Saturday, June 22, 2013

Festival of Saint John


It has finally arrived.  The gods have seen to it that the recent massive thunderstorms are held at bay.  We've nearly reached 20 degrees Celsius.  A veritable wave of warmth.

The French celebrate the summer solstice by staying awake from solstice dusk to dawn the next day and listening to music.  Concerts are held throughout cities and villages.  All of which are free.

The day is also known as the fete de la saint-jean - the feast of Saint John.  Fires were traditionally lit in celebration of the harvest and the summer solstice.  In Paris, Louis XIV last lit the fire of Saint John in 1648.  Recently (1984) the night was given over to music.  Personally, I'd like to see what the French would do with a bit of fire.  Alas, one can't have everything, even when living in paradise.

Here in Paris, 5 pages of l'officiel des spectactles are devoted to la fete de la musique.  You can choose a music style and find where that kind of music is being performed.  Or you can simply wander an arrondissement and listen to whomever shows up.  We took both approaches.

I saw that Ensemble Alta would be performing at the musee cluny.  I grew up listening to medieval music.  For some reason I was attracted to the tones and tempo of the sounds of that time period.  It helped, too, that there seemed to be a renewed interest in old music from Western Europe on the part of recording artists and a few record labels.

We plotted and planned to made our way to the concert.  What a treat.  The event was held in the courtyard and the acoustics were perfect.  It was easy to imagine what it was like to have been in this very same courtyard in 1334 listening to music back when the structure was a townhouse for the abbots who lived there.

This is someone else's video from another performance.
Can you imagine Pierre Hamon playing this same
tune on these pipes out in the courtyard of the
musee cluny?  Magick.  That's what it is.  Pure magick.

Lunch was just up the street at the Balzar.  It's been nearly a decade since we've dined there and it seemed conveniently located to the concert.  The bistro had changed hands just before our last visit and the meals were excellent.  This time, the food was decent enough, though not up to the quality of a decade ago.  Further, to my way of thinking, it was rather over priced.  I can't imagine paying 23Euro for a 50cl bottle of admittedly good rose when something similar at other places would set us back only 9Euro.

WH Smith was our next destination.  Not for music, but for books.  Or is that music for the eyes and brain?  Anyway, we found a couple potentially interesting things to read and headed back to the apartment.

After an early dinner, we explored a different arrondisement.  We listened to a choral concert that was being held in a church. As we were thinking they'd be there later, we quickly continued on our way.

Up the street there was '50's style rock and blues being played at the marie (city hall).  The announcement suggested there might be New Orleans style jazz, too.  After finding seats, we noticed we were the only listeners moving to the music.  Maybe it was the lack of the promised jazz that held everyone in check, other than the crowd of children bop'n and dance'n in front of the stage.  It was cute watching them play unselfconsciously.  We watched a little Line Dancing, a little Macarena (true!), and some of the moves looked a lot like a well choreographed Bollywood dance scene.

After the set ended, we started toward choral event.  But we didn't get too far before coming across a small group of Breton who performed in traditional garb and played a little bal musette.  They had bagpipes unlike anything I'd ever seen before.  The tonal range was very different than Scots Pipes.  The Bretonne folk style was the fourth kind of music we'd listened to over the span of 10 hours

This is someone else's video, but it illustrates the kind of
music the group we saw performed.  What's lacking
here are the incredible, beautiful costumes the group wore. 

We missed the choral concert.  It seems to have ended, though it didn't matter to us.  We'd had a good time.  We're old folk and don't need to stay out all night.  Home and hearth were calling.

The evening had been warm and beautiful.  Excellent for profiter la vie.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Facing l'etat de France...

The Kitchen Plumbing Smell has not gone away.  Even with repeated applications of our Upstairs Neighbor's Enzyme Gunk, things remain smelly "down there".

There was no time to Trouble Shoot any further as we are off to la prefecture de police for an appointment and, oh, what's this?, the skies have opened up with lightening and thunder. It's raining so hard that we have soil from one of our window boxes splashed on our glass doors four feet away.  It's so impressive that I make an audio recording of the proceedings.  I sincerely hope these are not Further Omens of Things to Come.

Leaving the apartment early so as to not be late, the rain has let up and our umbrella isn't needed.  A quick metro ride takes us to la prefecture de police.  Just as we make our way from the security entrance into the main building where our Date With Destiny was about to be held, the skies open up again.  Complete with more flashing lightening and huge thunder.

