My rage only grows at the murder of cartoonists, artists armed only with wit, by masked gunmen shouting Islamic slogans in Paris today. The bursting slogan, Je suis Charlie, says "I am Charlie." If you speak, if you question, if you criticize, if you ridicule, you are Charlie Hebdo.

Philippe Val was very much Charlie. Comedian, singer, journalist, Val also helped resurrect the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 1992 and edited it until 2009. He now directs radio station France Inter. In an interview on France Inter today, he said, "I have lost all my friends today." He proceeded to eulogize his friends and demand a memorial of fearless defense of art, speech, and liberty. (He spoke in French; I translate and accept responsibility for any errors.)

These were people so full of life, whose hearts' desire was to bring pleasure to others, to make them laugh, to give them fertile ideas. They were good people. They were the best by far among us, like all people who make us laugh, who are for liberty, like all people who believe we should be able to come and go freely and in security. They were assassinated. It is intolerable butchery.

We must not let silence settle in. We must really help. Now we must come together against this horror. Terror must not put an end to the joy of living, to liberty, to expression, to democracy—all of that is at stake. It's this type of brotherhood that makes life posssible. We must not let this go; this is an act of war. Perhaps tomorrow it would be good if journalists would call themselves Charlie Hebdo. If we all would call ourselves Charlie Hebdo. If all France were Charlie Hebdo. That would show that we're not o.k. with this, that we will never let laughter be extinguished, that we will never let liberty be extinguished.

We can't let this go. These were absolutely magnificent people. Cabu was a genius, a genius of kindness, of talent. Charb, all these people, they are all dead, my friend Bernard Maris, all. We can't let this go. We should form a front, we should stand quite united. These weren't evil people; these were people who just wanted everyone to live happily. These were people who wanted humor to have a place in our lives, that's all. That's all, that's it, and that's what they were assassinated for.

This is just not tolerable. We must act. I'm sorry for speaking like this, but all these years, the media haven't been on top of this radicalization. Lots of Muslims should be devastated by this. They are in danger themselves. We haven't discussed enough this increase in fundamentalism in France. We haven't sounded the alarm enough. We've done what we could. We've often been alone. Today, I'm practically all alone. All my friends are gone. And they didn't die for some bad cause; they died just because they wanted everyone to be able to live, they wanted children to be able to come and go without danger.

There, it's horrible what's happened. This event marks a before and an after. Our country will no longer be the same. They've wiped out a certain way of doing journalism. They've wiped out all the people who could make us laugh about such grave ideas. It's an appalling death that descends upon us, but silence must not win. Elisabeth Badinter said of the [2007] lawsuit of cartoons, "If they are condemned, it's silence that will beat us down." So today, more than ever, we must say what we think.

I don't have religion. It's too bad; I would like to have religion today. If I did, I would say to my friends that I love them. I'd say how indispensable they were to my life, how indispensable they were to everyone else, how indispensable they are to all who need liberty to live.

(Nicolas Demorand): They made us laugh.

(Philippe Val): We laughed so much. Today laughing is very difficult, but that's the perfect weapon. Laughter is that weapon of brotherhood. We must let people laugh, let them ridicule the bastards. We must hold our ground, we must all be together. What has happened is very grave. We cannot live in this danger. We cannot live in fear.

[Philippe Val, radio interview with Nicolas Demorand, translated from transcript, Libération, 2015.01.07]

Nous sommes Charlie—we are Charlie. We must not be silent.


French President François Hollande hit a constitutional bump this week. The Socialist leader (who presides over a country that my students are not finding terribly oppressive) wants to raise the top tax rate to 75%. That rate would apply to about 1500 French folks for just a couple years.

But the French constitutional council said Non! this week. The new tax is unfair... not because it is high enough to make Gerard Depardieu run to Belgium, but because it is applied to individuals, while the rest of the tax system is applied to households. If one household has l'homme busting his chops to break one million euro while la femme stays home with les enfants making no money, the tax would not apply. But put two professionals each making 501K euro together in the same flat, and they pay the tax. Boo-ooo! says the constitutional council, which is all about égalité.

