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Maia Guterbock

See more by Maia Guterbock

Seeing into the future?
LES ECHOS

Virtual Reality: Major Ethical Dilemmas, Real-Life Dangers

No longer just for entertainment purposes, the technology can also help people tackle their phobias, for example. But it's also time to set limits.

PARIS — A dark alley. A voice: "It's him!" The sound of a club hitting my head. Everything goes black. Next I'm in a hospital room, connected to a machine that transfers my blood to another person. A doctor hands me a form to sign.

"You can choose to stay here nine months and, with your blood, save the life of this virtuoso violinist," the physician says. "Or you can unplug, leave and let him die."

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Eggplant, Kosher-Style
food / travel

Faith In Food: When Kosher And Halal Go Haute Cuisine

It's hard to find a starred halal or kosher restaurant, but scattered about the French capital, such upscale restaurants do exist.

PARIS — At first glance, Le Médaillon doesn't look like much. This French restaurant, with its menu derived from organic and halal products, sits across the street from a gloomy set of hospital buildings in a not-very-glamorous sector of Villejuif (Val-de-Marne), a suburb south of Paris.

A warm handshake from the boss, Djamel Bouhadda — better known on the airwaves as Chef Voilà — helps put as at ease. But we only really settled in when a waiter arrives, lifting a silver plate cover to reveal a wonder of culinary inventiveness.

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'No Country For Old Actors' deepfake
Society

Slovakian Artist Ctrl Shift Face, King Of “Deepfakes'

He's the mastermind behind has most famous deepfakes of the web. Donald Trump, Bruce Lee or even Elon Musk have been integrated into his videos, which are as fascinating and problematic as they are funny.

"Don't believe everything you see on the Internet, okay?" Coming from Ctrl Shift Face, the remark isn't a warning, but a verbal slap in the face. It's a sarcastic poke at the fear generated by fake news, coming from someone who traffics videos for the simple pleasure of entertaining net surfers. What if Jim Carrey starred in The Shining? And if Elon Musk appeared in 2001, renamed SpaceX's Odyssey? What if Donald Trump played Better Call Saul's crooked lawyer?

These fan fantasies, usually confined to bar talk or forum discussions, have become reality in recent months thanks to deepfake software: Videos in which one face is replaced by another. In this small world of hackers, the digital artist Ctrl Shift Face has the upper hand. The videos of this thirty-something Slovak, who prefers to stay anonymous, have accumulated hundreds of thousands of views — sometimes several million.

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Rail workers during a demonstration on Dec 10, 2019 in Paris
Society

The Uniquely French Art Of Blocking Reform, Myth Or Reality?

France is virtually shut down now by national strikes over pension reform. But from Denmark to UK to Germany, social change and the popular movements resisting have their own histories.

PARIS — Like in previous social movements, a cliché haunts the current public debate over the strikes and pension system reform: the French are the only ones, at least in Europe, to resist the "necessary" social reforms, which the other "reasonable" nations would have accepted without protest.

Last year in Copenhagen, French President Emmanuel Macron chided France "Gaul" national character for being "resistant to change, comparing them with the "Lutheran" Danish. At the start of the "yellow vests' movement a few months later, he declared this during a speech in Germany: "Here, the rules create trust and participation; on the other side of the Rhine, they have often generated mistrust and all too often the art of circumvention."

President Macron may still think that the Hartz reform, during the term of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (1998-2005) in the early 2000s, established trust and prosperity across the Rhine? The sociologist Matthias Knuth of the University of Duisburg has unmasked this received wisdom, showing that long-term unemployment is still not under control in Germany and that positive employment dynamics only concern the short-term unemployed. Meanwhile, Schröder's successor, Angela Merkel, has managed to push through minimal reforms.

Yes, the cliché is flawed. It is necessary to make comparisons by recognizing that the political life of national populaces is very diverse, even if, in the European Union many values and practices are indeed shared. The way in which a citizenry refuses or accepts a given reform goes through unique processes, based on collective values ​​present in national communities and different economic contexts.

