Just Above Sunset
June 13, 2004 - Hollywood and Paris, Back and Forth

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In earlier January you’ll find this - Automotive Psychology: If someone's going to die, let it be someone else.  Is it possible to limit the damage an obsession does to others? - a discussion in Just Above Sunset of SUV’s and why folks drive them.

And here you will find that the aging French rock star, sort of the Mick Jagger of France, sometimes discussed in these pages, Johnny Halliday, does indeed drive a big black Hummer H1 around Paris.

Encensé par ses premiers propriétaires de renom tels que Arnold Schwarzenegger ou pour la France Johnny Halliday, le Hummer H1 était présenté comme un ... - and so on.  I’ve seen it.  He does.

And that is the prelude to the comments that flew between the editor of As Seen from Just Above Sunset (me) and the editor of MetropoleParis (Ric Erickson).

Item one: Johnny H in trouble with his big black Hummer?

I alerted Ric to this Reuters item…
Paris Goes After SUVs


PARIS (Reuters) - Bulky four-by-fours could be banned from clogging up the chic streets of Paris after a top official in the capital's left-wing government described them as a polluting "caricature of a car" unsuited to city life.

An anti-sports utility vehicle (SUV) resolution passed by the city council could lead to a ban on the popular vehicles in about 18 months if it is included in an overall project to improve traffic flow in the city, Deputy Mayor Denis Baupin said Wednesday.

"You have to wonder why people want to drive around in SUVs," Baupin, a Greens party member, said on Europe 1 radio.

"We have no interest in having SUVs in the city.  They're dangerous to others and take up too much space."

The city council voted Tuesday to urge Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe to consider banning SUVs, which have become popular in recent years and now make up about five percent of the French car market -- just below the western Europe average.

Baupin said Paris, which has been setting aside more lanes for buses and bicycles since a Socialist and Greens coalition took over City Hall in 2001, could not legally ban SUVs outright.  "Our idea is to limit the circulation of the most polluting vehicles," he said.  "That means SUVs and lots of other vehicles that don't meet European pollution standards."

Baupin, who often cycles around Paris to promote more environmentally friendly transport, called SUVs a caricature of a car and said they were not adapted for use in a city.  "It's made for a family on vacation ... and usually they only have one person in them," he said.  "Let's be logical and only allow into the city cars that are adapted to it."


And Ric set the record straight –


Paris city council today voted to give SUVs a wrist-slap because they pollute much more than typical cheesy little French cars even if they are diesels.

This is a new crusade for the city council ruled by Socialists and backstopped by Les Verts.

Today's vote has no effect whatsoever - other than to put Mayor Delanöe's government on record as SUV-bashers.

Paris' city hall - the Hôtel de Ville - is not thought to be air conditioned, and today's temperatures - 4 to 6 degrees higher than 'normal for the season' - (about 83 F) may be been behind the initiative launched by Denis Baupin, deputy mayor for bicycle issues.  (Don't remember whether Denis is a Red or a Green.  Everybody is trying to jump on the Green bandwagon these days.)

Quote: "You have to wonder why people want to drive around in SUVs," Baupin, a Greens party member, said on Europe 1 radio.

Denis may wonder, but everybody else knows Paris isn't Long Island or Orange County.  France does not, despite controlling large parts of oil-rich Africa, have lots of dirt-cheap oil to squander on idiots who live in the 16th arrondissement, Neuilly, or the western suburbs.

Quote: Baupin said Paris, which has been setting aside more lanes for buses and bicycles since a Socialist and Greens coalition took over City Hall in 2001, could not legally ban SUVs outright.  “Our idea is to limit the circulation of the most polluting vehicles," he said.  "That means SUVs and lots of other vehicles that don't meet European pollution standards."

Well, this could mean many of the cheesy little cars with diesel motors too.  Diesel motors are much favored by French drivers because the rotten fuel they use is cheaper than regular gas.  Cleaning up diesel emissions lags behind the traps put on gasoline-powered cars.  About 50 percent of all private cars in France are diesel-powered.

All trucks are diesel.


And as I said to Ric once over coffee on the Right Bank a few years ago, Paris smells that way.  Diesel fumes.  Paris in the summer smells like… like one morning when I was walking through the French Quarter of New Orleans as the narrow streets were being washed down and the trucks were making their morning deliveries.  Wet cobblestones and diesel fumes.

A few years ago I drove a diesel rental car all over the Avignon-Arles-Aix triangle.  The car wasn’t thrilling.  That’s France.  Not a car place.  Not like Hollywood.


Item two: Paris imitates Baghdad (spotty electricity)?

"We're moving into a new rhythm."

This from the Associated Press –
Protesters cut power to Paris train stations
Laurence Frost, Paris, France 07 June 2004 17:00


French trade union activists claimed responsibility for surprise power outages on Monday that delayed hundreds of thousands of rail passengers in Paris.  They warned of more protests over plans for the partial privatisation of the country's utilities.

The communist-backed CGT union said the outages were a response to attempts by the government to rush through new laws that would transform Electricite de France and Gaz de France from state agencies into listed companies.

Trains to and from Paris's St Lazare station were severely disrupted by the outages that began at 3.30am local time on Monday morning, while three other main line stations suffered partial power losses.  All services were back to normal by about midday.