It's almost 11h00 and Jude goes upstairs to see if that's where we need to be while I wait in a line in one of the Niveau 0 rooms.  Jude returns and says it does not look like we are to be upstairs.  Just about then I am motioned to the counter and find that our Date With Destiny is in the room across the hall.

For twenty minutes we stand in line.  There is a Stern Conversation taking place.  A Group of Three in front of us have none, absolutely none, of the things la republique de france requires.  One pushy person in the group is clearly trying to Game the System.  The Welcome Desk Lady is not happy, not happy at all, and we are next in line for a potential Tongue Lashing.  In Finest Rapid Fire Parisianne French, of course.

Shaking as I hand over our documents destined for our new dossiers, Jude explains that we are nervous.  The Welcome Desk Lady gives us a Petite Smile.

We find out there are two documents they are concerned about.  1) Lack of "official" letter from our French bank (even though I included the account information).  2) Lack of "details" page from our health insurance that talks about coverage for prescriptions and hospitals and things like that.  I say our agreement with the insurance company was more like a book than a single sheet of paper.  She say it is needed to be translated into French.  All of it.  Ugh.

After having our documents sorted into two dossiers, we are asked to have a seat and our number would be called.  Jude passes the time talking with a writer who is here for their visa renewal as well.  Politics.  French.  America.  NSA.  Freedom.  Topics of the day.

We learn that it could be a very long wait and the folks behind the desk can be rather nasty.  Well duh!  We'd just witnessed what the System Gamers went through and now we are facing our own Firing Squad of Doubt and Uncertainty.

We wait.  3.5 hours.  Seriously.  Everyone who works there has gone to a Proper French Lunch.  For two Proper French Lunch Hours.  Except for one person, who repeatedly tells the waiting folk to just stay there and have a seat.  The Parisian Gods and Goddesses are sorely testing us.

Or are they really?  The Welcome Desk Lady had photocopied an entire stack of papers saying that we have two dossiers and therefore needed copies for both.  I had only made one copy of the originals based on our experience at the San Fransisco Consulate.  The Welcome Desk Lady could just as easily have pointed us to the copiers sitting outside the entry to the room we were stuffed into.  Small Acts of Kindness go a long ways.  But it is difficult to notice since our documents seemed to not be in Complete French Order.  This, even though there was absolutely no guidance in the documentation we'd been sent as part of our Convocation.  Something about Bureaucratic Arbitrariness comes to mind.

We are finally called to a little cube just after 14h45 when everyone seems to have returned from le dejuner.  We wonder what the hell is about to happen.  After our Document Questioning at the Welcome Desk, we are about to face the Further Horrors of French Bureaucracy and things were not looking "up".

Handing over the documents asked for, passports first when the questioning begins.  Do we have the detail page from our health insurance?  No.  It's a big book.  Do you want it all?  Seeing our future in French fading over the horizon.  Yes, she says.  Our Funcitionnaire continues to organize our documents.  Soon, she gets up and leaves.  Oh.  Now what?

Upon her return, she says "Just be sure to bring the insurance detail page with you next year when you come back."

OMG!  Really?  The Winds of Fortune might have changed.  To be sure, I ask "l'an prochain?"  "Oui", she says.  Now 'er cook'n with gaz!

A conversation about why we are here and what we are enjoying about living in France and Paris ensues.  Jude swears Our Functionnaire has just complemented us on our French speaking abilities, though I'm not so sure.  Our Functionaire mentions how people can be kind and but also are many times exasperating.  Smiles all around and more conversation about what it's like to live here and wonderment that we would leave the States and "come to this".

Surprisingly, our French bank account pages are pulled out and handed back to us.  She says they were not needed.  Huh.  Well.  Would you get a look at that, will ya?  It's one of the only things our Convocation documents seems to be clear on.

The printer is printing and our formal documents are being prepared for review, careful inspection, and signature.

In the blink of an eye, we're in!  Living Large in France!  Like a Cheap Suit!  Damn!! 

Our plasticized cartes de sejour will be ready in mid-August.  We even have a convocation that gives us the date, office hours, and location of where we will retrieve our Increased Level of Official-ness to Live Here.  Until then, we have new documents we hold in our hot little hands allow us to leave and return to France from outside the Schengen Zone without harm nor delay, and possibly even with a hearty "Bienvenu a France!"

