiting...

 Will the French piss on the English/American Business Greed Parade?

As if what Wall Street and the City of London do is "right".  There is also the undertone of a message delivered, "don't mess with business... it's the "proper" way to do things...  it's the best thing we have... and the foundation of how we all live... even if we won't offer decent employment... and the rich bastards at the top are all corrupt..."

America's Paul Krugman continually takes the heat from the Rabid Right and unthinking "centrist" Dems for saying things like,  "...It was actually kind of funny to see the apostles of orthodoxy trying to portray the cautious, mild-mannered François Hollande as a figure of menace. He is “rather dangerous,” declared The Economist, which observed that he “genuinely believes in the need to create a fairer society.” Quelle horreur! ..."

Think about that for a moment.  He
“genuinely believes in the need to create a fairer society.”

The issue that people in American can't openly discuss without revealing their gross ignorance is that they are afraid of socialism in any of it's myriad forms.

From a distance, the conditioning of the American mind is quite complete.  Instill fear and your ability to control a population will, therefore, quickly follow.

It's rather sad to read the American and English press around Jami Dimon's latest debacle, where "...JPM could suffer a $20 billion loss when all is said and done."  If there is criticism, it is, at best, cautious.  After all, JPMorgan is America's largest bank, right?  So what if they made a White Whale sized mistake and are looking at another $3BILLION loss?  No body was hurt, except for Voldemort's (the London-based trader who is at the center of JPM's mess) ego, right?

De Grasse on de grass
Will M. Hollande's government fight for the people?

Well, I suspect we all know the real answers to those questions.

Yet I doubt American's can connect the dots to what will be Francois Hollande's governmental implementation of socialist ideals and ideas as a protection against exactly these kinds of rich mans games.  

Many people of France understand that bad (some might say incredibly self served greedy idiotic ponzi-scheme based) bank behavior is not good for the populace and that good, decent people really do get hurt.  They know that the EU bailout of Greece is very much on the backs of retired Europeans who's retirement portfolios are filled with governmental bonds.  They understand that if you give Greek bonds an 80% "haircut" that this "haircut" is taken, not by the banks, but by the bond holders themselves.  They understand that ECB and IMF imposed "austerity" measures never come with any cost to the banks.  No, such "austerity" is always shouldered by the broader populace.  Always.  They know that the approaches and policies used by the banks and governments that promote "austerity" have never, ever worked to anyone's advantage except to the advantage of the already rich.  And they're very much concerned that Spain and Italy "austerity" will only increase already overly large unemployment numbers, thus putting pressure on government services which have been cut through "austerity".  It's a very vicious cycle.

Another way must be found.

France Reborn
 Will France be Reborn?

We were incredibly pleased to witness 2MILLION people showing up in the Bastille for a celebration of Francois Hollande's victory.

Maybe, just maybe, M. Hollande and his new government can show the world that it's OK to level the playing field and that it's the responsibility of government to tend to the care and feeding of it's citizenry and that the world does not revolve around the whims and greed of business-only welfare policies.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What to dream?

Just this morning, good friend and colleague forwarded a link to a WONDERFUL cartoon.  I love it! as it completely expresses what I feel about work and education and our places in US culture and society.

You see, Don and I come from engineering backgrounds (as do many of my friends and former colleagues) and we think like down to earth, practical yet creative engineers.

When I was young, my brothers would play as policemen and firemen.  I used to dream of building a rocket ship and flying to the moon.

It helped that my father worked in aerospace and, quite literally, helped build rocket ships as part of the moon program.  Those were heady days.  Exploration beyond Earth was actively pursued in addition to the effort to put a man on our nearest celestial orb.

I have decried the soul killing violence with which American business is being conducted.

Yet, if I can find a way to step out of that system of corporate violence, I see I have time to once again dream.  For me, it's always been "the bigger the dream the better."  We are, after all, creative beings, are we not?

So it is in this spirit that I read the cartoon Don sent me.  It arrived, quite literally, on the heals of my reading "Petit Nicholas" (Sempe-Goscinny) where Nicholas' dreams are manifest.  The coincidence was not lost on me.

I absolutely love it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Quel Jour

After a lifetime of dreaming, my wife and I are now approved to live in France for one year.  The Office of French Immigration and Integration has issued us our stickers called the "Titre de Sejour".

In Paris, the OFII is located just inside the 11th very near the Place de la Bastille.  Today there are some beautiful paste-up street art just across from the entry to the building.  The interior of the building itself has a common bureaucratic well-worn feel.  There were quite a few people going through the system.  Many of them were called well ahead of us.

France Libre

 Liberty is taken very seriously here.

After about an hour and a half wait, we went to see the first doctors.  It was nearly pleasant.  The doctor I spoke with joked and smiled and we actually had a wonderful time talking about France and life here.  What got the conversation rolling was her noticing my bifocal glasses.  Apparently they are quite passe here in Paris.  She went so far as to show me the "line-less" glasses of her colleague, who joined in the conversation with smiles and laughter.

Then it was off for my chest X-ray.  Strip down out of my shirt and into the X-ray machine room.  Back into the waiting area and I was called immediately by the next doctor.

After initial pleasantries, she put up an X-ray of someone's chest.  It wasn't mine, if the name on the image was any indication.  So I asked who that person might be.  Quickly, the doctor went to search and asked me to remain seated.

Passy Journal Stand

 Journal stands watch your every movement, or so it seems...

After the image was sorted out, my blood pressure taken, and a quick set of questions regarding my vaccination history and general health, I was back out in the waiting area.  Not two minutes later and someone called my name and a small group of people were lead back to another waiting area.

After two people spoke with someone in an office, I was called in and asked for an image of myself (of which I had several), our copy of the apartment lease, and that's where we got stuck.  My name was not on the lease, but my wife's name was.  After I looked through my papers and not finding the transfer of monies sheet, the kind lady quietly added my name to the document, copied it, added the copy to her records, and handed me the updated copy.

The French sometimes amaze me at how accommodating they can be.  I expected the system to be extremely rigid.  Well, it might be, but there are also some rather helpful people in the system.

About this time, my wife joined me and I showed her where to attach les timbres to her immigration tax form.


 Let's not forget where Lady Liberty was born.  OK?

The lady behind the desk then asked for my passport.  She found the visa page (the sticker from the French Consulate in San Fransisco) and went one page beyond.  She then took another sticker and attached it to that page and said nous sommes complete.  Turning to my wife, she then attended to my wife's passport.

In return, I replied that je mis a pleurer, merci bien.  Merci pour tout.