Thursday, December 04, 2003

Vive la différance:
Belief in the stable identity of the product, wherever in the world it may be consumed, is one of the conditions of its success. Stability across space and time is central to both the notion and the value of a brand, and the McDonald's brand, or the more specific brand of the Big Mac, is worth a lot.

Note, however, that the homogeneity of the globalised product is necessarily a relative matter, and belief in its stability may not be supported in reality. Though it is evidently a great secret, I'm told that McDonald's buns have a lot more sugar in Britain than they do in the States; there is, of course, no beef (Hindu sensibilities) or pork (Muslim) in the Indian "Maharaja Mac"; the mayonnaise has no egg in it (for vegans); and, when Bové did his splendid work on the Montpellier McDonald's, the local company representative was at tactical pains to stress difference, assuring the demonstrators that the burgers were an authentically local product, containing only French beef "from the farm".
And what about McCamembert? Does its career work as a metonym for modernity, Steven Shapin asks? (Yes, the same Steven Shapin who's co-responsible for this important book.)

(Link via Oxblog.)

Human sacrifice

Ideofact links to an article in the Washington Post about tantric human sacrifice in India. (According to a report in the Hindustan Times, in the last six months there have been 25 cases in western Uttar Pradesh alone.) The piece begins with a horrific story which reminded me of this one about one of Louis XIV's mistresses:
One of the women whom the king favored obtained her post by a means unique in modern times. On the road from Paris to Orleans stood a château in the chapel of which a priest named Guibourg officiated from time to time. His notion of the service was peculiar. On a certain day near the mid-century the alter in that chapel, covered with a black cloth, supported the semi-naked body of a woman in her twenties. The priest placed the chalice on her midriff and intoned the black mass, winding up with the ritual kiss bestowed on Satan's new recruit. Then came the sacrifice of a live offering to the lord of Evil, to ensure the fulfillment of a petition shortly to be made. The live victim this time was unusual: an infant who had been bought for a few francs. And the petition was also out of the common: "I want the king's affection so that he will do everything I ask for myself and I want him to give up La Vallière and look with favor on my relatives, my servants, and my retainers." The infant's heart was set aside to be burnt and reduced to powder "for the king's use."

The woman on the alter was Athènais de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan. She became lady-in-waiting to the queen and acknowledged mistress of the king at 27. Her reign lasted 14 years.

During that time she was eulogized in verse by many, and notably by Racine and La Fontaine. They did not know, of course, any more than the king, the unorthodox means by which she had made her way to the foot of the throne. She produced eight children and managed to get two legitimized, inevitably creating permanent dissension between partisans of the true line and of the bastards. Before being supplanted by the formidable (and pious) Mme de Maintenon, Montespan had been converted by Bishop Bossuet--or so he believed--but she still showed a restless spirit and nursed the ambition of recapturing her long-forgotten husband--in vain. He was one of the few who kept away from the circus at Versailles.

(Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, p. 291.)

Also at Harry's Place, a post about people to people solidarity which ends by expressing a desire to go retro:
I know charities are busy doing their best for people in Iraq and elsewhere but it is a shame that this kind of direct people-to-people solidarity seems to have disappeared.

I am pretty sure a parcel with a letter inside from a far-away family is a better experience than standing in a queue at the charity warehouse.

If anyone knows of programmes of this kind involving Iraq or anywhere else for that matter please leave a comment and I'd be happy to use the blog to publicise such initiatives.

There's a discussion over at Harry's Place about how to characterize the current split in the left. Has one swath of the left moved to the right over the Iraq war? Is what is happening analogous to the split of 1956? Here's one of the views:
I think the break is between leftists who hold anti-imperialism to be the main action, and leftists who hold anti-fascism to be the main action. These two groups are now markedly at odds.

The anti-imperialists *are* open to the charge of being "objectively pro-fascist" if that's what you mean by "conservative", though they remain philosophically anti-fascist. But the anti-fascists actors are even more open to the charge of being "pro-imperialist", so equally open to the charge of being "conservative"; though they (well, those that actually understand what the term means, and therefore admit to supporting it in current circumstances) would say that their support for imperialism is temporary and in a good cause (of course, that's what Gladstone said).

The question now, I think, is how to reunite the blanket opponents of imperialism with the active opponents of fascism.

Via Winds of Change, here's BlogAfrica, a collection of links to loads of blogs with coverage of Africa.
Big picture stuff

Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon's New Map

John Lewis Gaddis, A Grand Strategy of Transformation

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

France Falling?

Collin May of Innocents Abroad is reflecting on French decline via a discussion of several French thinkers:
The French problem, more or less, is a lack of political moderation. At the same time, there have been exceptions, people such as Tocqueville, Renan and Clemenceau. Similarly today, there are exceptions among French thinkers. It is these thinkers, these moderates that I will consider in this series. Each week, for the next month or so, I plan to present a discussion of a book written by those who inhabit what could be called the moderate centre of the political and philosophic spectrum. This will include liberals, conservatives and moderate socialists. The common link is their reasoned and thoughtful expression of discontent with the state of modern France.

The authors I will cover include: Nicolas Baverez, André Glucksmann, Alain Finkielkraut, Stephen Launay and Jean-François Revel. Each of these authors deals with an aspect of contemporary France of interest to the non-French observer, ranging from the domestic economic and political scene (Baverez) to the international and ideological (Glucksmann) to anti-Semitism (Finkielkraut), war (Launay) and anti-Americanism (Revel). In addition, I plan to consider a literary example from noted French author Michel Houellebecq. Finally, I will provide some of my own reflections on France after six years working, living and studying among the French.

As the reader can no doubt glean, I tend to share the concerns registered by the authors I treat. My hope is that France will do as it has done in the past and correct its current decline with what Nicolas Baverez refers to as “shock therapy.” If not, however, it will remain vitally important that the other western democracies learn from the French decline, both to avoid it and to understand what happens when democracy parts ways with political prudence.
Here's what's up so far:

Nicolas Baverez
1. Introduction
2. Three Transformations in Economics and Strategy
3. Society and Politics
4. Failures and Solutions

André Glucksmann: Ouest contre ouest
1. Civilization contre Nihilism
2. Shakespeare contre Sartre
3. The Cowboy contre the Tsar

Alain Finkielkraut on Anti-Semitism
1. Introduction

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