Maybe the Parisian Gods and Goddesses were just testing Our Resolve?  Or perhaps they are really there to protect us from The System?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Just one more thing in a Paris Day...

Retirement is reportedly a Blessed Event.  Things can Take Their Time and nothing is rushed, right?  As the proprietor of my favorite Belgium beers says, le patron is sitting peacefully dans le jardin avec de la biere.

Saturday brightened into a clear, glorious morning and the Big Event was to say goodbye to a Canadian friend over a bottle or two of wine.

At breakfast Jude asked where That Smell was that was coming from.  I said we'd have to look into it.  And look into it we did.  It was our kitchen sink.  Maybe.  Jude moved the cleaning supplies out from under it and I found a nice old clean rag to rest my knees on.

Under the stainless steel I dove to try and sort out how to clean the pipes.  We were convinced there was something rotten in Paris.  Rotten right here in our drain pipes.

I found a way to disassemble the tubing by hand, but it was an Octopus of flexible pipes coming from the dishwasher, washing machine, small sink, and large sink.  The pipes slipped and weaved their way from one appliance to another.  It was difficult to get at the pipes I thought might hold the nastiest stuff.

After a few tries, we had, hopefully, the offending pipes in hand and were cleaning out the junk and gunge.

Sore and tired, I creaked into a Full Upright Position and grabbed some papers and headed to la poste.  If these weren't photocopied before Monday, l'etat de France might not keep us legal on our visas.  So this as a must-do activity to be accomplished before we met Our Canadian.

Upon my return to the apartment, I hadn't sat down for three minutes and the mobile vibrated to life.  I had the sound turned too low and I just missed an in-coming call.  The vibration was marching the mobile to the edge of the shelf it was now bouncing on.  OK.  Quick.  Grab the phone. Redial.

It's our Upstairs Neighbor .  Her husband is still at work and she's selling an oven/stove.  She would like me to act as garde du corps (bodyguard) as she's home alone with her children.  D'accord.  J'ascende.

Visiting with her, she gave Jude and I a very beautiful potted sunflower for having attended her son's concert last week.  It was Very Sweet of her.  We had a great laugh when I told her I didn't make a very good garde du corps.  I'm not very tall, not very sturdily built, and not young and strong.  I explained our smelly plumbing problem and she instantly hands me an enzymatic gunk to pour down the drain.

After the stove/oven is marched out the door and downstairs into the Buyer's Car, I'm free to return to our apartment and finish wolfing (and I do mean wolfing) down a ham sandwich.  A swift phone call to leave a message with Our Canadian that we might be a few minutes late and we're out the door and dashing to the metro.  We have a date with a bottle of wine that shall not be missed!

We're only seven minutes late.  Wow.

Tired, yet happy to see Our Canadian, we found seats in a cafe in the 14th and ordered up a bio-wine from Bordeaux.  It was "OK", but not great.  The conversation was better than "OK" and was wonderful.  We had a hard time facing feelings of having to "go back".  I sure hope we never have to deal with that kind of move.  I don't think we could handle it.  And our appointment with the Powers of the French Etat was Monday.  Eek!  They will determine our future here.

The three of us wandered down the street to Jude's favorite all natural wine shop for a short case of tasty reds.  Into Le Caddy went a nice box of wine.  Then it was off to my favorite beer shop (the Bootlegger), where we learned that the old man has handed over his business to the Very Nice Young Lady who I've seen there for several months.  Three more beers in Le Caddy to keep the wine company and a heart felt farewell to Our Friend ended the day.  Or so we thought.

Into the metro and back to the apartment to home and hearth.  Whew!  We were bushed.

Opening and through the front door, we realized instantly that the mornings plumbing cleaning effort had not paid off.  Ugh.  The place still stank of whatever was rotting Down There.

As we were working out what to do next (call our landlord to see which plumber they might recommend came to mind), the doorbell rang.

Thinking it was our Upstairs Neighbor, or perhaps her husband coming to think me for my small bodied but big hearted efforts at playing garde du corps, I opened the door... to find our Across the Hall Neighbor smiling grandly and extending an invitation to drinks.  En dix (10) minutes!