President Hollande will rewrite and resubmit the 75% top-tax measure so it is properly "conjugalised" (there's your bonus French word for the day—don't say it in front of the kids!)... so Flandreau! Belle Fourche! Bon Homme County! Keep working on those economic development brochures to recruit wealthy French celebrities and industrialists to build villas and factories in your fair cities!


I'm about to discombobulate my blog-posting schedule. In four hours, I take off with 28 of Spearfish High School's best and brightest to visit France for seven days. Our itinerary does not include an audience with socialist President François Hollande, but if we have time while strolling the Champs Élysées, perhaps I'll let the kids detour up the street to the presidential palace and protest France's cursed left-wing oppression.

I'll post trip updates here and on my school website between baguettes. Stay tuned!


American expatriate writer James Baldwin was in Paris when the French lost at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam in 1954. He wrote the following observation in his 1972 book/essay No Name in the Street:

The French were still hopelessly slugging it out in Indo-China when I first arrived in France, and I was living in Paris when Dien Bien Phu fell. The Algerian rug-sellers and peanut vendors on the streets of Paris then had obviously not the remotest connection with this most crucial of the French reverses; and yet the attitude of the police, which had always been menacing, began to be yet more snide and vindictive. This puzzled me at first, but it shouldn't have. This is the way people react to the loss of empire—for the loss of an empire also implies a radical revision of the individual identity—and I was to see this over and over again, not only in France. The Arabs were not a part of Indo-China, but they were part of an empire visibly and swiftly crumbling, and part of a history which was achieving, in the most literal and frightening sense, its dénouement—was revealing itself, that is, as being not at all the myth which the French had made of it—and the French authority to rule over them was being more hotly contested with every hour. The challenged authority, unable to justify itself and not dreaming indeed of even attempting to do so, simply increased its force [James Baldwin, No Name in the Street, New York: Dial Press, 1972, pp. 25–26].

Loss of empire... radical revision of individual identity... challenged authority... I open the floor for discussion of parallels between what Baldwin observed in 1954 France and the response of pale Palin America to the results of the last two Presidential elections?

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I'm reading The Collapse of the Third Republic, journalist William Shirer's 1969 study of the political, economic, and cultural factors that led to France's swift and crushing defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany in 1940. About a tenth of the way into this meaty tome, Shirer notes that, in la Belle Époque, the peaceful, prosperous, wildly creative period before World War I, the French "enthroned, cultivated, practiced, [and] respected" individualism perhaps more than any other nation. They rejected the conformity of the "business-minded, mechanized world" in favor of the fullest realization of the individual liberty their Revolution had promised over a century before.

Yet Shirer thinks this strong individualism weakened France against its pending enemies:

Yet, did not this cult of the individual, so strong and so extensively cultivated in France in these years, contribute to the weaknesses of the nation and the society, which Frenchmen thought better and more blessed than any other? Did it not make for an undue selfishness of persons and closely knit families which some foreign friends thought they saw in the French? The practice of charity, for instance, of which the Anglo-Saxon were so proud, scarcely existed among these people. And did this fierce individualism not almost fatally weaken the state by weakening it government at a time when a strong state with a strong government was necessary for national survival? There was no doubt that this individualism led most Frenchmen to subscribe wholeheartedly to the axiom that the best government was the one which governed least. Anatole France never tired of reiterating that the Republic was the best regime for the French because it was the most feeble; it weighed least on the individual. "All the bonds are relaxed," he said. "And while this enfeebles the state it lightens the burden on the people.... And because it governs little, I pardon it for governing badly" [William Shirer, The Collapse of the Third Republic, Simon & Schuster: New York, 1969, pp. 109&ndash110].

I cherish individual liberty. But I also cherish a healthy social contract that makes liberty possible. How do we find the proper balance?


The Tour de France concludes here in Paris tomorrow morning... after my plane leaves.

I rode a bus yesterday down the Champs Élysées, I returned later and walked by the finish line where the well-to-do will sit in white tents to view the racers.

But I've still seen plenty of bikes around the City of Lights, regular folks zooming along amidst hard-charging city traffic on two wheels and joie de vivre.