"It's a deliberate action in the face of a speed-up by the government, which is saying that the parliamentary debate could happen very quickly," said Gerard Rodriguez, a senior official at the CGT's mining and energy division.

"Throughout the week, there will be more actions like this," Rodriguez said. "We're moving into a new rhythm."

Power outages sometimes accompany strikes by EDF workers, who descended on Paris by the tens of thousands on May 27.  But the decision to target train stations without warning represents a departure from the usual tactics and a clear toughening of the union militants' stance.

A group of militants also cut off power on Monday to the home of a conservative parliamentarian from the rural Lot region, Michel Roumegoux, who advocates reform of the national utilities, France-Info radio reported.

France's national railway operator, the SNCF, said it will seek compensation from EDF after the cuts caused 250 trains to be cancelled or delayed, affecting about 500 000 passengers.

It said the Paris-Nord, Paris-Lyon and Montparnasse stations were also affected, although less severely than St Lazare.

The CGT and other unions have called a nationwide strike for June 15, when the government is set to present its partial privatisation plans to lawmakers.

Besides dropping their special status as public enterprises -- as demanded by European Union authorities in Brussels -- the conservative government wants to sell part of the two utilities on the stock market.

It argues its plans do not amount to privatisation, since it has pledged to retain controlling stakes in both groups as well as allowing employees to keep generous pensions and other advantages they enjoy as public sector workers.

Financial benefits such as cheap debt granted to EDF under the current French law have been repeatedly criticised by EU competition authorities, which in December ordered the power giant to pay back €900-million in tax breaks plus interest.

The European Commission also said it has obtained a commitment from France to end EDF's special status as a public enterprise by the end of 2004.

The French government is pushing ahead with a wide-ranging privatisation program as it struggles to shore up its finances and rein in the bulging national debt.


And of course Ric set us straight on this too – on these actions regarding opening up the electricity market to competition - something that cost California between eight and thirteen billion dollars a few years ago, and gave us Arnold Shwarzenegger (the man who made the Hummer commercially available to us all) as our new governor.


Without warning on Tuesday morning, protesting EDF workers blacked out the St Lazare train station, causing havoc for hundreds of thousands of hapless commuters.  The workers are protesting against government plans to open the state monopoly of electricity production and distribution to competition.

French consumers are perplexed.  Nobody has explained to them how 'competition' will reduce power prices while maintaining service at acceptable levels.  EDF workers fear there will be job cuts.

The right-wing national government claims it is under pressure from Brussels to open up the French energy market to competition.  It is never mentioned that EDF may produce power at lower cost than its competitors in neighboring countries, and may itself be in the position to take them over.

While power for consumers is not cheap - in the recent past the EDF has raised prices and based its logic on world energy price levels (the war in Iraq) - the fact remains that the bulk of power produced in France comes from nuclear sources, developed at the insistence of the government, and heavily paid for by taxpayers.

For, as in all other countries, it is taxpayers and consumers who pay for everything, not governments.

EDF workers say that power supplies are a 'public service' that can only be efficiently ensured on a national level.

Labor action has been led by the CGT union, which is Communist.  While the Communist Party in France has fallen on hard times, the same cannot be said of the CGT which is under pressure from even more militant unions.  Union members who think the CGT is mamby-pamby join SUD.

All in all, it has been a 'normal' news day in Paris.  The pocket-Napoleon Nicolas Sarkozy went out to EDF headquarters in La Defense yesterday to 'do' something, and the news was mainly about how he sneaked through heavy pickets with the help of fully-amoured CRS anti-mutiny troops wielding their traditional iron-bar clubs.  A couple of TV-news people got wrecked too.

In France unarmed civilians are not particularly afraid of armed police, the CRS and its dogs, or the armed forces.  When the people are 'in the right,' they have a right to fight for their rights.  But attention if you are a visitor - none of it is make-believe.  The iron in the clubs is real. 

                       - from the barricades, Ric


Ric mentions the scary CSR guys.  One of them once asked me for a light.  I complied.  He had a sub-machinegun.  Allowing him his cigarette break seemed prudent.

And Ric adds to that – adding detail to the weekend Bush visited Paris (June 5) that he had previously reported here

A paratrooper armed with a machinegun stopped me on Sunday to ask where I thought I was going.  I was up behind the Jeu de Paume because I wanted to look over that empty field of dirt that lies beside Rivoli inside the Tuileries towards the Louvre.  There was supposed to be a new labyrinth in there.

I couldn't remember the word 'labyrinth,' so I asked the soldier if his gun was loaded.  I couldn't remember the word 'chargé' either.  He said it was a secret.  There also wasn't any labyrinth.  So I asked him if he would shoot if necessary.  He said that was a secret too.

This was near the Place de la Concorde.  From the front of the Jeu de Paume I could see a sizeable temporary wall drawn up in the place, making a fortress of the Crillon and the US embassy beyond it.  But where I was on the Tuileries side, behind the Jeu de Paume building, I didn't understand what the paratrooper was guarding.

He was polite, but wary.  When I left him with his secrets I wished him a 'bonne weekend.'  All part of a day's work in Dodge City.

Secrets everywhere.  Anti-terror troops with odd attitudes.  Here.  Paris.  What a world.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....