Before we could answer, Jude collared him into showing him our plumbing problem.  He suggested that the odor might be a result of the Pipe Cleaning that was performed in the building recently.  Oh, and he'll call the building owners on Monday for us.  Well.  Now we're getting somewhere.  And... Jude had him listen to  Alarm Sounds that waft up through the central open shaft.  Our Downstairs Neighbor pops open an alarmed window and doesn't seem to mind the sound.  ANd... our Across the Hall Neighbor is the president of the apartment owner's group that interfaces to the building corporation.  Now we're really getting somewhere.  AND...  he'll take care of letting the downstairs neighbors know just how annoying their alarm is.


With that, how could we turn down an invitation to drinks? Which meant, unfortunately, that we needed to wolf down our second meal of the day so we could walk two meters across the hall to pay he and his lovely wife and children a wee-visit.

It was a great visit.  We hope to have forged a new friendship.  Our day had well and truly ended.  In bed.  Fast asleep. By 20h30.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

... and from Reddit on the NSA/CIA spying scandal...

This is pretty amazing stuff, really. 

James Bramford, an author who's work I've read over the years, answered questions concerning the latest revelations of what the NSA and CIA are really up to.  Here are just three highlights.  Though for the complete story, you should just head over to Reddit and read it all there.  Seriously.

So what scares you most out of everything you know about the whole thing?

[–]JimBamford[S] 556 points ago
To me what scares me most now is that you have this director of the NSA who now has under his authority the ability to actually destroy things. It's a thing called cyber kinetic warfare where you're using cyber not just to erase someone's hard drive but to actually blow things up. The largest dam in Russia for example, was destroyed. It wasn't cyber warfare but it was an accidental cyber event. The U.S. used that in Iran and destroyed the Iranian you have this General who can not only eavesdrop on everybody but he can blow things up. 

How much access do you believe they have? Did they coerce the tech giants into submission or pay them off? What will happen to Snowden?
[–]JimBamford[S] 186 points ago
I think it's mysterious, this cooperation between the NSA and ISPs, and the only thing I can compare it to is the deal with AT&T - where all data flows into their computers filled with software that does deep-pocket inspection, looking for target information and target names and so forth. Whether the NSA created some sort of lock box or portal in cyber space where they can do this, I don't know. But what you have is the NSA saying they have direct access to their servers. And what the tech giants are saying is that they don't give them direct access to their services. What we have then is something in between - is it semantics or truth or both? But eventually it will come out through investigative reporting or congressional hearings or something. I think Snowden is very courageous. He's doing something other people wouldn't do. He's not making any money on it, and he's facing serious repercussions. Last year, in my WIRED cover story on the NSA data-center in Utah, I interviewed a number of former senior officials, including Bill Binney, and they told me very similar things about getting data records from everyone at Verizon and so forth. But the NSA was able to largely brush off those accusations, and the mainstream media just believed them because General Alexander said it. This might have been one of the reasons why Snowden felt this information could only be taken seriously if the public actually got to see the documents. This way, there is no way to brush it under the rug, say these people are lying or exaggerating. A number of whistleblowers have said very similar things. The media and the public only believe it's real, despite the denials, when confronted with actual documents. 

This is the strangest thing right here.  Read and wonder/weep/whateverthehellyoudoattimeslikethis -

What kind of keywords are they looking for? I understand that they will probably be looking for words that will be indicative of terrorist conspiracies, but I've heard they've caught more drug dealers than terrorists.

