France’s Yellow Vest Movement

I generally try not to simply repost articles on this blog, but Noelle Lenoir’s recent post, “France’s burning hate” does a good job placing France’s Yellow Vest movement into context. Her perspective is sympathetic to Macron. In this depiction, the Yellow Vest movement is an increasingly violent force, which hearkens back to the anti-Semitism and hatred of the 1930s. What is particularly interesting in her description of how establishment figures have adopted the Yellow Vest movement for their own ends. Lenoir is clearly sympathetic to Macron, and says that he is gaining legitimacy by his principled and restrained response to the crisis. I think, however, that the voices of the protesters are missing from the piece. Her essay could have gone into greater depth about their demands, and the grievances that have fueled the movement. In her depiction the Yellow Vests seem more an atavistic force than a reflection of deeply held beliefs.

As in discussions of populism in the United Sates, Lenoir points the finger at the impact of Russian fake news, which incites popular unrest. Last week in my Cyberwar and Espionage class my students discussed Russia’s fake news and propaganda efforts. Collectively, they made a few points: foreign influence in politics and elections is nothing new; outside actors could only have an influence when the U.S. is deeply divided, and the apparent success of the Russian troll factories -which are quite real- may overshadow other political forces driving discontent. While Russia is certainly trying to sow dissent and protest in the West, I also believe that its efforts have become a convenient scapegoat to explain protest movements and unrest. Does Russia really have the influence ascribed to it? If so, what are the weaknesses in Western societies that permit this? And how many people in the United States or France are really following RT, or consuming fake news on social media?

Despite the gaps in the piece, I do think that Lenoir’s piece provides a useful perspective on the Yellow Vest movement, which is well worth reading.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Resources for Travel in France

A detail from the month of June, haymaking, in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry An illuminated manuscript, Netherlandish. A devotional book of hours. “The palace is the Palais de la Cité with the Sainte Chapelle rising above the rooftops.” By Limbourg Brothers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Traveling is difficult work: obtaining a visa, planning the flight, booking the hotels. Then there is all the information that you need once you arrive. For this reason, it’s great to have to have a single source that can provide the essential information that you need. If you are planning to travel to France, my student Katrina Grundman has created a slideshow will give you these key resources all in one location. The slideshow is visually attractive, concise and informative. Katrina just returned from Paris, so it’s based on her own recent experience. I particularly liked the pros and cons about different language apps. She also lists some helpful apps for traveling in France, such as the RATP, which is useful for managing public transport. But Katrina’s slideshow also has a wealth of other great information, such as resources for the Expat community in France, key Facebook pages, and movies that you can watch before you go to inspire you. Bon Voyage!

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Influenza and Respect

The French website Sentiweb tracks disease prevalence in the country. This winter the map of influenza-like illness in France has been a sea of red, which documents a particularly bad year. The situation in Germany is no better. Influenza viruses mutate over time, which means that every year vaccine makers must guess which strain of the virus is most likely to cause illness in the coming season. Sadly, this year’s vaccine was poorly matched with the strain of H3N2 that has caused the most illness. According to a study in the U.S. it was only 23% effective, while one study in Canada found that people were actually more likely to become ill if they had been vaccinated. You can’t have a much worse vaccine that that. This situation has meant that more people in the United States went to the hospital with an influenza-like illness than in most years, particularly amongst the elderly. At least in the United States the influenza season is now waning. In my home state of Oregon, influenza cases peaked last month. This sadly does not seem to be the case in France as this map suggests. As in the United States, the majority of cases in France have been the H3N2 strain.

People tend not to treat influenza with sufficient respect. Years ago I had a phone call from someone who wanted to drive to Portland to meet me in my role as the Director of International Studies. The morning of the meeting I woke up and knew right away that I had the flu.  It felt as though somebody had turned up the gravity in my room. I had a high fever and could barely stand. But not wanting to disappoint them, I dragged myself to the office. They didn’t show up, and after an hour I went home. I consoled myself that it was for the best, because they last thing that they needed was to catch my flu. …

The 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security

Cities of France by David Monniaux, Wikipedia Commons.
Cities of France by David Monniaux, Wikipedia Commons.

