American Dreamz: When satire doesn’t go far enough

A few months back, I picked up, on a lark, a short French novel called Allah Superstar authored by the pseudonymous Y.B. (generally known to be Yassir Benmiloud, columnist for the Algerian daily El Watan). I bought it entirely on the basis of the excerpt on the back cover:

Une fatwa, voilà ce qu’il me faut pour devenir à la mode. C’est plus rapide que Star Academy, ça dure plus longtemps, tu voyages dans le monde entier, tu donnes des conférences, tu descends dans des palaces, tu montes sur scène avec U2, tu prends le thé avec le pape, une bière ou deux voire trois avec Chirac, une vodka givrée avec Poutine, un cigare humide avec Clinton, une grosse ligne avec Bush Junior, un masque à gaz avec Saddam Hussein, à chaque fois que tu dis une connerie tout le monde entier il t’écoute vu que tu as une fatwa au cul le pauvre, alors que le monde entier il est autant dans la merde que toi vu que c’est bientôt la fin du monde pour tout le monde.

A fatwa, that what I need to get famous! It’s faster than Star Academy [a French American Idol-type show], it lasts longer, you can travel the world, give speeches, stay in palaces, be up on stage with U2, take tea with the Pope, a beer or two or even three with Chirac, a chilled vodka with Putin, a humid cigar with Clinton, snort up a thick line with Bush Junior, share a gas mask with Saddam Hussein, and no matter what stupid thing you say everybody listens because you have a fatwa on your ass, while everybody else is just as deep in shit as you are seeing how the world’s gonna end real soon.

Allah Superstar, written as a monologue in several chapters, follows a young Frenchman of half Arab, half-European ancestry as he tries to become a famous comedian. Ultimately, he is seduced to, well, the Dark Side of Islam, gets his fatwa as part of a fundamentalist plot to make him famous, and when he is finally asked to perform at the Olympia in Paris (think: the French version of Radio City Music Hall) for a special September 11th performance, he blows himself up on stage, killing most of the audience.

This plot is similar enough to the one in the film American Dreamz (which has already been out for six weeks in the States, but only just came out here, and which I went to see this afternoon because, frankly, the World Cup is not my bag) that I wonder if “Y.B.” has considered suing the film’s producers. It’s far from identical, but weaker claims have led to studios to pay up.

But where Allah Superstar is a satire of French society that brings together the desire for fame at all costs, transgressive comedy and fears of terrorism, American Dreamz, directed by the man responsible for American Pie, is merely a little joke on shows like American Idol and President Bush. As satire, it falls far below the potential implicit in its concept.

The rest of this review contains spoilers, so you decide if you want to read it.
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A Tale of Unintended Consequences.

Wisely, most European governments that were opposed to the war in Iraq have constrained themselves since it has become evident that the fall of Saddam’s statue in April 2003 and the American crash course in Democracy has not (visibly) helped to speed up the region’s modernization or led to a self-reinforcing trend of ethnic accomodation and democratic governance. But now Joschka Fischer, former and famously “unconvinced” German foreign minister, has allowed Spiegel Online English to publish an “I-told-you-so-manifesto” taken from the foreword of his forthcoming book “The return of history“.
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The HRC is dead, long live the HRC?

The UN has elected a brand new Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. Why was the old HRC discredited? Well, basically and officially, because several of its members were known to violate human rights and/or to protect their own interests. It is only logical. However, who will be taking a seat in the new and improved HRC? Right, some of those very same countries that were known to violate human rights: China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
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Migration And Reform

Well today is obviously immigration day, as thousands of Latinos take to the streets in the United States to demand some kind of ‘regularisation’. I have been posting on Demography Matters about the changing pattern of Latino migration in the US, and on the not entirely unrelated topic of whether it is the arrival of the Latinos or the presence of religious belief which is primarily responsible for the fact that US fertility is still hovering round the replacement mark (especially the comments, and here, and here and here).