While INSEE, the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, has just noted that inequalities in the country have grown over the long term and have returned to their 1990 level, the effect of redistribution has remained strong. Without it, France would be among the most unequal countries in the EU. Redistribution is largely driven by social protection, which French voters are increasingly demanding. This is not a simple "safety net" but an expression of the principle of equality.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe unveiling the details of pension reform on Dec 11 –– Photo: Blondet Eliot/Abaca via ZUMA Press

The situation indeed differs in most other EU countries, which can be broadly divided into three groups according to their Gini coefficient –– an indicator of the income gap between the lowest and highest incomes: the very unequal countries (Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Baltic countries, Bulgaria, with a Gini coefficient greater than 0.33); the moderately unequal countries (Germany, Portugal and Greece, between 0.31 and 0.33); the least unequal countries (France, Belgium, the Netherlands and especially Scandinavian countries, below 0.28).

There is less political attention devoted to the issue of poverty in Germany than in France, even if amid general prosperity (the unemployment rate is very low for the moment), Germany lives with a higher poverty rate than France (18.4 v. 17.4 in 2018, harmonized European figures).

Danes are very combative in defending social protection.

Germans, especially the poorest, oldest and least qualified, largely rejected the Hartz reforms, especially Hartz IV, which destroyed the old unemployment assistance. The reform was the subject of weekly demonstrations each Monday –– the Montagsdemonstrationen –– from 2003 to 2005. Opponents then went to court and, after Schröder's departure, obtained several favorable decisions. In 2008, the duration of the Hartz distribution was extended for those over the age of 50 (up to 24 months to 58 years). More recently, in October, the Constitutional Court of Karlsruhe limited the amount of the distribution deduction in the event of failure to comply with the "obligations' of job-seekers, following the two German constitutional principles of "human dignity" (Menschenwürde) and of "minimum existence".

In the British case, tolerance for poverty is greater than in other major countries. Though fiercely attached to their health system (the National Health Service, NHS), Britons do not have a great deal of confidence in their social protection, organized around a minimal level of assistance. In the late 1970s, Margaret Thatcher's government abolished State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme. The promises of poverty reduction under Tony Blair (1997-2007) have vanished. Lower economic classes have suffered from the full austerity policies of conservative governments before the country was largely sidetracked by the madness of Brexit in 2015.

Contrary to the cliché, the Danes, whose demand for equality is still stronger than in Sweden, are very combative in defending their social protection. Professor of social sciences Henning Jorgensen (Aalborg University) has titled one of his major works Denmark: Conflicting Consensus (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2002, untranslated). According to union statistics, Denmark has more annual strike days than France. The Danes fight primarily, through their unions, in the context of professional negotiations. But for more than ten years, Danish society has gradually unified itself around a steadily increasing xenophobia, even touching the Social Democratic Party: demands for equality are the priority ... though among Danes only.

Major strikes, united and largely xenophobic fronts: yes, this is perhaps the form of anti-reform protest we can currently identify as à la française!

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Soldiers march during a military parade marking the 59th anniversary of the independence of Cote d'Ivoire in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, Aug. 2019
Geopolitics

Ivory Coast Tries To Keep Terrorists From Crossing Border

They shall not pass: Since July, soldiers have stepped up patrols along the country's 1,600-km border with Mali and Burkina Faso.

KORHOGO — It's a delicate operation. Commander Roland Seahet of Gohouo repeats the instructions to the Fourth Battalion of Korhogo, a city in the north of the Ivory Coast. "Be vigilant and ready for combat," he says. "Have the men been deployed to the border? Have the positions been secured?"

In the Burkina Faso forest of Dida, along the Ivorian border, a sweeping operation is underway this October following an aerial military bombardment aimed at potential jihadists. "The Burkinabés shot at suspects," the commander explains. "We don't want them to flee and find refuge in Ivorian territory."

