Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 8, 2007

Sarkozy’s Great Challenge

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.

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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.

But the decline of the Socialists as a party is one thing. Taming France’s bureaucracy is another. Already there is talk of a “third round” of elections in the streets. This refers not to Ségolène Royal’s warning of another mini-intifada in the bainlieus, but to the kind of mass walkout by civil servants that has repeatedly stopped proposed reforms in their tracks. These are the same people, of course, who have made their careers warning of the American menace.

As was the case for Rudy Giuliani in 1994, when the entrenched bureaucrats assumed that the city would be ungovernable without them and acted with commensurate arrogance, Sarkozy’s great challenge will come in taming what is, nominally, his own government.

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Bookshelf

• 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.

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• 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.

Burr’s choice of films is wholly secular yet morally aware—he comes across as exactly the kind of father you’d like to have as a next-door neighbor. At the same time, his approach is essentially aesthetic in its orientation:

With any luck, my daughters will be able to go through life lacking that fear of old movies—and, much more to the point, old culture—that keeps so many children and their parents locked in an eternal, ahistorical Now. The only way to comprehend Now, of course, is to understand Then. More than almost any other art form, movies show the way back.

I wish that last sentence weren’t true—I grew up on old books, not old movies—but I suspect that Burr has it right.

Permit me to quote one more passage from The Best Old Movies for Families, just because I like it so much:

Modern kids are raised with the understanding that people don’t spontaneously burst into song at crucial moments in their lives. And isn’t that a horrible thing, to remove such evidence of grace on earth from their belief system? Of course there are people who start tap-dancing at unexpected moments, or improvise a tune while plucking lyrics from the air. They’re called children, and if you spend any time with them, you’ll witness life as a musical forty times an hour.

This one’s a must.

• I like well-written books that tell me everything I want to know about a given topic without going overboard. David Clay Large’s Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936 (W.W. Norton, 401 pp., $27.95) fills that bill impeccably. Large’s book, which is based on newly available primary sources, is concise but sufficiently thorough and written with a sharp sense of irony—an appropriate commodity, given the fact that virtually everything about the Hitler-hosted 1936 Olympics was ironic. Americans, for instance, still pride themselves on the fact that Jesse Owens won a gold medal in 1936, but did you know that none of that year’s Olympic trials could be run in the Deep South because Southern states wouldn’t allow blacks to run alongside whites? Or that the Germans staffed Berlin’s Olympic village with state-subsidized prostitutes who were under orders to sleep only with Aryan contenders? You’ll learn all this and much more from Nazi Games, and you’ll also learn quite a bit about the making of Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film about the 1936 games.

Even if you’re not a sports buff, you’ll find Nazi Games an absorbing read—and, given the fact that the next Olympiad will be held in Beijing, a depressing one.

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Put Steven Aftergood in the Brig

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.

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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.

The Army has now demanded that FAS remove the document from circulation. “You have Army Publications hosted on your website illegally,” wrote Cheryl Clark of the Army Publishing Directorate, “There are only 5 Official Army Publications Sites. You are not one of them, you can link to our publications, but you cannot host them. . . . Please remove this publication immediately or further action will be taken.”

Steven Aftergood, who runs the FAS website, has refused to obey:

Dear Ms. Clark,

I have considered your request that we remove Army publications from the Federation of American Scientists website. For the reasons below, I have decided not to comply.

You indicate that we have posted Army documents “illegally.” That is not true. The posted documents are “works of the United States Government” under 17 U.S.C. 101. Such items cannot be copyrighted, as explained in 17 U.S.C. 105. Nor to my knowledge is there any other law that would prohibit posting of such documents on a public or private website.

You threaten unspecified “further action” if we do not comply with Army regulations governing distribution of records marked “For Official Use Only.” But the Federation of American Scientists, a non-governmental organization, is not a component of the U.S. Army and is not subject to internal Army regulations, including regulations on FOUO documents.

Accordingly, our publications are not illegal nor in violation of any applicable regulation.

I recognize that the Army has a legitimate interest in ensuring that its online publications are authentic and up to date. I have therefore added a disclaimer to our Army doctrine web page, indicating that ours is not an official U.S. Army website. I have also provided direct links to the five official websites.

http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/index.html

I believe this addresses the substance of your concerns, if not the details.

Steven Aftergood

What will happen next? I do not know. But Aftergood, who is a thoughtful critic of government secrecy—he and I have debated issues of secrecy and government leaks in the pages of COMMENTARY—would seem to have the law on his side.

If the U.S. Army is serious about operational secrecy, it would do well to keep its secrets truly secret and not let them slip into the hands of the Federation of American Scientists. Trying to recall a secret once it is out only compounds whatever damage has been done. Even before the advent of the Internet, it was impossible to squeeze toothpaste back into the tube.

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