There seems little doubt that U.S.-France relations will improve with Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory. But whither France itself? (Michel Gurfinkiel asks this question in the May issue of COMMENTARY.) For the past thirty years, the nation has oscillated between slow growth and stagnation. France, notes Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics, “is now the sick man of Europe.” The official explanation for France’s economic problems—Depression-era levels of long term unemployment, a debt twice that of England, unsustainable pension costs, and a budget deficit well beyond the EU average—has always been the malevolence of the Americans and their predatory capitalism. The French have become, it seems, every bit as talented as the Arab world in projecting their failures onto others.
This election may represent a departure from the idea that France is hindered only by the influence of the perfidious, rapacious Anglo-Americans. And whatever Sarkozy’s future successes or failures, his victory in itself is significant. “This is the end of an era,” remarked Médecins Sans Frontières founder and former cabinet minister Bernard Kouchner, and “the end of French socialism.” “Even Communist China has taken the road of capitalism,” Kouchner also observed. “Is France the only country where we will keep thinking capitalism is perverse, vulgar, and dangerous?” After three consecutive presidential defeats for the Left, the Socialists are in trouble. The strife between those who wish to create a genuinely modern social-democratic party (one that can win elections) and the defenders of the ancien régime may well fragment the Socialists permanently.
• Ty Burr’s The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together (Anchor, 375 pp., $16.95 paper) is a prime contender for the Why-Didn’t-I-Think-of-That Book Award of 2007. I desperately wish I’d written it, though I doubt I would have done nearly as good a job. In addition to being the film critic of the Boston Globe, Burr is the father of two young daughters, and he decided to introduce them to old movies when they were still toddlers. This wise, amusing book tells how he did it, and how you can do the same thing.
The Best Old Movies for Families is the sort of book that doesn’t need to be reviewed, at least not in the conventional sense. Merely to quote from it is to show how good it is:
Today I look at the movie offerings afforded my kids and am stunned into depression at the pandering narrowness. . . . Some films aimed at children are good—excellent, even. Pixar: I rest my case. But all of them—and I do mean all of them—arrive in theaters sold out, prepackaged, and co-opted. A modern family film can’t get greenlit for production without marketing tie-ins planned in detail and in-house licensing executives kicking the tires to discern how “toyetic” it is. That’s a real word, by the way. Yes, it makes my flesh crawl, too.
So what’s the alternative? The Best Old Movies for Families contains a series of age-appropriate, shrewdly annotated lists of studio-system films that Burr has successfully road-tested on his daughters. Some of his choices may seem a bit over-ambitious at first glance, but he claims that all of them went over: “To a few of my acquaintances I am still known as The Man Who Showed The Seven Samurai to His Kids. And They Liked It.” More representative of his sensible yet imaginative approach is this list of five toddler-friendly classics: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Bringing Up Baby, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin’ in the Rain, and Stagecoach.
The men and women who are defending our country, whether in the field or in the Pentagon, deserve our gratitude and respect. But sometimes the U.S. Army does things that are wrong, and sometimes it does things that are dumb.
In the latter category, consider its ham-fisted efforts to protect sensitive military information from disclosure to the enemy. Under the title “Operations Security” (OPSEC), the Army recently published an updated, 79-page, densely packed manual on the subject, replete with instructions like the following:
(a) Identification of critical information – determine what information needs protection.
(b) Analysis of threats – identify the adversaries and how they can collect information.
(c) Analysis of vulnerabilities – analyze what critical information friendly forces are exposing.
(d) Assessment of risk – assess what protective measures should be implemented.
(e) Application of appropriate OPSEC measures – countermeasures that protect critical information.
The OPSEC document itself contains a classification marking of “For Official Use Only” (FOUO) noting that it “contains technical or operational information” and that “Distribution is limited to U.S. Government agencies and their contractors.”
It also bears a “Destruction Notice,” instructing those who possess it to “destroy [it] by any method that will prevent disclosure of contents or reconstruction of the document.”
The trouble is that the OPSEC document is now widely available on the web. Published first by Wired News, it was then replicated by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), the Left-leaning advocacy group which runs a website that is one of the world’s best private repositories of documents pertaining to U.S. security and secrecy.