Monday, July 08, 2013

NY Times: Three Mostly Clueless Articles, One Heavenly Moment

Three recent articles in the New York Times discuss issues with current life in France.

All three articles are for the most part somewhat clueless. Only the final article, in the final sentence, of the final paragraph finally begins to not bad (as in 'my bad', 'your bad').

The first article is 'The Best Hope for France’s Young? Get Out' by Felix Marquardt, published 27 June 2013. Mr Marquardt's point seems to be this:
Young French people need to go abroad, to work, to travel, to see how things can work differently in cultures and countries that don’t play by the same old rules — and then come back to France, and reinject some of the energy and enthusiasm they’ve absorbed to help reconcile the broader population with the global reality that France has shunned for far too long.
Mr Marquardt, where would you like the young people to go and find work? Spain, Greece, Poland, Romania? These countries are all within the EU and so immigration and travel costs are not a big issue. But do you really think that a young French person will walk into a job in any of these places? OK, so how about China or Chile or New Zealand? Travel costs become a huge issue and what is the likelihood of immigration officials in any of these countries looking kindly at the work permit application of a young inexperienced French person?

And it is not as if that the French do not travel. Go to almost anywhere in the world and in the local pharmacy you will find French perfume, at Saturday's wedding you will be served Champagne and at your beach picnic you will eat French Brie served on a locally-baked baguette. How did those products and their French exporters get to whatever remote place you happened to be in? There's a very good chance the French exporters - and you as well - traveled there via an Airbus assembled in Toulouse and the goods arrived via CGA CGM, the third largest container shipping fleet in the world.

There's more. The French government provides financial support to over 600 schools around the world so that French-speaking people around the world can educate their children in French. Various state-sponsored internship programs send thousands of young French interns to companies and government agencies around the world.

The jobs for young people issue is not just a French issue. It's that there are not enough jobs to go around. Mr Marquardt's article is simplistic at best.

The second article also discusses issues of the young in France. 'Rite of Passage for French Students Receives Poor Grade' is by Scott Sayare and published 29 June 2013. This articles disses the French education systems' baccalaureate (or 'bac') college-prep exams. Points raised include:
The bac’s primary function now seems to be to identify and punish the weakest students...
Critics worry that too many students earn the bac these days...
The test does not function terribly effectively as a filter for higher education...
The test does not evaluate the most relevant of students’ capabilities..
No alternatives to the bac are proposed and perhaps more tellingly no comparisons are drawn with other systems such as the SAT in the US or A Levels in the UK. Are the criticisms disingenuous or what? Mr Sayare himself highlights the pointlessness of his article when he remarks:
But change is slow in coming. Lawmakers have in recent years moved to include classroom grades in criteria for diplomas, Mr. Davidenkoff said, but withdrew their proposals after student protests. (italics mine)
The third article was penned by a writer I very much admire. 'Goodbye Old World, Bonjour Tristesse' was written by Maureen Dowd and published on 6 July 2013. Ms Dowd's point is something like this:
The French are so busy wallowing in their existential estrangement — a state of mind Camus described as “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” — that they don’t even have the energy to be rude. 
'The French' is like 'The Americans' or 'the Chinese'. When I read words like this my eyes begin to roll. Yet another pronunciation of a vapid generalization is about to occur.  How can you adequately state the summary of all the emotions and knowledge and well-being of millions of people in a single sentence?

Ms Dowd does get in the occasional bon mot and it's sort of a fun read.  But the culmination of the article is a chat with Claudia Senik, a French professor, and the conclusion is that:
 In others words, unhappiness has been bred into the French bone. 
The are deep, sad and quite depressing thoughts for sure. These are words of a transcendental or very large scale phenomena. Yet here's the closing sentence of the article:
“Our happiness function is a little deficient,” she said over espresso at Le Rostand across from the Jardin du Luxembourg. “It’s really in the French genome.”
When I read these words I laughed and nearly fell out of my chair. Kindly allow me to deconstruct this sentence. Here are the important words of the sentence: 'over espresso at Le Rostand across from the Jardin du Luxembourg'.

I know 'Le Rostand' very well. There are few public places in the world where you will find people as good-looking, well-dressed, engaged and serene as at 'Le Rostand'. After a dozen visits or so, you become part of this ( even if it means buying a new jacket) . If I were not such an atheist I would say that places like 'Le Rostand' become a proof of the existence of god. So, yes, by all means let us discuss the depths of French unhappiness, but let us choose to do so in a French heaven.