[–]GloriousDawn 635 points ago
Waihopai, INFOSEC, Information Security, Information Warfare, IW, IS, Priavacy, Information Terrorism, Terrorism Defensive Information, Defense Information Warfare, Offensive Information, Offensive Information Warfare, National Information Infrastructure, InfoSec, Reno, Compsec, Computer Terrorism, Firewalls, Secure Internet Connections, ISS, Passwords, DefCon V, Hackers, Encryption, Espionage, USDOJ, NSA, CIA, S/Key, SSL, FBI, Secert Service, USSS, Defcon, Military, White House, Undercover, NCCS, Mayfly, PGP, PEM, RSA, Perl-RSA, MSNBC, bet, AOL, AOL TOS, CIS, CBOT, AIMSX, STARLAN, 3B2, BITNET, COSMOS, DATTA, E911, FCIC, HTCIA, IACIS, UT/RUS, JANET, JICC, ReMOB, LEETAC, UTU, VNET, BRLO, BZ, CANSLO, CBNRC, CIDA, JAVA, Active X, Compsec 97, LLC, DERA, Mavricks, Meta-hackers, ?, Steve Case, Tools, Telex, Military Intelligence, Scully, Flame, Infowar, Bubba, Freeh, Archives, Sundevil, jack, Investigation, ISACA, NCSA, spook words, Verisign, Secure, ASIO, Lebed, ICE, NRO, Lexis-Nexis, NSCT, SCIF, FLiR, Lacrosse, Flashbangs, HRT, DIA, USCOI, CID, BOP, FINCEN, FLETC, NIJ, ACC, AFSPC, BMDO, NAVWAN, NRL, RL, NAVWCWPNS, NSWC, USAFA, AHPCRC, ARPA, LABLINK, USACIL, USCG, NRC, ~, CDC, DOE, FMS, HPCC, NTIS, SEL, USCODE, CISE, SIRC, CIM, ISN, DJC, SGC, UNCPCJ, CFC, DREO, CDA, DRA, SHAPE, SACLANT, BECCA, DCJFTF, HALO, HAHO, FKS, 868, GCHQ, DITSA, SORT, AMEMB, NSG, HIC, EDI, SAS, SBS, UDT, GOE, DOE, GEO, Masuda, Forte, AT, GIGN, Exon Shell, CQB, CONUS, CTU, RCMP, GRU, SASR, GSG-9, 22nd SAS, GEOS, EADA, BBE, STEP, Echelon, Dictionary, MD2, MD4, MDA, MYK, 747,777, 767, MI5, 737, MI6, 757, Kh-11, Shayet-13, SADMS, Spetznaz, Recce, 707, CIO, NOCS, Halcon, Duress, RAID, Psyops, grom, D-11, SERT, VIP, ARC, S.E.T. 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A few more words of others...

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

So reads the fourth amendment to the US Constitution.

Why is it, then, that the US is looking a lot more like communist China than the "freedom loving democracy" it claims to be?

Why is it that a "Democrat" President (and former constitutional law professor at that!) strengthened Bush-era policies?  If anyone should be impeached and driven from office, shouldn't it be him?  And while you're at it, haul George W. Bush up for trial too.  He and Dick Cheney share responsibility for the spying policies that were implemented BEFORE the events of 9/11.

Americans seem confused about what the NSA/CIA spying on America program means to them.  Polls are trying to sort it out and come away with mixed answers.  It seems US citizens have no appreciation for their liberties nor responsibilities.

In the famous 1866 Supreme Court case of Ex Parte Milligan,  the court said -

The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances.

When did the US Government allow the NSA and CIA to overreach the Forth Amendment?  Why?  and How?  What are the People going to do about it?  Can they do anything about it?  It is all too late?

I am of a certain age where I remember what it was like growing up under the rhetoric that the Soviet Union was a terrible place because of the propaganda state sponsored media outlets used to "shape" citizen's thinking.  I remember stories about the KGB and Stasi spying on people and taking away those they did not like. I remember drills where we dove under tables or laid down flat on a playground at the sound of nuclear attack sirens.  I remember citing the Pledge of Allegiance each and every morning before class.

I read Orwell's book, 1984.

It's with incredible sadness that I realize the United States of America is not, and perhaps never was, the land of gold and honey, jobs and opportunities, freedom and liberty, that I was raised to believe it was.

It's a very strange thing to realize that my wife and I are just two small people living in a place far from home and feeling that we have no country.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In the words of someone else...

On the topic of NSA/CIA spying on Americans with a few thoughts from Europe, The Franco-American Flophouse has a good article.  It's less strident than mine from yesterday.  Yet it clearly gets the point across.

In search of privacy anywhere in the world...

I'm just a normal American.  But I left that Land of Honey, Grace, and God Fearing Folk for a very clear set of reasons.  Grab a nice cold Trappist Triple (it's nearly summer after all and the Quad's are a little too heavy), and let's review my current top four reasons for leaving, shall we?

I happen to be righteously pissed off at the US and UK monied corporate interests for sending nation-state funded intellectual property and jobs to a former enemy, China.  Additionally, corporate "profits" are hidden off shore, out of reach of the IRS.  This, so the already rich can make feed their incredibly strong Greed Machine at an increasingly obscene rate.

I have come to be righteously confused by American incredibly stupid response to mass shootings.  After the events of Sandy Hook, rather than willingly putting down arms and doing what Australia did after a massacre,  the fine citizens of the USA went out to buy more guns.  Instead of understanding and realizing that fewer weapons leads to fewer deaths, people went out and stocked up.  Why?