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Polanski's new movie comes out in the face of new accusations against the director .
LES ECHOS

J'Accuse, Me Too: France And The Polanski Morality Play

New sexual assault accusations surfaced in France before the release of Roman Polanski's new film (titled 'J'Accuse' in French) about the Dreyfus affair of a false accusation against a French-Jewish army officer. Who is accusing who here?

-Analysis-

PARIS — So, do I go see An Officer and A Spy? This is the kind of question friends might ask each other based on whether a film is good or not. But in this case it's about whether doing so is "moral" given that over the past 40 years, the film's director, Roman Polanski, has been accused of sexual abuse by six different women.

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Port of Marseille-Fos, France
eyes on the U.S.

A French Defense Of Trump's New Tariffs On European Products

The U.S. president has a history of strong-arming trading partners. But the move to tax things like French wine and Spanish olives is actually justified.

-OpEd-

PARIS — The United States announced a series of protective measures last month on a list of emblematic European products. The decision, made public on Oct. 3, includes a 10% tax on commercial flights, and a 25% tariff on things like English and Italian cheeses, Scottish and Irish whiskeys, French wines, German tools and Spanish olives.

It's tempting to see this as the Trump administration's latest attempt to wage a trade war it sees as both beneficial and easy to win. But in reality, the development is actually a return to normalcy in terms of international trade, and should be welcomed.

Trade disputes are a constant reality in relationships between sovereign states. And between Europe and the United States, there were plenty of problems — with the two sides accusing each other of dumping, trade agreement violations and discriminatory practices — before Donald Trump took office.

Trump is now trying to bend China to his will before tackling the European Union.

Commercial conflicts are par for the course, in other words, and they tend to be of two varieties.

The first are disputes that take place within an organized and structured legal framework, which can be multilateral, like the World Trade Organization (WTO), or regional. Such conflicts operate through the long and tortuous processes to which countries have agreed to settle their differences. They involve a complex, often imperfect set rules. But behind the process is a common goal: to foster cooperation between countries, and stop from them ratcheting up protectionist measures that end up hurting all parties involved.

The second category are disputes in which countries use every tool at their disposal to gain the upper hand. In these types of conflicts, it is common to circumvent or violate international agreements, and even to manipulate national legislation in order to "win" the battle.

The second strategy is only natural if one believes that international commerce is a zero-sum game where the winner is whoever manages to impose its conditions on others. And Trump, since coming into office, has shown that he clearly favors this second approach. In keeping with his campaign promises, he has used a number of American legal provisions — sometimes bending them to fit his goals — in an attempt to threaten and force his trading partners to acquiesce. Examples include section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974, and section 232 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1962.

Trump discussing tariffs in June — Photo: Andrew Harrer/CNP/ZUMA

After successfully coercing his partners into "renegotiating" treaties like NAFTA (involving the United States, Canada, and Mexico) and the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, Trump is now trying to bend China to his will before tackling the European Union — and the German automotive industry in particular.

But the announcement his administration made on Oct. 3 regarding custom duties on European products was of a different kind. Indeed, it came just after the WTO ruled in favor of the United States in a 15-year-old case regarding illegal subsidies provided to the European airline producer Airbus. As part of the ruling, the trade organization authorized the U.S. to recuperate its losses — thus the new tariff regime.

By the same token, financing concerns regarding the U.S. plane manufacturer Boeing are being examined, with a ruling due next year, so the EU may soon have an opportunity to impose its own sanctions.

Either way, all of this is an example of the first type of dispute. And looking at the larger picture, it is exciting to see the return and legitimization of this kind of foreign policy tactic. The overarching message is clear: Even Trump's America can be in the right against Europe sometimes.

That being said, the multilateral system will not come out unscathed from Trump's administration. Cooperative-type institutions, such as the WTO, promote trade development by limiting trade barriers, but also (and perhaps more importantly), by removing the uncertainty of future arbitrary behaviors by member countries. And yet, if there's anyone who has shown the world that multilateral frameworks don't provide absolute assurance against erratic behavior, it's Trump himself.​

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