By Nancy Macdonald - Saturday, November 17, 2012 - 0 Comments
The biggest buzz from the Communist Party’s meeting was around the yawns
Photos of bored Chinese Communist delegates at a pivotal party meeting went viral last week, before quickly disappearing from social media. Yawning party loyalists, after all, don’t fit with the official excitement surrounding Beijing’s once-in-a-decade leadership turnover.
In fairness, the 18th party congress, which ended Thursday, was hardly heady stuff. Decisions were made months in advance, and the names of the top leadership—including Xi Jinping, who replaces Hu Jintao as head of the Chinese Communist Party—have been known for years. Apparatchiks were just going through the motions.
But that didn’t stop an aura of paranoia from sweeping Beijing. Officials, spooked by falling growth rates, corruption scandals and the children of Communist politicians crashing Ferraris, ramped up security ahead of the handover. The sale of knives was banned in the capital. Buying a toy plane—which could have seditious messages attached to it—required a police chief’s permission. Cabbies were ordered to lock their back windows to prevent passengers from handing out political pamphlets. And in Tiananmen Square, guards carried fire extinguishers to stop Tibetan monks from lighting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule. Still, in places, dissidents did turn out to protest; scores of them were hauled off by security agents. Continue…
By Brian Bethune - Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 7:45 AM - 0 Comments
Book by David McCullough
There was a time, between the deadly struggles of the French and Indian wars and the days of freedom fries and surrender monkeys, when Americans reserved their greatest foreign admiration and respect for the French. Between the Marquis de Lafayette’s timely aid in the Revolutionary War and the gift of the Statute of Liberty, Americans poured into Paris seeking what they could not find at home: advanced training in painting, science, medicine and the art of living. Frenchmen came west too, most notably Alexis de Tocqueville and King Louis-Philippe, who probably saw more of the U.S. during his years of exile there—he once worked as a waiter in a Boston oyster bar—than most of the Americans he made welcome in France during his reign (1830 to 1848).
But it’s the traffic from his country to France that animates McCullough, 77, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, in his beautifully told story. He’s assembled a remarkable cast. Among the 700 American medical students who studied in Paris between 1830 and 1860—an era in which American doctors were not legally required to have advanced training—was Elizabeth Blackwell, who studied obstetrics and gynecology, both ignored at home since American doctors were not in the habit of giving female patients “intimate” examinations. She came home to found a New York hospital entirely run by women. Artists included James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel Morse, who flourished as a painter before picking up in France an odd idea that he later turned into the telegraph.
Most of them also managed to enjoy what Cooper called “a little pleasure concealed in the bottom of the cup.” On a grander scale, dozens came back to the U.S. with ideas for the parks and museums that would transform the cities of the Eastern seaboard, while a few recorded transformations in their personal, including sexual, lives. Side benefits, McCullough notes, for the eastbound travellers who transformed their nation as much as its westward pioneers.
By Julien Russell Brunet - Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 1:00 PM - 1 Comment
French workers are resorting to kidnapping and violent threats
More than one century ago, Alexis de Tocqueville described his mother country of France as “the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation in Europe and the best qualified in turn to become an object of admiration, hatred, pity or terror but never indifference.” Indeed, as other Western democracies have moved along quietly this summer, slowly recovering from the economic crisis, in quick succession France has shocked, exasperated and bemused. Over the past few months, there has been an increase in labour militancy, marking a significant deterioration in the already poor relations between the country’s trade unions and the French government.
In the spring, employees from at least eight companies kidnapped executives, demanding concessions such as better jobs, higher pay and fewer layoffs. In July, workers at New Fabris, a bankrupt car-parts plant, and at Nortel Networks, the insolvent telecommunications company, threatened to explode bottles of gas at their factories if employers did not meet demands for a better severance package. And most recently, angry truck drivers, also concerned about redundancy money, vowed to pour more than 8,000 litres of toxic products into the Seine River.
While all those threats have since been lifted, deep and unresolved problems remain. Says Jonah Levy, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley: “There isn’t a tradition of regularized corporatist bargaining, but there is a tradition of citizens having a lot of expectations that the state will take care of them.” But at a time of global recession, the hands of the state—not to mention those of financially besieged corporations—are tied. And that may mean that growing extremism may continue to be an ever more troublesome part of France’s labour relations landscape. As one union representative said to Britain’s the Guardian, “People are desperate. Movements are going to only get more virulent, more violent.”