I have also become righteously pissed off at the way citizens in the US readily give away hard won "freedoms" the moment they are frightened.  Even though the chance of any of them dying from a "terrorist" attack is eight times less than being shot and killed by a policeman, America has quickly given away rights granted under the US constitution.  Habeas corpus is a 1000 year old human right not longer granted to the citizens of the USA and is explained away as something that is needed to keep America "safe".

I am now righteously angry that a former constitutional law professor (Obama) would have the balls to support the Bush-era policies of spying on American citizens living on American soil.  One incredibly brave citizen has just sacrificed his own life to tell us just how extensive that spying is and has given us strong hints that the results of this spying has, in many cases, nothing to do with "keeping Americans safe."  Here are a few of the more chilling things Edward Snowden has said:
  • I believe that at this point in history, the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life comes from the reasonable fear of omniscient State powers kept in check by nothing more than policy documents
  • With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.
  • ...they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them.
  • I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinized most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians.
If the NSA/CIA system of surveillence did what it is being advertised to do, wouldn't events such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, Santa Monica be preventable?  Think about it.  Those were all "terrorist" attacks.  And don't narrowly define "terrorist" either.  Americans have just as much to fear from far-right Christians as they do far-right Muslims.

Just as how Americans responded to each and every mass shooting since the 1960's, people have responded opposite to their best interests in this case too.  They believe that if NSA/CIA spying "keeps Americans safe" from "terrorism", it's OK with them!  Too many times I've read where idiot citizens say things like "I have nothing to hide" without thinking through what any of the "unintended consequences" might be.

Funny enough, some people are buying Orwell's "1984".  Sales on Amazon are up 7000% over last week.  While it might be a little late to do anything about, at least some people are willing to read what it's like living in a society that tells itself it's "free", and yet is anything but.

Finished that fine Trappist Triple yet?  Good.  Now it's time to open another.  These are Dark Days of Understanding and we need all the help we can get.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

In search of creativity in the City of Light...

Jude and I were invited to a book signing party.

What started as an innocent night out ended with a deeper appreciation for taking the opportunity to get out of the apartment and mingling with the locals.

Etienne Barillier and a co-author, our friend, Arthur Morgan, were hosting a book release and autograph party at les blouses blances over in the 12th.  Their book, le guide steampunk, came hot off the presses.  Morgon told me they'd arrived just that morning.

I couldn't imagine so many Parisians dressed as Victorian Steampunk.  Yet, there they were.  All bellied up to the bar and spilling into chairs and sofas that took up more than half the cafe.  I was thrilled.  These were people I've been searching for since the day after we debarked the aircraft that ferried us from our former home.

We spoke with as many people as we could, including one strapping gent kitted out in a kilt.  Huh.  First time I'd seen someone (not busking) dressed as a Highlander.  I said as much, shared that I wished I hadn't sold my kilt, and thus started the first of several great conversations.  It turns out, Mister Whyte is a fine photographer in his own right.

After buying a vin rouge pour ma femme et de la biere pour moi, we settled into a couple of stools next to the bar.  The 20-something crowd likely didn't know what to do with two old people.  We were content to hang around the edges of the crowd and talk with whomever happened to come by.

One gent who was more about our age (that is, distinctly not quite yet an ancient, creaking, mess of bones and old persons ideas, but certainly older than the youngsters) handed out flyers for their next concert.  It turns out, he is featured in le guide steampunk.  It was another good conversation which lead to the exchange of carte de visite.

This morning I read my email to find Victor Sierra had contacted me.  Another conversation ensued and the next thing you know, we have something to look forward to in July with he and his wife as well as an opportunity to share his creative vetements with my camera's lens.

I'm enjoying thinking about the possibilities for creative expression.  Art and life further merge.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Labor Day...

Labor Day is celebrated differently here in Europe than in the US.  It seems that labor is quite capable of reminding folks here of their value and purpose in culture and society.  They don't sit meekly in a corner somewhere wishing and hoping that an already wealthy corporate fat cat will give them a job.

Growing up in America, I learned that labor unions are corrupt, give away dues to politicians you might not like and, perhaps mostly importantly, union were not needed and only stood in the way of people making an "honest" living.  Mention was seldom ever made, however, as to corrupt corporate influences on government.  Nothing is done when banks feloniously launder drug money.  The media and "culture" were largely mute on these points.