Stunt bicyclist in the Trocadéro

No, they aren't all stunt riders like the dude above hopping his two wheels around the Trocadéro across the Seine from La Tour Eiffel.

Cyclist on Pont des Arts, Paris, July 21, 2012

Take, for example, this perfectly sane woman who got off the street to cross the Seine via the Pont des Arts (Bridge of the Arts).

Oh, and all those things on the side of the bridge? Locks:

Locks on Pont des Arts, Paris, July 21, 2012

Amorous Parisiens and visitors have taken up the Venetian custom of writing their names on locks, fixing them to the side of the bridge, and throwing the key in the river as a sign of their eternal love. I saw a bike lock in the mix (alas, that pic is on my other camera!). And for those of you who think Europeans have given up on capitalism, a gentleman has joined the traditional bouquinistes on the Left Bank to sell padlocks at the south entrance to the bridge.

(By the way, see that other bridge through the locks? Pont Neuf.)

Love in Paris means riding together in downtown traffic:

Couple on City Bikes in downtown Paris traffic

The couple shown above is riding right next to our tour bus, in a busy downtown street. They are riding Parisian Vélib', two of over 20,000 public bikes available for rent at 1800 stations around the city.
Cyclist on Boulevard de Rochechouart, Paris, July, 21, 2012

On the Boulevard de Rochechouart, cyclists riding through Montmartre looking for the Moulin Rouge get their own lanes. Crossing the street from north to south you cross car lane, dividing strip, bike lane, wide shady pedestrian median, then bike path, divider and car lane.

Cyclist on Boulevard de Rochechouart

...and the occasional show-off. Riders ring their bells, and they expect you to cede them their lane.

Cyclist at Pont du Carrousel

Speaking of ringing your bell, this young woman was out taking a spin by the Pont du Carrousel tonight. No one will be wearing those shoes in the Tour de France.

But easy, fellas: this belle parisienne already has a boyfriend... who was bicycling with her along the Seine.


We've all seen the Eiffel Tower in photos and film. The grand industrial-engineering-art project is so familiar that we might be tempted to think seeing the Tower in person could be a let down.

We would be wrong. I spent three hours looking at and climbing on the Eiffel Tower. I watched the sun set on Paris from its second observation deck. I drank hot chocolate from a café 38 stories above the ground to warm my hands. (I also had a beignet au chocolat... Why not a double dose? It's Paris!)

And I saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle. Twice, the second time from Field of Mars, where at 11 p.m., hundreds of people from numerous countries were sitting on the grass night-picnicking and saying their latest native translation of Wow! That's cool!

Cory sees Eiffel Tower from bus

Good thing my bus buddy Chris woke me up... I almost missed it!

View of Paris from la Tour Montparnasse

View of Paris from la Tour Montparnasse

Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides

Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides

Sunset over La Defense, western Paris, viewed from Eiffel Tower, July 20, 2012

Sunset over La Defense, western Paris, viewed from Eiffel Tower, July 20, 2012

Lights sparkle on the Eiffel Tower

Lights sparkle on the Eiffel Tower


Did I mention I'm in Paris?
CAH at the Louvre
Here I am at the Louvre, with our guy Pei's great glass pyramid out front. The drastic contrast the the architecture of the old fortress still doesn't well with some observers. But it creates a spectacularly light and airy entryway to the museum.

Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People

Eugène Delacroix, "Liberty Leading the People"

Maybe this painting is why some American conservatives get ants in their pants about France: they don't like women taking leadership roles in the fight for liberty.

Jacques-Louis David, "Le Sacre de Napoléon"

Jacques-Louis David, "Le Sacre de Napoléon

Just after the French got all excited about liberté, fraternité, and égalité, they let this bully declare himself emperor. You've got to watch out for those little guys who say they are fighting tyranny, only to become tyrants themselves.

Here's where Napoléon held that coronation, in Notre Dame de Paris.

Notre Dame de ParisRemarkable building, even to non-Catholics.

By the way, what does every hungry classical music aficionado need before heading to the supermarché for groceries?

Poster for Chopin and Liszt

You can see more of my Paris photos as I post them on my French teaching website,


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