National white papers on military strategy are key tools to understand trends in security thought. Last year, the French government issued a White paper on National Defense and security, which has a few interesting points. First, although the document never once uses the term “human security,” this concept has influenced the document: “The term `risk’ refers to any danger that does not include any hostile intent but which might impact on the security of France: they therefore include political events as well as natural, industrial, health and technological risks.” Part of the reason for this shifting emphasis may come from the fact that “France no longer faces any direct, explicit conventional military threat against its territory.” Indeed, Europe’s current security situation, the document suggests, is nearly unique in its history: “… since the end of the Cold War, the European continent has ceased to be the epicenter for global strategic confrontation. This is without precedent in the history of our continent.” …

The Dangers of Nuclear Energy: Japan, France and the US

"Nuclear Power" by xedos4 at
“Nuclear Power” by xedos4 at

There have been some intriguing articles recently about nuclear energy, which demonstrate the challenges entailed with obtaining power from this resource. An article in Reuters described how homeless people are being recruited to work in the nuclear cleanup in Fukushima, Japan, because few other people are willing to take on such a dangerous task for minimum wage. The people recruited for this work are not the highly trained and motivated, but rather the most vulnerable. Sadly, major criminal syndicates appear to be involved in the recruitment process, which has meant that there are serious failures in oversight and record keeping. Another article has described how the farmer Masami Yoshizawa illegally entered the forbidden zone around the nuclear power plant to save cattle abandoned when people were forced to flee in the aftermath of the disaster. He described a horrible scene of neglect, in which cattle died with their mouths in their feeding troughs, as they waited for their farmers to return and care for them. The government does not know what to do with Masami, and so he is not officially recognized as living there, even though (my favorite detail) he still has his electricity and his telephone turned on. The nuclear disaster continues to have a major economic impact on the country; for example, South Korea still refuses to buy Japanese seafood. …

Nuclear Secrecy and France

Image courtesy of “Idea go” at

In the aftermath of Fukushima, it’s clear the nation-states have not been having realistic conversations with their citizens about the risks of nuclear power. Many nations, such as Germany, are now moving away from nuclear power, but one European nation will not be making any changes soon, namely France. Instead, this country continues to place nuclear power at the center of its energy plan. Indeed, the country currently gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear, and has no plans to explore a different path. In this respect, it is almost unique in Europe, where most countries are rapidly investing in renewable energy with great success. Much poorer Portugal is about to get 75% of its electricity from renewable sources. Other European countries have shown that it is possible to have a modern energy sector based primarily on renewable sources. Iceland obtains 100% of its energy from renewable sources, thanks to rich geothermal resources. Austria is over 70% renewable, while Norway has reached 97%, both helped by their hydro resources. Globally, a large number of countries (which range from New Zealand to Canada) get over 60% of their electricity from renewable sources. What this data shows is that the reliance on nuclear power is a choice, not a necessity. …

Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa

I am teaching a new course “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies Theory,” so I am reading broadly right now, particularly in the area of postcolonialism and critical theory. One of the best books that I have read has been Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa, which argues that the roots of French postcolonialism lie in that nation’s long and tortured history in Algeria. He makes the argument by tracing the lives of key thinkers -Camus, Sartre, Cixous, Lyotard, Fanon, Derrida and Bourdieau- to show how their Algerian experience shaped their writings. In Algeria, the key question that people faced was “What is my identity?” Europeans from many nations adopted a persona of being more French than the French, in order to distinguish themselves from the Arab population. But this identity was contingent. For example, Algeria’s Jews first received citizenship, then lost it under Vichy France, and did not have it reinstated until six months after the war. This context shaped, for example, the experience of Helene Cixous, the famous feminist scholar. As the war forced people to take sides and decide on their identity -did they really belong in their homeland?- multiple academics experienced exile. …

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