But this post is not about migration in the United States. Rather it is about migration inside the frontiers of the EU itself. As populations age, and our economies come under increasing strain, some societies will prove more able to reform than others. Now one conjecture I have been making is that in this process some societies will attract population (and get that famous win-win dynamic going) while others will lose even that which they have (sounds a bit like the biblical parable now doesn’t it). Actually economists have terms for all this. You might say that the ones who attract are experiencing an increasing returns process, while those who lose are suffering from negative feedback.

Claus has already touched on how Denmark is suffering from a lack of immigration (and me here), in the sense that more people are now leaving than are arriving, but perhaps more importantly for the future of the entire EU, Germany is very near to becoming a net exporter of people (and here).

Pperhaps a bit more spice was added to this already simmering cooking-pot last week by a sudden, and rather unexpected, bout of finger pointing from Peer Steinbrück, Germany’s finance minister, in the general direction of Vienna. Now according to Steinbrück, Vienna’s recent decision to cut corporate tax rates from 34 per cent to 25 per cent has led to an increasing number of German companies investing across the border in Austria. In other words, not only are people leaving, companies are now also leaving, and to less than anticipated destinations, and of course, on the backs of the companies will go even more people. Are we really so sure that that recently heralded sustainable recovery is as sustainable as some are suggesting? Morgan Stanley’s Eric Chaney understandably still has his doubts.

The real issue is this: as the FT says “Mr Steinbrück has limited room for manoeuvre in the tax field because of Germany’s high budget deficit”. All these issues interlock. So, on a day when Jaques Chirac seems to have taken a step backwards in the French reform process, it might be just worth asking ourselves whether, at the end of the day, there won’t be a price to pay for all this ‘no rush now is there’ style delay.

Katja Gelinsky’s Peculiar America

The German newspaper whose web site is now marginally better organized has two reporters based in the United States for its main news section. One, Matthias Rueb, is said to be one of the paper’s heavy hitters. They post him where they want to have an impact, certainly within German debate, and if possible at a European level or in the host country. (The paper has several such correspondents.) This is not his story.
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The battle of Wobbly Knee: Dutch troops in Afghanistan

The Netherlands is talking about sending an additional 1,200 troops to Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province. The Dutch already have 540 people working in Afghanistan under the umbrella of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) peace mission and another 674 under the umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom. For other Dutch international deployments look here.

Why is it hard for the Dutch to finally make good on a promise their government made back on December 22nd 2005?
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Eurabia or Fantasyland?

Victor David Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, has written an open letter to Europe asking us to “reawake, rediscover your heritage, and join with us in defending the idea of the West from this latest illiberal scourge of Islamic fascism.” It is getting some play in the usual right-wing quarters, despite his extraordinary lack of knowledge about Europe – and that’s a kind interpretation; others might suggest (as does Gary Brecher, here, analysing his take on Iraq) that he is simply making things up.
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How anti-American are the French?

Not as much as you might think, argues The Economist in a long, Christmas-special piece about French anti-Americanism (article freely available to non-subscribers) :

In one 2004 poll, 72% of the French had a favourable view of Americans, more even than in Britain (62%) or Spain (47%). Some 68% of those questioned in another poll the same year said that what unites France and America was more important than what separates them. During the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings in 2004, politicians were frosty, but the people at large showed an outpouring of gratitude to American veterans.

It’s true that there is a big gap between the view of the U.S. (pretty bad) and the view of the American people (quite good) in France, a sure sign that a substantial part of what is regarded as anti-Americanism is mainly driven by anti-Bushism.
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Wolfgang Lutz and the Low Fertility Trap

Back in July I published a post about Austrian demographer Wolfgang Lutz’s hypothesis that those countries which sustain total fertility rates below 1.5 for any length of time may have fallen into a self-reinforcing low-fertility trap. Old Rottenhat (Ray to his friends) argued in comments that I had explained the reasons for the existence of low fertility but that I had not justified the idea that this was a ‘trap’. Old Rottenhat was right, and taking advantage of the fact that Lutz himself has now given a fuller outline of the hypothesis at the recent Postponement of Childbearing in Europe Conference (see presentation) I will now try and remedy this lacuna.

So here finally Ray, is your reply: I hope it is something which indeed goes beyond the obvious.
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