Instead, there are web sites devoted to helping people find ways of avoiding unions, and others that try to passively explain the rise and fall of unionization in America.

In the mean time, corporate profits have risen to all time highs and America's labor pool has been left behind to try in live off the scraps companies throw their way in the form of low wage jobs and minimal social benefits. 

It has been suggested that the fall of unions in the US is a significant source of increased corporate profitability, but there are many dimensions to this issue.  This is not simply a "union" issue.  We need to consider the contribution of falling corporate tax rates to bottom line profits.  In cases where tax rates are deemed still too high, corporation have found ways of "sheltering" monies off-shore.  Where American labor is seen as too expensive, corporations have moved jobs and intellectual property to China.  This, even though it has been known for nearly a decade that the costs of engineering, product development, and manufacturing between the US and China were quickly becoming largely equal.

A view of the Eiffel Tower from America leaves one, many times, with a quaint feeling that "socialist" France is waging a loosing battle against "globalization".  Labor costs are (supposedly) high which, frankly, should leave French businesses in a lower state of "competitiveness".

Yet France remains the world's fifth strongest economy and France has done very well in spite of "globalization".

Reading Graham Robb's "The Discovery of France - a historical geography", I learned a little about France's "stage" apprentice system.  Guilds implemented an education approach that would lead an apprentice from town to town where they would study with the local masters in their craft.  After six or eight years the apprentice would return to their home village after having become, themselves, a master.

The "stage" system created the foundation for close knit groups of laborers and skilled craftspeople.  These guilds were to become the first unions in Europe.  It is easy to see that American labor does not have hundreds of years of history of sticking together, supporting one another, with or without unionizing.

Understanding how my skewed up-bringing has colored my view of the world, I wanted to see, first hand, what an active unionized labor force might look like.  Boy, was I in for a surprise!

First, labor unions here in Paris are proud.  They are proud of the work they do.  They are proud of what they accomplish.  Second, they are strong.  Their strength comes in numbers.  There is nothing like a huge manifestation (strike) to drive home a point.  Third, unionized peoples can occupy large, open, public spaces.  Groups are large enough to effectively shut off traffic from passing through la Bastille for a day or more.  Forth, unions bring forth a plurality of ideas, demands, and expected outcomes. 

Fifth, I saw something that, as an American, I had a difficult time putting into a nice neat framework of US cultural and media generated fear inducing commentary.  You see, in the US, potential "terrorism" is seen in the faces of anyone from an Arab or Persian country.  They're supposed to be angry Allah loving Islamists ready to blow up Jesus love'n 'merikans, right?  No.  Not even close.  They could care less about 'merika, except where family members had been killed or executed by political powers supported by the US.

Here were Turks,  there Iranians, Iraqis, and an enormous group of Syrians.  All singing, dancing, carrying flags, cooking great BBQ, handing out la lutte leaflets, and getting ready to participate in the parade that was forming to head off deep into the 11th arrondisement and parts uncharted.

In 2013, on May Day, Europe's Labor Day, I walked through the vast la Bastille occupying crowds.  I saw unions celebrating by BBQ'ing food for one and all.  I listened to a surprisingly wide variety of music (both live and pre-recorded).  I read a broad range of leaflets which described an astonishing number of luttes (struggles) contre legitimate forces of greed, political power, and corporate interests.

I could imagine American tourists who happened to be looking on saying things like "you fools, go get a job!", or "this isn't right!", or screaming "socialists!!", or "you're too damned expensive and deserve to have you job shipped to China!!!"  Living in the US, I've heard all of these things, and more. 

When I hear Americans in Paris saying things like "oh, not ANOTHER strike!  Don't these people have better things to do?", I want to remind them that this isn't the US and you can't expect things to work in the same (broken down) way they do back home.

I see France living out on a balancing act of UMP/Sarkozy, NF/lePen form of corporate greedists against a large active labor union environment where putting food on the table takes precedence over a PDG/CEO putting another few Euro in their pocket.  Corporate interests are held to a much higher standard than they are in the US. 

Things can clearly be tipped to the working classes.  After all, it has been several quite large angry groups of Parisian laborers who put to spike the heads of the rich bastards.  If that wouldn't put the fear of the masses into a greedy self-serving monied-man as a means of keeping him in line and doing the bidding of the people, I don't know what would.